Friday, October 7, 2011

#415: The Magnificent Ambersons

Directed by: ORSON WELLES
1942, TSPDT Rank #51

While watching this film, prepare to be immersed in another time - another world. Even in the tragic, butchered state this movie is in, it is still the period piece to end all others. If this film had been released the way Welles intended it (a full hour longer, and without the terrible ending that was made in a rush and tacked on completely by the studio), it might well have taken Citizen Kane's place at the top of a list such as this one. The state the remaining film elements are in is terrible for a film of this quality, and the completely misguided cutting of the film is definitely one of the biggest cinematic injustices of all time. But with all that aside, The Magnificent Ambersons is a great film nevertheless. The cinematography is graceful and sumptuous - some of the best visual work done on black and white celluloid. The long takes glide across the screen majestically and the sets create a vivid and uniquely nostalgic atmosphere that permeates throughout the whole film. The acting is fantastic - done mostly by Mercury Theatre players, including Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead. This is one of the few films that Welles directed that he did not also act in - and I don't feel that his presence would have added to this particular movie at all. Unfortunately, the flow of the movie is disrupted by the copious amounts of cut material (all completely destroyed right after being cut) - especially during the last third of the film. It's still moving as it is, but we cover too much dramatic territory in much too little time, and by the time the film arrives at its sudden and vapid "happy ending", I had a feeling of somewhat sullen detachment. I'm still glad this film gets attention and is as high as it is on this list, because it deserves it - being as it was probably the most ambitious film Orson ever worked on. And any way you look at it, partial Ambersons is definitely better than no Ambersons at all. So even if the butchering keeps this great film from being a true masterpiece (which is why I won't rate it as such), it retains the ability to place the viewer into a specific era and way of thinking like no other film, and the fragments still often show the genius of Welles in full display, ambition, and enthusiasm.

(Rating: 9/10)

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