Tuesday, September 17, 2013
MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, THE (1942)
(July 1942, U.S.)
Perhaps one of the most dangerous elements of creating a debut motion picture that many consider to be the best film of 1941 (and later considered the greatest American motion picture of all time by the American Film Institute...I'm talking about CITIZEN KANE, people!) is that you quite possibly risk the rest of your entire career if you're unable to follow up with equal or greater success. Just consider the career of M. Night Shyamalan after THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and you'll know what the hell I'm talking about! So, with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, Orson Welles really had his hands full. Like the preceding film, all of the classic film making elements of overlapping dialogue and perspective of foreground and background that have come to define the work of Orson Welles, including much of the cast that made up his Mercury Theatre group like Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead and Ray Collins. Welles himself this time, sits this one out as actor and serves strictly as narrator, even up until the end when he's narrating the end credits to the audience that's just sat through the film.
This is a period piece about the declining fortunes of a proud Indianapolis family and the social changes brought on by the age of the automobile at the turn of the 20th Century. The Ambersons are by far the wealthiest family in the city during a life of peacefullness. An inventor known as Eugene Morgan (played by Cotten) courts (that's what they used to call dating) a woman called Isabel Amberson (played by Dolores Costello), but is rejected by her despite the fact that she truly loves him. Isabel instead marries Wilbur Minafer, a passionless man she doesn't love, and as a result they have a child called George whom she spoils absolutely rotten and who, in turn, becomes the royal terror of the town. By the time George is a man and returning home from college, very little has changed about him. He's still a spoiled, rotten little prick who's managed to convince himself that those around him and the world in general revolve around him. When asked what he'll do for a career, his simple-minded and inexperienced answer is, "A yachtsman." Those who know him wish nothing more than to see great misfortune bestow itself on George, or as is the term during that era of history, his comeuppance. George also instantly takes a real fancy to the beautiful and charming Lucy (played by Anne Baxter) but finds that he has a general dislike to her father (Eugene) because he's made his love for his (George's) mother very clear.
(are you following this little soap opera so far?)
I mentioned briefly before that this is a tale during the age of the automobile. This is important because it not only serves as the force behind this period in American history, but also serves as a vehicle (no pun intended) as to how Eugene gains his wealth and respectability. These assets don't influence George's negative opinion of the man who loves his mother, who's pure and innocent name he's determined to protect at all costs, even if it means confronting any and all town's folk who would dare to smear it behind his back. It's rather compelling to watch the character of George throughout the film because it's difficult to believe and accept that a supposedly grown man would behave in such a childish and arrogant manner during the course of his life. Those that love him in his family, particularly his annoying Aunt Fanny (played by Moorehead), consider his attitudes as just a manner of his general character. It isn't until his mother dies of an undisclosed illness and the family fortune and house and soon gone that he finally realizes the demands life is about to make of him and those he considers himself responsible for, mainly the annoying Aunt Fanny. It's important to mention once again the age of the automobile because it's this new and great invention and the multitude of auto accidents that it causes during a time before required seat belts that finally brings George to meet his fate. No, he doesn't die, but he does finally get what many who wished for it would consider his comeuppance. However, in the traditional of the classic Hollywood happy ending, forgiveness is bestowed on those who have done wrong to others and all seems to be right with the world and happily ever after.
As compared to CITIZEN KANE and TOUCH OF EVIL, Orson Welles' second feature may be considered one of the lesser efforts. It's important to note, though, that this film is famous for its infamy in how Welles lost virtual and total control of it to the studio of RKO. His original film running time of over two hours was brutally stripped down to a mere 88 minutes after the Hollywood butchers got hold of it. Because Welles was supposedly out of the country at the time, he had no way of protecting his work, nor was he able to stop RKO from burning the extra footage that was cut out of it. So as fans of Welles' work, we'll never know what the artist's true vision was to be with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. However, we can be grateful for 88 minutes of pure Orson Welles film making at its best.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Narrator: "Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Mainafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him."