The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama, Period Film  |   Run Time - 88 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

Some consider Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons one of the finest films ever made, even in the form in which it has been handed down to us. At the time of its production, Orson Welles was the big noise among new young filmmakers, but not a very profitable one. His first movie, Citizen Kane, had generated press and praise, but not profits. RKO, never a profitable studio and in danger of receivership for much of its history, needed The Magnificent Ambersons to be a hit. Welles had shot Ambersons true to Booth Tarkington's novel and elicited sterling performances from his cast. But Tarkington's story -- which Welles deeply loved, having previously dramatized it on radio with himself in the role of George Amberson Minafer -- centered on an insufferable prig, selfish, nasty, and vain. Preview audiences came away disliking the movie because they disliked its central character, brilliantly portrayed by Tim Holt. RKO drastically recut the movie, poisoning its relationship with Welles (and with composer Bernard Herrmann, who came to Welles' defense and ended a promising career at the studio). Holt's George Amberson Minafer was, in many ways, the antecedent of Laurence Harvey's Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a character described by the closest thing he has to a friend as "impossible to like." And audiences weren't much more ready for Harvey's character in 1962 than they were for Holt's in 1942.