The Magnificent Ambersons
*Spoiler Alert* I try to review these movies without spoilers but a movie like The Magnificent Ambersons makes that almost impossible. So fair warning... *Spoiler Alert*
One thing that's easy to see when watching The Magnificent Ambersons is that a lot is missing. Directed by Orson Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons is famously known as the film that RKO took control of while Welles was in Brazil working on his next movie. They had 40 minutes cut and also tacked on a "happier" ending that would meet America's tastes (currently still shocked from the Pearl Harbor attacks). Knowing this makes it hard to "review" The Magnificent Ambersons though because I'm not sure whether my disinterest with the movie lies with the missing scenes or if I simply don't go for the "Family Drama" aspect of the story. Perhaps no amount of extra footage could have made me care for these characters enough to enjoy the film on its own terms.
That's not to say the movie is without any positives. I will admit that Welles does a fantastic job behind the camera, setting up some wonderful shots that seem just as inventive now as they did back then. The sets are also something to marvel at, especially knowing that they were sound stages and not an actual old mansion (something I didn't realize until afterwards). But technical aspects aside, I found little to rave about. The Magnificent Ambersons is all about the downfall of George Amberson, a spoiled boy whose entire town has been waiting for him to finally get his comeuppance. However, once his downfall finally occurs, it's said that he had become so insignificant no one was there to even enjoy it. Unfortunately, that went for me as well since by the time this film was over, I cared less about the outcome and more about the fact that I didn't have to watch the movie anymore.
I guess it could be argued though that the real "main character" of the film is the Amberson family as a whole. It's almost odd to paint George as the main character when so much of the main plot simply happens around him and not to him. The true driving force of the film is the forbidden love shared between George's mother Isabel (Dolores Costello) and her old friend Eugene (Joseph Cotton). Eugene and Isabel had a falling out when they were younger and since Isabel refused to forgive Eugene, she was forced to marry someone who wasn't her true love. As it's stated in the opening monologue, this then led to her spoiling George since she needed to fill the void of not having a husband she loved with giving far too much attention to her one son. It's only when Eugene returns to town (having just been made a widower) that Isabel's true feelings for him start to arise again. It doesn't help much that shortly after Eugene returns, Isabel's husband also dies, leaving these two alone but unable to finally embrace each other for fear of how the town will react. Further complicating things is the inclusion of Eugene's daughter Lucy, who George himself becomes quite smitten with.
Let me elaborate here on my strong disinterest in any film that falls within the "Family Drama" genre that I mentioned earlier. My dislike is not related to there simply being family drama within the story. My problem is when the whole aspect of that story seems bland and/or dour. I need a hook to get me invested and to care about the characters. That hook is typically a mixing of genres to include this type with something more exciting (sci-fi, action, horror, gangster, etc...). It can also be something like a powerhouse performance or simply the ability to take on that type of story with a sense of humor. Maybe it's because I lack basic human emotions so when a story is simply about "forbidden love" or some other nonsense like that, I just roll my eyes at the screen. I just can't empathize with their struggles and so without any other added benefit to follow along, I quickly lose interest.
This isn't to say that the movie is objectively bad, it's just that it's not for me. It took me a while to accept this feeling but it really is the only way to discuss movies. There was a time when I would have made up some praise for this movie due to its legacy but to me, that would be a disservice to the film. It's better to just admit something doesn't work for you and move on. What makes it a little harder for this movie though is the uncertainty of what could have been, had the studio not messed with Welle's original idea. But getting bogged down in "what if" scenarios is also the wrong way to judge a movie. Still, I'm glad I finally got around to seeing The Magnificent Ambersons, if only to further prove (along with Citizen Kane) how great of a director Orson Welles was when he was only in his mid-20s.*
Valuable Life Lesson Learned: Don't ever get too drunk while trying to court a girl at a serenade.
- The Untouchables
- Battle Royale
- Touch of Evil
*Welles was the same age that I am right now when he made this movie. Cue panic attack about what I'm doing with my life...