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Quick-Thoughts: Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Magnificent Ambersons opens up with 10 minutes of Orson Welles’ trademark “random normie characters spout out blatant exposition” and from there on out, sets up the tale of the biggest drama king at the ball, George Minafer, a wealthy young man who has karma bite his ass harder than studios ever bit Welles. Gosh, if there was ever a character out there that personified the man-baby stereotype best, this George dude would have my first bet. Essentially, this bozo goes around putting his nose where it doesn’t really concern him and finds out, oh! His mother has fallen for a dear old friend after the death of her husband—suddenly, George is afraid of their family’s name becoming tainted now because of his “scandalous” mother *rolls eyes.* Now, the little brat is trying to jeopardize this compassionate relationship, yet, this is surely to lead to adversity; in fact, he’s bound to receive his own version of A Christmas Carol, only this time the three ghosts are replaced with a subtle slandering by the admirably optimistic young lady who George basically abused into a romance, a gesture of goodwill from the dexterously handsome man who’s totally porking his mom, and actually with a couple abrupt yet persuasive visits from Death itself… umm… from a perspective?

Indeed, this is an astonishingly shot movie—yet, so far, when has a Welles feature not been? The dude is a genuine mastermind behind the camera! Aside from this though, I can’t help but feel that almost everything else in The Magnificent Ambersons feels a tad outdated and, of course, unfinished, using tacky absurdities to mark key thematic points or using time fragmentation to epitomize the spontaneousness of life itself which, c’mon, is just Welles’ editors’ infamously lazy way of excusing the fact that it is nearly impossible for them to organize his projects elegantly when there are typically burdens of information missing from his stories. Not to stray though, the sequencing here is genuinely baffling—example: I couldn’t believe the playful snow fall scene cutting immediately to the funeral segment was approved in the final release. There’s a devastatingly noticeable gap in how distant from reality the development of many of the essential characters’ rivalries, bonds, motivations, and fates are in The Magnificent Ambersons; oftentimes it’s as if they had all popped out of thin air. However, let’s just blame the production quarrels, lost footage, and reassembling issues on this as per usual; I mean, what Welles project isn’t without its cavernous technical dilemmas? 

I think Welles does have something worthwhile though to say about wealthy or popular people who are born wealthy and popular versus wealthy people who are born poor. A famed name such as the “Ambersons” (weirdly close to my own last name “Ambrose;” yikes!) shouldn’t be rewarded to those who are born into it. Rather, it seems to be one that can only stick and stay for the members who use it to selflessly aid their family opposed to using it to abuse power, pursue control, and maintain absurd publicity standards. So sure, The Magnificent Ambersons does occasionally feel like one of those antique fables made for children that’s oddly formatted into an output made for a maturer demographic, but for what was a film completely lost to a supposedly masterful vision never achieved—rumored even to be finer than that of Citizen Kane, believe it or not—it still flourishes at a decent capacity. 

I’m sure like every Orson Welles film though, I’ll raise its score up in about a couple months or so after considerate digesting, only to then troublesomely desire an immediate rewatch right as its taken off The Criterion Channel by some sketchy outside company. 

Cool outro too, Welles.

Verdict: B-

Orson Welles Ranked

“The Magnificent Ambersons” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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