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THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS

Director: ORSON WELLES

U.S.A. • 1942 • BLACK AND WHITE • 35MM • 88 MIN


In Sunset Blvd., Norma Desmond outlines the plot of her comeback film Salome to a cynical screenwriter. ‘They’ll love it in Pomona’, comments the screenwriter sardonically. It is a vicious reference, Pomona being the place where The Magnificent Ambersons was previewed to a crowd whose hostile response led RKO studio bosses to cut the film from 131 to 88 minutes. Yet, despite one of the most appalling acts of vandalism in film history, great things remain in this chronicle of the changing social and emotional fabric of American life at the end of the 19th century. The Amberson ball near the beginning of the film is a miracle of cinematic virtuosity. Agnes Moorehead’s Aunt Fanny justifies Kenneth Tynan’s description as ‘the best performance of its kind (the gnawing of frustrated love) in the English-speaking cinema.’ Like Kane, Ambersons is about dynastic decline and about the bond between a spoilt son and an adoring mother that will turn out to contaminate and frustrate all subsequent relationships in the film. The spoilt son will get his comeuppance — as did Welles — but even in its tragically fragmented form, Ambersons remains magnificent.

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