The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

magnificent ambersons poster 1942 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great cast and look

I wish the original cut existed

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Magnificent Ambersons

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Genre(s):  Drama/Romance

Release Date(s):  July 10, 1942

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

magnificent ambersons george lucy tim holt anne baxter

I like your mother well enough, George…but she helped turn you into a complete dick

The Ambersons were the kings of the neighborhood.  The old wealth of the family led to the biggest house and the largest fortune.  When Isabel (Dolores Costello) married Wilbur Minafer (Don Dillaway) and had a child named George (Tim Holt), George grew up an entitled youth whose every demand was met.  Returning from college, George discovered his mother’s former widowed friend Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten) and his daughter Lucy (Anne Baxter) came to the city in the hopes of building horseless carriages.  As the Amberson name begins to fall, George discovers that life as he knows it will change.

Produced and directed by Orson Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons is a period drama.  Welles adapted the 1919 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Booth Tarkington but battled the studio over its editing.  The film received critical acclaim upon its release with nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Agnes Moorehead), Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Interior Decoration.  The film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Archives in 1991 and the Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #952).

magnificent ambersons car ride joseph cotten dolores costello

Maybe I should have invented the first SUV

I hadn’t read or seen The Magnificent Ambersons, but I feel kind of connected to the story.  I live just about ten miles north of Woodruff Place where Tarkington’s novel was set.  Surrounding me are remnants of Tarkington in neighborhoods and streets, and The Magnificent Ambersons is a reminder of the past.

The film is about crumbling prosperity and “comeuppance”, but due to the editing, it becomes a romance.  George is just an entitled jerk.  He lives off his family name and wealth, and when it vanishes, he’s left with nothing and doesn’t understand how to really function.  The studios wanted a happier ending so George essentially learns his lesson and finds love, but it doesn’t feel entirely satisfying in that sense due to how severe he treated people as he grew up.

Tim Holt is a good “jerk” character.  He gets a lot of his indignation across in his acting and his treatment of people.  Joseph Cotton plays the nice guy throughout the film that considers other before himself even if it hurts him while his daughter played by Anne Baxter seems like she should have known better than even to fall for someone like George.  The real scene-stealer in the film is Agnes Moorehead who has a great breakdown speech…and it is funny/sad to always see her as Endora from Bewitched instead of something like this great performance.

magnificent ambersons agnes moorehead academy award bewitched

I’m crying because I have to play a witch on TV in a few decades…

The movie had a massive budget and the Amberson home was reused as a result to keep the budget down.  The film looks great, but the original runtime of the film from 148 minutes to 88 minutes, and the missing edit is a dream find by film historians.

The Magnificent Ambersons is a solid story from an interesting period in United States history.  It is post-Civil War but pre-World War I as the world, transportation, and perceptions were changing.  The classic story was also brought to TV in 2002 as an A&E film, but you might be better sticking to the original…even if it wasn’t how Orson Welles wanted it.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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