The Magnificent Ambersons

1942, Drama, 1h 28m

44 Reviews 5,000+ Ratings

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critics consensus

Assembled with bold visual craft and penetrating insight, The Magnificent Ambersons further establishes writer-director Orson Welles as a generational talent. Read critic reviews

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The Magnificent Ambersons Photos

Movie Info

Orson Welles' acclaimed drama follows two generations in a well-to-do Indianapolis family. Isabel Amberson receives a proposal from dashing Eugene (Joseph Cotten), but opts instead to marry boring Wilbur. Time passes, and Wilbur and Isabel's only son, George (Tim Holt), is loathed as a controlling figure in the town. When Wilbur dies, Eugene again proposes to Isabel, but George threatens the union. As George in turn courts the woman he wants to marry, a string of tragedies befalls the family.

Cast & Crew

Richard Bennett
Maj. Amberson
Erskine Sanford
Roger Bronson
J. Louis Johnson
Sam, the butler (uncredited)
Don Dillaway
Wilbur Minafer (uncredited)
Charles R. Phipps
Uncle John (uncredited)
Dorothy Vaughan
Mrs. Johnson (uncredited)
Elmer Jerome
Attendee at funeral (uncredited)
John Elliott
Guest (uncredited)
Olive Ball
Mary the maid (uncredited)
Anne O'Neal
Mrs. Foster (uncredited)
Mel Ford
Fred Kinney (uncredited)
Jack Moss
Associate Producer
George Schaefer
Executive Producer
Stanley Cortez
Cinematographer
Russell A. Cully
Cinematographer
Robert Wise
Film Editor
Albert S. D'Agostino
Production Design
Mel Berns
Makeup Department Head
Fred Fleck
Assistant Director
Bailey Fesler
Sound Recordist
Orson Welles
Screenwriter
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Critic Reviews for The Magnificent Ambersons

Audience Reviews for The Magnificent Ambersons

  • Mar 16, 2019
    Obviously its compromised, but you can see what Welles was trying to do. Best to ignore the studio made happy ending and just focus on the good stuff that precedes it even if those scene are truncated.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 11, 2017
    I wanted to love it as a classic, but for me, 'The Magnificent Ambersons' fell well short of that. There are certainly positive aspects: Director Orson Welles was an artist and there are several beautiful shots, camera angles, and tracking sequences that are nice to see. Joseph Cotten is full of grace as an automobile inventor who loves an Amberson widow, but has to contend with her hothead son (Tim Holt), who is as spoiled as they come. The scene where he calmly and rationally responds to an attack on cars is good. It's ironic that Holt's character loves Cotten's daughter in turn, and Anne Baxter plays that part well, including a scene where she feigns indifference to his leaving town and toys with him, even though it's killing her inside. Lastly, Agnes Moorehead turns in probably the best performance in the film as the boy's frustrated aunt. On the other hand, the main character - the spoiled, entitled son - is so unlikeable that it makes watching often unpleasant. The film feels emotionally sterile, and there is little believability in the connections between characters. There is a dark bleakness that pervades the film, in part because of the story of this family's fall from grace while the world changes around them, but also in part because of Welles' heavy-handed treatment. The plot is arguably not very plausible in several places, and is certainly tedious in the second half of the film. The studio's taking control and editing the final cut - butchering it, it sounds like - is a travesty, that sort of thing always is, but even at 88 minutes, the film seems to drag on too long, and in what seems like a smug, theatrical way. I'm not convinced that if I was subjected to 60 more minutes, Welles' original cut, that I wouldn't have fallen asleep, based on the 88 that I did see. It was OK to see once, but I would never recommend it, or watch it again.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • May 15, 2015
    Remarkable and stirring even in the long shadow cast by its predecessor, The Magnificent Ambersons might fall short of writer-director-harshest critic Orson Welles high expectations but it still pains a fascinating portrait of love and loss. 2015 markw what would've been Orson Welles' 100th birthday. His fellow filmmaker and friend Peter Bogdonavich once smartly pointed out that, if his CV got reversed, his career would prove to be the most successful of all time. Think about it: voicing a planet gobbling machination in Transformers: The Movie through writing-directing film noir classic Touch of Evil to auteuring his cinematic masterpiece, Citizen Kane. His Kane follow-up, however (long unavailable on DVD and finally released in conjunction with Kanes 70th anniversary in 2011), also proves to be a master stroke worthy of a viewing during this, his centennial week. Welles himself decried the studio's final cut of his adaptation of Booth Tarkington's 1918 novel about the spoiled heir of a prominent turn-of-the-19th-century family. Reportedly at the studios insistence, his assistant director, Robert Wise (who would go on to direct The Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture), re-ordered Welles narrative and edited out the original ending (forever lost, much to the chagrin of film historians). What remains, however, still proves nothing short of one of the Golden Age of HWoods most beautiful productions. If Welles never made Kane, this film would doubtlessly be hold up as an auspicious debut. In this unrated drama, the spoiled young heir to the decaying Amberson fortune (Cotten) comes between his widowed mother and the man she has always loved. Everything that makes Kane so indelible gets enhanced here. And yet, the style and storytelling couldnt be more different. Having cut his teeth on that particular gem, Welles imbues this nostalgic love letter to the Age of Innocence getting lost amid 20th century technology (the automobile makes a perfect foil here) with breathtaking blurred edge cinematography. The deep focus photography evokes an almost sepia tone feel that makes the Currier and Ives-style Midwest winters feel tangible. The set design and Welles amazing stable of actors (most of them Mercury Players returning from Kane) complete the job, giving heart and hearth to what amounts to an incredible character piece. Indeed, Agnes Moorehead was robbed of a Best Supporting Oscar. Of course, the central character grows up and remains unlikable but thats how Tarkington presented the privileged rascal, silver spoon warts and all (surely, Welles stayed behind the camera because in not also portraying him the wunderkind identifies with the protagonist). And sure, Welles was right, the editing gives the uneven unfolding of story a sometimes clunky exposition (just check out that party scene), but Ambersons nonetheless nearly perfectly sums up the emotional groundswell that rises up from any senior who utters In my day in sad reverence to a simpler time lost amid the hubbub of life. In an age when most everybody whiles away their hours in the glow of a smart device as life passes them by, this Magnificent film perhaps makes more sense than ever. Theres no denying that the tacked-on ending proves that Ambersons remains well short of perfection but such is film history. Shoulda coulda woulda. We may never have Welles definitive version, so hold fast to whats endearing here. Bottom line: Citizen Vain
    Jeff B Super Reviewer
  • Dec 11, 2013
    There is a part of me that prefers this to Citizen Kane. It certainly shows that Welles is not a one trick pony with Kane and had a number of additional stories to tell. Suggestions are that the studio hacked it to pieces so God only knows what version I saw. Nonetheless I thought it was captivating.
    John B Super Reviewer

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