The Magnificent Ambersons

1942

The Magnificent Ambersons

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89%

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Total Count: 38

85%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,437
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Movie Info

Orson Welles' followup to Citizen Kane (1941) was utterly different from Kane in style and texture, but just as brilliant in its own way. Writer/director Welles does not appear on camera, but his voiceover narration superbly sets the stage for the movie's action, which fades in valentine fashion on Amberson Mansion, the most ostentatious dwelling in all of turn-of-century Indianapolis. Its mistress is the haughtily beautiful Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello). When Isabel's beau, erstwhile inventor Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten), inadvertently humiliates her in public, she breaks off the relationship and marries colorless Wilbur Minafer (Donald Dillaway). The neighbors are certain that, since Isabel can't possibly love Wilbur, she will spoil her children rotten. As it turns out, she has one child, George Minafer (Tim Holt), and that one is enough as far as the rest of Indianapolis is concerned. There are those who live for the day that the arrogant, insufferable George will get his comeuppance. When George returns home from college, his mother and grandfather (Richard Bennett) hold a gala reception in his honor. Among the guests is the older-and-wiser Eugene, now a prosperous automobile manufacturer, and his pretty daughter Lucy (Anne Baxter). George takes to Lucy immediately, but can't warm up to Eugene, especially after learning from his uncle Jack Amberson (Ray Collins) and his maiden aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead) that Eugene and Isabel had once been sweethearts. After the death of Wilbur Minafer, the widowed Eugene feels emboldened enough to propose to Isabel again. This time she is willing, but the obstreperous George refuses to allow his mother to see Eugene. His imperious bullheadedness will lead to tragedy for all concerned--and, at long last, a chastened George Minafer will indeed receive his comeuppance. The film's real villain is not George but that old intangible bugaboo called "Progress." As the automobile age comes to fruition, the elegant, cloistered lifestyle of the Ambersons fades from view, finally disappearing altogether. This is superbly foreshadowed in the "winter outing" sequence (filmed in an L.A. icehouse) in which George's two-horse sleigh is abandoned in favor of Eugene's clunky horseless carriage. Welles evokes performances that his actors seldom (if ever) matched in later years; even the very limited Tim Holt is wholly believable-and even a bit pitiable-as the blinkered George Amberson Minafer. The current version, however, is but a pale shadow of Welles' original concept. Out of time and overbudget, the movie previewed badly and was eventually sliced down to an abrupt 88 minutes (by, among others, editor Robert Wise, who would go on to direct such films as West Side Story and The Sound of Music). Even though the film therefore must be regarded as a marred masterpiece, the remaining two-thirds of Welles' original concept is still a thrilling cinematic experience, especially whenever Agnes Moorehead is on the screen. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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Cast

Joseph Cotten
as Eugene Morgan
Dolores Costello
as Isabel Amberson Minafer
Anne Baxter
as Lucy Morgan
Agnes Moorehead
as Fanny Amberson
Ray Collins
as Jack Amberson
Richard Bennett
as Maj. Amberson
Tim Holt
as George Amberson Minafer
J. Louis Johnson
as Sam the Butler
Donald Dillaway
as Wilbur Minafer
Charles Phipps
as Uncle John
Dorothy Vaughan
as Woman at Funeral
Elmer Jerome
as Man at Funeral
Bob Cooper
as George as a Boy
Sam Rice
as Man at Funeral
Anne O'Neal
as Mrs. Foster
Henry Roquemore
as Hardware Man
Mel Ford
as Fred Kinney
Bobby Cooper
as George as a Boy
Drew Roddy
as Elijah
Jack Baxley
as Rev. Smith
James Westerfield
as Cop at Accident
Gus Schilling
as Drugstore Clerk
Bob Pittard
as Charlie Johnson
Billy Elmer
as House Servant
Lew Kelly
as Citizen
John McGuire
as Young Man
Edward Howard
as Chauffeur/Citizen
William Blees
as Youth at Accident
Louis Hayward
as Ballroom Extra
Orson Welles
as Narrator, The Narrator
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Critic Reviews for The Magnificent Ambersons

All Critics (38) | Top Critics (13)

  • Even in this truncated form it's amazing and memorable.

    Jan 5, 2015 | Full Review…
  • Ambersons is not another Citizen Kane, but it is good enough to remove Director Welles for keeps from the novice or one-picture-prodigy class.

    Mar 12, 2013 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • Although reams have been written about the mutilation of Orson Welles' second feature, what remains of it is nevertheless a major accomplishment.

    Aug 30, 2012 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • While telling this story, haltingly and clumsily, the movie runs from burdensome through heavy and dull to bad. It stutters and stumbles as Welles submerges Tarkington's story in a mess of radio and stage technique.

    Aug 30, 2012 | Full Review…
  • Orson Welles devotes 9,000 feet of film to a spoiled brat who grows up as a spoiled, spiteful young man. This film hasn't a single moment of contrast; it piles on and on a tale of woe, but without once striking at least a true chord of sentimentality.

    Jul 6, 2010 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • The emotional sense of America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is so palpable you can taste it.

    Apr 6, 2007 | Full Review…

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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