Magnificent Ambersons

Released 1942


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Magnificent Ambersons

Movie Summary

Orson Welles

The advent of progress and a possessive, insensitive son's interference bring unhappiness and eventually tragedy to a wealthy late-19th-century family in a small Midland town.


Metacritic Score

  • 100

    Empire Kim Newman

    It's a tragedy that someone else' happy ending is tacked onto his tale, but the film retains enough brilliance to make us glad it's been re-released.

  • 88

    LarsenOnFilm Josh Larsen

    The bold cinematic techniques Welles employed in Citizen Kane are put to even more sophisticated use here.

  • 75

    ReelViews James Berardinelli

    It retains the occasional power to mesmerize and amaze.

Joseph Cotten

Joseph Cotten

Eugene Morgan

Dolores Costello

Dolores Costello

Isabel Amberson Minafer

Anne Baxter

Anne Baxter

Lucy Morgan

Tim Holt

Tim Holt

George Amberson Minafer

Agnes Moorehead

Agnes Moorehead

Fanny Amberson

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (4)

    • This film was subjected to a great deal of studio interference by RKO executives, who feared it would prove too downbeat for audience popularity. The film was cut from 131 minutes to just 88 minutes, with the final scenes re-shot by the assistant director in Orson Welles's absence and without his permission or approval. New music for the re-filmed sequences was composed by a studio contractee, Roy Webb, which so infuriated Welles's composer Bernard Herrmann (whose full score for the film was in a quite different style) that he refused to take credit. The film was released without any music credit.

    • Orson Welles had also adapted The Magnificent Ambersons (one of his favourite novels) as a one-hour radio broadcast, with himself playing George Amberson Minafer. It was first heard in 1939, as part of his Campbell Playhouse series. Walter Huston played Eugene Morgan and, rather remarkably, the character of Aunt Fanny, so memorably played in the film by Agnes Moorehead, was entirely elided from the story.

    • Although Stanley Cortez had sole credit for the cinematography of this film, he was, in fact, fired during production and some scenes were photographed by Harry J. Wild or Russell Metty.

    • Richard Bennett, cast as old Major Amberson, had the greatest difficulty in remembering his lines, and his eyesight had become so poor that he was unable to read them from the boards which Orson Welles thoughtfully positioned just outside camera-range. So Welles personally recorded all of Bennett's lines for him on disc, and asked him to play them over and over until he could remember them. He did this; but when his co-star Joseph Cotten asked him, "Are you getting them?", Bennett angrily replied, "Not a blasted bloody one of them!"

  • QUOTES (7)

  • NOTES (2)

    • Booth Tarkington's novel had already been the basis of an unsuccessful silent film of 1925, retitled Pampered Youth. In 2002, it was remade as a 3-hour television movie with Madeleine Stowe as Isabel, Bruce Greenwood as Eugene and Jennifer Tilly as Aunt Fanny. Alfonso Arau directed it.

    • At the very start of the film, we read that it is a Mercury production and that its title is "The Magnificent Ambersons". Most unusually for an American film of the 1940s, there are no more credits then until the end of the film - and these are all spoken by Orson Welles, rather than written on the screen.


    • The newspaper seen in close-up near the end of this film (reporting George's near-fatal accident) is the "Indianapolis Inquirer" - a newspaper presumably owned by Charles Foster Kane, the protagonist of Orson Welles's previous film, Citizen Kane. A small box in the top left-hand corner of the newspaper invites us to read "Jed Leland On Theatre" - Jedediah Leland, dramatic critic, was the character played by Joseph Cotten in the earlier film, and there is a small photo of Cotten as he appeared in that role in the box, although he plays a quite different part in this film.

    • During the famous scene of George Amberson Minafer's long walk through the growing town, he passes a cinema showing a film called Explosion. The star of this 1919 film was Jack Holt, whose son Tim plays George in this film. (The scene is supposed to take place several years before Explosion was actually made; Orson Welles knew this, but allowed a deliberate anachronism as a tribute to the Holt family).

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