|The Way Of The Future. If you don't get this reference then you want to watch the world burn|
Watching a film like The Magnificent Ambersons, as with most of Orson Welles' films post-Citizen Kane, incurs palpable sadness. Because the promise of what could potentially have been is so present in every frame that the entirety of the film becomes a specter of genius. I was hooked by the first few minutes of the film and my expectations soared as to what the remainder of the film had in store. The film though took a noticeable dive about halfway through and never managed to recuperate some of its former brilliance. Flaws and all, I loved The Magnificent Ambersons and appreciated it both for what it was and what it could have been.
This film features an amazing cast. Even Tim Holt in the unlikable role of George shows some admirable acting chops. The best of the best for me are Agnes Moorehead as Fanny Minafer, Ray Collins as Uncle Jack Amberson and surprisingly Anne Baxter as Lucy Morgan. Agnes plays the shrill Fanny to perfection, even going so far in territory that could have been categorized as overacting. Yet, she manages to ground her character in truth, making the viewer sympathize with Fanny's shortcomings. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is towards the end when the Ambersons have lost the financial security they once took for granted and Fanny loses her shit. I mean, she goes from sobbing to lamenting then to laughing maniacally and then back to crying. It's a heart palpitating moment when Agnes Moorehead reveals just how versatile she is as an actress. This is the same woman that played the wooden and long-suffering Mother Citizen Kane. Ray Collins provides a welcoming warmth in his role as Uncle Jack. And, though Agnes gave hands down the best performance in the film, it is Anne Baxter that manages to surprise me. What she does here is nothing extraordinary, but it is so different from her role as the backstabbing Eve in All About Eve; a performance I loathe to this day. But in The Magnificent Ambersons, Anne is natural and gives depth to her character who could be read as either a bland femme fatale or a dense high society girl. But, she manages to show us the complexities behind her Lucy, grinding down to the very bone to do so.
The cinematography is a key component of the film as it most certainly sets the mood. In this way, The Magnificent Ambersons can be seen as Citizen Kane Jr. That is true for other aspects of the film such as the subtle soundtrack and the familiar performers. This film does differ from its predecessor in that Welles himself narrates the story. The man had a voice! And, as I mentioned, I loved the first half of the film because it felt so fresh and innovative. You had the townspeople commenting on the story and the characters as well, almost as if they were pointedly telling the camera.
|Welles' short-lived snow motif|
What The Magnificent Ambersons has is promise. The first half is brilliant and deserving of a 5-star rating. But the second half is just disappointing. It's like the film died halfway through and became a ghost for the remaining 40 minutes, floating whichever way with no concrete purpose or direction. Thus far, this to me is the worst Welles film and, even then, I still love it. I love it solely for those first 40 minutes. If you're a fan of Welles or Citizen Kane, then this film is a must-see.