It’s a great revelation to know that Orson Welles was just 26 years old when he made this film after his acclaimed great classic ‘Citizen Kane’ a year prior to this. The Magnificent Ambersons is a sweeping saga of an aristocratic family slowly fading its glory with time and tide. The centre of the film is heir George Amberson, a spoilt, arrogant and untamed child and son obsessed with his mother reaching his final comeuppance in the last moments of the film. But besides George, it’s a refined story of love and it’s longing, strings of relations and fading bourgeois culture.
The film remains memorable for its great casting of all actors. Tim Holt throughout remains alter ego of Welles here in all his arrogance and false dominance. But the most natural acts come from all supporting players- Joseph Cotton as Eugene Morgan, Delores Costello as Isabel, Agnes Moorehead as Aunt Fanny or young Anne Baxter as Lucy; they all are irreplaceable characters.
Welles remained on backstage in the film. Besides scripting and direction, he is the narrator of the whole story here and also done voice over for the end credits of all his cast and crew in the film instead of rolling titles; another experiment here too. It’s a question why instead of Greg Tolland; Welles hired Stanley Cortez for camera work. Though here too, we see the touch of Welles’ impressions in some of the nice framings of deep focus photography, inventive camera angles and fine use of light and shade. The film is quite dragging, melodramatic from today’s standard but in treatment its cent percent touchstone. But the last fifteen minutes captures the whole essence of the film. Its heartbreaking and an unnoticed tragedy of the lost glory. The only film I would like to compare here is Guru Dutt’s equally brilliant ‘Kaagaz ke Phool’ and I do believe sincerely that Dutt is India’s version of Welles.
Maybe it’s not a kind of film which strikes you like ‘Citizen Kane’ but in repeat viewing it gives you many different dimensions and clues of its greatness. Most of the Welles films including ‘Kane’ bear this sad truth. They weren’t proved successful at box office or appreciated when released but as the time takes a turn they stamped as great classics by one of the most inspirational and iconic auteur.