Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942). Writer/director: Orson Welles.

Orson Welles' follow-up to Citizen Kane was based on Booth Tarkington's brilliant novel, which was not only a trenchant small-town family drama but a look at the changes wrought in American society after the turn of the century and its effects on several citizens. Welles' film was cut by the studio, stripped down to bare basics, but still emerges as a creditable movie with some fine performances. Tim Holt probably never did anything better than his performance as spoiled young George Minafer, whom the whole town is hoping will eventually get his comeuppance. Eugene (Joseph Cotten) had been in love with George's mother, Isabel (Delores Costello,) but she married another man. Now she is a widow, and Eugene is a widower with a grown daughter, Lucy (Anne Baxter). A complication is that George's Aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead) has always been carrying a torch for Eugene. "Just being an aunt isn't really the great career it may seem to be," she tells George. A bigger complication is that George is vehemently opposed to any romantic union between his mother and Eugene. [George and Fanny have a number of scenes together which Welles almost always films in long takes.] Eugene is also planning on manufacturing motor cars, which upsets the more genteel members of the Minafer family. As the film progresses there are dramatic developments and the fortunes of the Minafers take a turn for the worse, leading to a situation wherein George has to really prove what kind of person he is. The cast, including Ray Collins [Lt. Tragg on Perry Mason] as Uncle Jack, is excellent, although I fear that Agnes Moorehead is perhaps a bit more odd and semi-hysterical than she needed to be as the desperate and lonely Fanny [she received a supporting Oscar nomination, however]. The movie is handsomely produced and looks great [the art direction and Stanley Cortez' cinematography were also nominated].

Verdict: Nearly a masterpiece. ***1/2.

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