It is during rainy mornings like this one that I find myself fantasizing about Orson Welles, one of the two loves of my life (the other being, of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald). The first time I fell head over heels in love with Orson Welles was when I first watched Citizen Kane (1941), of which he was the director, writer, and lead actor. It went on to become the undisputed greatest film of all time. He was very young then and Citizen Kane was his first movie. Now, I would be a fool not to fall in love with a genius like that.
The second time I fell head over heels in love with Orson Welles was this morning, when I watched his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), which chronicles the decline of the aristocratic Amberson clan. The movie first introduces us to the very beautiful and very rich Isabel Amberson. Wild, handsome, and less-moneyed Eugene Morgan is madly in love with her, but she marries boring Wilbur Minafer instead. Decades later, Eugene Morgan returns to town with his beautiful daughter Lucy. He is now a successful automobile maker, immensely rich, and widowed. He woos Isabel again, and this time she is receptive. However, Isabel’s spoiled son, George, resents this, and does everything to sabotage their affair. To complicate matters further, George finds himself smitten by Lucy. In the end, George receives his comeuppance “three times filled and running over.”
When The Magnificent Ambersons premiered in 1942, the audiences were less receptive. Some predicted this as the start of Orson Welles’ decline. The movie was regarded as a failure by many. I, however, beg to disagree. The Magnificent Ambersons may be unappreciated in ts own time, but it fits right into ours just perfectly. It is, in every way, an equal of Citizen Kane, in that it is undeniably brilliant. Ten seconds into the film, I was already enraptured– the movie is just so beautiful in every way. Every word uttered by the actors is teeming with profundity. Every frame has a message to say. I admire how the movie’s cinematography affects the essence of the entire story. (For instance, every now and then, snapshots of the Amberson mansion is flashed on the screen, like the house is also a member of the cast, an integral character in the film. In the end, when George becomes destitute and bids adieu to the now dark and abandoned mansion, I cannot help but grieve– a character has died.) Characteristic of Welles’ films, the characters in this movie are very complex and humanized that I cannot help but feel sympathy and not hate toward George, the antagonist. It’s the kind of movie that haunts you, the kind that you never forget.
My only complaint is the ending, which is optimistic and therefore not in keeping with the sinister theme of the rest of the film. True enough, essays about the film reveal that an hour’s worth of reel was cut from The Magnificent Ambersons, and the ending’s not quite how Welles intended it. I ache to get my hands on the lost footage. For now, I will seek comfort in his other films. I will watch The Lady in Shanghai next, and I shall tell you all about it.
Lucy: What are you studying at school?
George: Oh, lots of useless guff.
Lucy: Why don’t you study some useful guff?
George: What do you mean, useful?
Lucy: Something you’d use later in your business or profession.
George: I don’t intend to go into any business or profession.
Lucy: Why not?
George: Well, just look at them. That’s a fine career for a man, isn’t it? Lawyers, bankers, politicians. What do they ever get out of life, I’d like to know. What do they know about real things? What do they ever get?
Lucy: What do you want to be?
George: [fatuously] A yachtsman!
Rating: Gripping. Absolutely gripping. I dared not turn my head away from the screen even for a moment. Please watch it; it will change how you view cinema.