Written, directed and narrated by the amazing Orson Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons tells the story of a well-to-do family in a changing world. In a time where young men would serenade pretty girls under their window, Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten) accidentally crushed a cello, embarrassing his girlfriend, Isabele Amberson (Dolores Costello). So she turned her sights to Wilbur Minafer, a rather dull man, married him and had one son, George (Tim Holt).
George grows up to be a spoiled brat and the whole town is just waiting for his come-uppance. Just before his father’s death, he meets Lucy (Anne Baxter), Eugene’s daughter. Though George is arrogant and doesn’t believe he should find a useful career, he and Lucy start a courtship. At the same time, Eugene and Isabele (with both their spouses deceased) strike up their old relationship.
Before George realizes what’s going on with his mother and Mr. Morgan, he dislikes Eugene for another reason. Eugene has had a big hand in creating the automobile, the invention that will quickly change the entire world and turn their town into a darkened city. George openly disapproves of the invention, stubbornly fighting against the wheels of progress and change. It comes at no surprise when he finds out that his mother wishes to marry Eugene that the spoiled little boy flares up anew, completely negative and selfish.
The Amberson house is absolutely beautiful inside and out. Orson uses the stairways, the shadows, highlights, the stained glass windows, sprawling floors, long skinny columns and wallpaper patterns to his advantage in every shot possible. The details of the beautiful house are more than scenery, but an accent to the family’s magnificent history. I was eating it up.
With Orson’s beautiful narration, quirky comments from a few locals and a story of come-uppance and redemption, this really feels like a fable on screen. George is young and inexperienced, but that’s no excuse for being a brat, and when the time comes he’ll have to be sent down stream so he can learn to fend for himself.
“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?”