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You just never know. Why anyone thought The Magnificent Ambersons would have bright box-office prospects is a mystery. Welles, in fact, had not originally intended to make The Magnificent Ambersons his second film—it was a fallback choice. When that project ran aground for a variety of logistical and political reasons, George Schaefer, the RKO studio chief, suggested a less ambitious espionage thriller that he already had in development, Journey into Fear.
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Welles agreed to this idea, but not for his next film— Journey into Fear was a basic genre picture, an insufficiently grand successor to Kane, and something more dazzling and far-reaching would have to come between the two films. It was a terrific production which, if you can somehow get your hands on a laser-disc player, you can hear on the special edition of The Magnificent Ambersons released by Voyager , and precisely the kind of low-budget masterstroke that led Schaefer to believe that this East Coast theater and radio prodigy was worth signing to a two-picture deal. Welles had been just 22 when he, with John Houseman, founded the Mercury Theatre in When Kane was up for all these Academy Awards—in those days they were done on the radio, out of the Biltmore Hotel downtown—every time there was an announcement of the nominees for a category, when it was Citizen Kane , there would be boos from the [industry] audience.
Citizen Kane, despite the ecstatic reviews it received, was not a financial success—it was too ahead of its time to connect with a wide commercial audience, and too technically ambitious to come in at the prescribed budget. At his urging, Welles signed a new contract specifically for Ambersons and Journey into Fear in which he yielded his right of final cut to the studio. Isabel Dolores Costello , the still-beautiful daughter of the richest man in town, Major Amberson Richard Bennett , is married to a dull nonentity, Wilbur Minafer Don Dillaway , with whom she has raised a holy terror of a son, George Tim Holt.
The smug, college-age George, who is inappropriately close to his mother and considers automobiles to be a loathsome fad, takes an instant dislike to Eugene, but falls for his pretty daughter, Lucy Anne Baxter. When Wilbur Minafer dies, Eugene and Isabel rekindle their old romance. As George faces a life of reduced circumstances in a city where the Amberson name no longer carries any weight, he finally realizes how wrong he was to keep his mother and Eugene apart. Then, while out walking, he suffers a fateful injury when struck by, of all things, an automobile; Lucy and Eugene go to visit him in the hospital, and at last, George and Eugene, both sadder but wiser, bury the hatchet.
Impressed by what he saw, which included the already completed Amberson-ball sequence, now renowned for its virtuosic camerawork and gorgeous mansion interiors, he made encouraging noises to Welles.
Principal photography on the movie wound up on January 22, Even in its current, mutilated state, The Magnificent Ambersons is, in stretches and flashes, the marvelous picture Wise remembers. The magnificence of the Ambersons began in Their splendor lasted throughout all the years that saw their Midland town spread and darken into a city. The only public conveyance was the streetcar. Which, perhaps, it might once have been. With the war on, there was concern that the South American countries might ally themselves with Hitler.
RKO and the State Department gave this idea their blessing, and it was decided that one segment of the film would be devoted to the annual carnival in Rio de Janeiro. There was only one problem: the carnival would be taking place in February—precisely when Welles would need to be in The Magnificent Ambersons for the Easter release date that Schaefer was counting on. So a reshuffling of plans was in order. The reshuffling went as follows: Welles would turn over the directing chores of Journey into Fear to the actor-director Norman Foster, though he would still act in that film in a supporting role; Welles would finish as much editing and postproduction work on Ambersons as possible before departing for Brazil in early February, whereupon he would supervise further work from afar through cables and telephone calls to a designated intermediary, Mercury Theatre business manager Jack Moss; and Wise would be sent down to Brazil to screen Ambersons footage and discuss possible cuts and changes with Welles, and would implement these changes upon his return to Los Angeles.
But Welles was known for keeping several irons in the fire, constantly juggling stage productions, radio shows, lecture tours, and writing projects, and the whole scheme proved, for January at least, to be workable. In early February, Wise hastily assembled a three-hour-long rough cut of The Magnificent Ambersons and took it to Miami, where he and Welles—passing through en route to Brazil from a State Department briefing in Washington, D. Their work was to continue in Rio, but the U. On March 11, Wise sent a minute composite print a print with picture and soundtrack synchronized to Rio for Welles to review.
Curiously enough, the first blow against this version was dealt not by RKO but by Welles himself. Wise complied, and on March 17, , The Magnificent Ambersons, in this form, had its first preview screening, in the Los Angeles suburb of Pomona. Too many plots.
Photography rivaled that of superb Citizen Kane. In my 28 years in the business, I have never been present in a theater where the audience acted in such a manner. Think what would have happened to Kane if there had been one! The next preview was scheduled for two days later, in the more sophisticated climes of Pasadena. This, however, still proved unfeasible, and RKO, acting within its legal rights, took control of cutting the film, relying on a makeshift committee of Wise, Moss, and Joseph Cotten to fashion yet another, much shorter version of Ambersons.
The telephone proved to be unreliable, given the primitiveness of intercontinental connections back then. But these were effectively stabs in the dark—Welles had no way of knowing how well or how poorly his changes would work if implemented. Not that they would get implemented, anyway. Everything is over—her feelings and her world and his world; everything is buried under the parking lots and the cars.
The end of the communication between people, as well as the end of an era.
http://sg-db-ild-2.lode.com.au/6547.php The ending that Fleck shot—rather artlessly, with lighting and camerawork that bear no resemblance to the rest of the picture—shows Eugene and Fanny meeting in a hospital corridor after the former has just visited George. They talk some more, then drift out of frame, smiling, arm in arm, as saccharine music not by Herrmann swells on the soundtrack.
In May, an minute version of Ambersons using this ending was previewed in Long Beach, California, to much better audience response, and in June, after a bit more tinkering, Schaefer cleared a final version for release. To pick up the pace, this shot had a chunk removed from its middle, diluting its rapturous effect. The minute version of The Magnificent Ambersons that Welles and Wise had shaped in Miami was never shown publicly.
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Wise, who is now 87, the same age Welles would have turned this May, says he never had any sense that he was desecrating a great work of art by editing down and reshaping the film. For the first few days, he had a few discussions with Orson and tried to placate him: then they had started arguing because there were more changes than Orson was prepared to acknowledge.
After a few days of this, the phone was just allowed to ring and ring. I conducted many magic lessons with Moss when the phone was ringing uninterruptedly for hours at a time. I was particularly dismayed by the enthusiasm with which the mice played while the cat was away. That same month, the Koerner regime, lacking any confidence in The Magnificent Ambersons, opened it without fanfare in two theaters in Los Angeles, on a double bill with the Lupe Velez comedy Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost —an even more incongruous pairing than the Dorothy Lamour one.
I had my eye half on the TV, and there was a flash of Ambersons that I caught. He was off it almost before I could see it, because he obviously recognized it before I did. And then Oja, who was sitting furthest forward, kind of gestured to me. I looked back, and Orson was leaning in the doorway, watching. And as I remember, he came in and sat down. Nobody said anything. He just came in and sat down rather close to the set and watched for a while, not too long.
But I looked over at Oja at one point, who could see him because she was sitting on the other side of the room, and she looked at me and gestured like this. That just makes me furious.