Connect with us

Movies News

Why ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ Is on Par With ‘Citizen Kane’ Despite Its Squandered Potential

Published

on

Why ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ Is on Par With ‘Citizen Kane’ Despite Its Squandered Potential

Last year, we saw some modest commemoration of the fact that Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ debut directorial effort often lauded as the greatest film of all time, celebrated its 80th anniversary. This year marks another important (if complicated) 80th anniversary, this time for Welles’ follow-up to Citizen Kane, 1942’s The Magnificent Ambersons. It’s a film whose conception was nearly as fraught as Kane, only the tragic thing about Ambersons is that the film was heavily re-edited in post-production and every known copy of Welles’ supposedly superior original cut was destroyed. However, even in the condensed 88-minute version, Welles’ budding mastery of filmmaking is unmistakable, and the film is full of numerous wonders even if it’s easy to spot that something’s missing from the whole affair, which is also what makes the movie fascinating on multiple levels.

The extent to which the quality of The Magnificent Ambersons was compromised by its studio, RKO Pictures, meddling in its post-production has often been debated. However, the exact chain of events that led to Orson Welles’ film being wrestled away from him has remained fairly consistent. A big part of understanding how the film was edited and released is that filming wrapped shortly after the U.S. entered World War II. Due to the advent of the war, Welles was asked by the U.S. government to head down to Brazil to shoot a documentary as part of the Good Neighbor policy — a strategy of keeping nations around the globe allied with the U.S. Since post-production hadn’t even begun when he was hastily expected to embark on this journey, Welles ended up recording his unmistakable voice-overs for the film in a recording studio in Florida just before heading off to Brazil. It was also during this time that Welles was coordinating with editor Robert Wise (who Welles had worked with on Citizen Kane) what to include in the rough cut of the movie, giving Wise a decent amount of authority over the film’s post-production while he was in South America.

Advertisement


RELATED: Orson Welles’ ‘Don Quixote’ and the Dangers of Uncontrolled Genius

What was then supposed to happen…never actually happened. After sending the original 131-minute rough cut of The Magnificent Ambersons to Welles in Brazil, Wise intended to fly down to Rio de Janeiro and work with him to cut down the film into something the studio would accept. However, the studio decided not to take this route. Instead, producer George Schaefer, who had been a champion of Welles at RKO, panicked when he saw this first cut of Ambersons. He thought the film might be too downbeat, so it’d be best to get the film in front of an audience, and see how they reacted, which resulted in a disastrous test screening in Pomona, CA. Though there were some audience members who enjoyed the film, the reactions to this test screening was overwhelmingly negative, with many people walking out early into the film. There are a few reasons one could pinpoint as to why this screening went over so poorly. These include that the dawn of World War II wasn’t the best environment to release a bittersweet ode to upper-class society-types at the turn of the 20th century, that the audience had originally come to see a light-hearted musical comedy, and that the rowdy screening took place on St. Patrick’s Day and the theater was located near several colleges.


If Schaefer wasn’t already nervous about the film’s commercial prospects, this screening didn’t help, writing to Welles “never in all my experience in the industry have I taken so much punishment or suffered as I did at the Pomona preview.” After that screening, Robert Wise cut the film down to 117 minutes and had a much more positive reception at a screening in Pasadena, though that didn’t seem to satisfy the studio. Welles was in contact with Wise through phone and telegram, orchestrating what cuts to implement, though by this time, the film was clearly falling out of Welles’ hands and wasn’t being helped by how wrapped up he was in his Brazil project, It’s All True. The studio wanted to make Ambersons into a lighter film and seemed uninterested in Welles’ input in accomplishing that, so they deployed Wise to trim the film down further. Meanwhile, a more upbeat ending was re-shot, overseen by assistant director Fred Fleck, which is perhaps the most strikingly out-of-place part of the film’s final 88-minute cut.


Advertisement

Among Orson Welles aficionados, it’s the consensus that having The Magnificent Ambersons thoroughly butchered more or less broke Welles in a way that he never truly recovered from. An oft-cited Welles quote is “they destroyed Ambersons, and it destroyed me”. However, the fact that the origins of this quote are hard to pinpoint speak to the Welles-ian myth that’s been created over this movie, whether he said it or not. Either way, what’s most tragic is that the missing 43 minutes of the original cut was supposedly melted in order to preserve nitrate for the war effort. This led to Welles and Welles fans over the years painting Robert Wise as the villain in this whole affair, which seemed particularly easy when Wise would go on to become an incredibly successful director of Oscar-winning films like The Sound of Music and West Side Story, which though classics, don’t have the misunderstood artistry inherent in Welles’ filmography. That said, Wise always maintained that the original cut was undeniably a better version of the film, but that he’d still done the best he could to hone a version of the film that was both true to Welles’ vision while also appeasing the studio.


Yet despite all the compromise and dashed potential of Welles and The Mercury Players creating a worthy follow-up to Citizen Kane, even in the severely hatched 88-minute version that we have, it’s still a pretty darn great movie. In many ways, it’s a far more personal film than Citizen Kane, as it inhabits roughly the same world that Welles grew up in during his childhood spent in the Midwest, as it centers on an upper-class family who see their small Indiana town grow over the decades while the family’s influence and magnificence fades. It was often claimed by Welles (including in his 1970 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show) that in the novel by Booth Tarkington that the film is based on, the character of Eugene Morgan (played in the film by Joseph Cotton) was actually based on Welles’ own father, who was a friend of Tarkington’s.

It’s a film whose visuals are just as memorable as the ones captured in the innovative Kane, though there’s a little more restraint here, which perhaps is trying to capture both the nostalgia and the elegance of the novel it’s based on. Still, there are many sequences that show Welles’ mastery of the form, particularly the film’s opening prologue, which depicts through a glossy montage how exactly the Ambersons came to rule “their midland town” which they over the years saw “spread and darken into a city”. The fluidity of Welles’ camera is also on display in a wonderful ball sequence at the Amberson mansion, though that was one of the many sequences that was supposedly shortened. In fact, the first half of the film bounces along in such a charming, visually sumptuous manner that you could easily make the case that this first half of Ambersons is just as good as any stretch of Citizen Kane. There’s also something remarkable about the attention to detail in the film, which feels far more novelesque than any film I can think of from this period. This could be due to how closely Welles follows Tarkington’s novel, though this also might speak to why audiences at the time perhaps didn’t have the patience for a film of such literary aspirations.


Advertisement

In the film’s second half, it’s hard not to notice that there seems to be something missing. This was supposedly the portion of the film whose downbeat nature caused the studio to panic and that was most thoroughly re-cut. This is also the portion of the film where we’re supposed to see the town become more industrialized and alien to the Ambersons, while George Amberson (Tim Holt) slowly spirals toward the comeuppance that Welles’ narration foreshadows at the beginning of the film. There is a striking sequence where George walks through his unrecognizable town before quietly contemplating his mother’s death in a starkly lit bedside scene that surely captures the mood Welles was looking to strike in the film’s second half. However, the pacing chugs along at too fast of a clip to get there and it isn’t helped by the punctuation of the tacked-on ending that sees George’s spinster aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead) and Joseph Cotton’s Eugene more or less ride off into the sunset together.

While it is a tragedy that the original, almost certainly better cut of The Magnificent Ambersons was not long for this world, there are still some silver linings to be found in this final version of the film. For one, there are countless films from Hollywood’s first few decades that have been entirely lost, and particularly in Welles’ filmography that were never finished in his lifetime, including The Other Side of the Wind, which was finally released on Netflix in 2018. Also, even despite superfluous cuts in the existing version of Ambersons, it’s filled with many marvelous sequences and performances that show what Welles could do at the peak of his powers and with the studio’s backing, even if only while filming was underway. There’s also an element of being able to have your cake and eat it too when it comes to watching this film. You can both view it and enjoy the existing cut for what it is, but you can also ponder how much better the film would’ve been in its original 131-minute version, which very well could’ve rivaled Citizen Kane.


It’s also possible that there has been a tendency to over-romanticize what this original cut looked like, just because the road not taken is often the one most appealing. In her essay about The Magnificent Ambersons written for the film’s Criterion release, Molly Haskell points out that some of the scenes in Welles’ cut may have been too indulgent and may have lingered too much on the Ambersons’ later, more miserable years. She also begins the essay by pointing out that “never was such a grim film so buoyant”. It’s a quality that The Magnificent Ambersons almost certainly would not have developed if it hadn’t been condensed into a lean 88-minutes. It’s probably worth taking both Wise’s and Welles’ word that the original cut of the film was better, but there are still about a million different things to be enjoyed about the cut that exists. Additionally, an expedition to track down and make a documentary about the original print that was shipped to Welles while in Brazil was announced last year, and while it does seem like a long shot, could finally give us the answer to whether that original cut is really as good as the one that only exists in our minds.


Advertisement

Movies News

Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Published

on

By

Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

Advertisement

The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

Advertisement

Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Movies News

Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

Published

on

By

According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

Advertisement

To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

Continue Reading

Movies News

Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

Published

on

By

Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

Advertisement

Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

Continue Reading

Trending