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The Magnificent Ambersons

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 09:26 AM
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“The biggest mistake we have made is to consider that films are primarily a form of entertainment.   The film is the greatest medium since the invention of movable type for exchanging ideas and information, and it is no more at its best in light entertainment than literature is at its best in the light novel.”

-Orson Welles

Orson Welles was passionate about film.   By the young age of 25, he had directed, produced, and starred in what is today considered by most to be the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane.   About a year later, Welles began work on his next film project, The Magnificent Ambersons.   Based on the novel of the same name by Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons tells the story of a falling aristocratic family in a small midwestern town during the late 19h century.   It depicts the sad, rapid industrial growth of the Midwest.  

Welles, who grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin and later in Illinois, understood what life was like in this part of the country and the novel allowed him to delve into his roots and examine his personal past.   Surviving many risks and crises, this film is still revered today, almost 60 years later, as yet another great work of art by Orson Welles.

After finishing up Citizen Kane, Welles’ search for a second film to fulfill his contract with the Hollywood studio RKO radio pictures was a hard one.   He first wanted to make The Pickwick Papers with W.C. Fields, but someone else was already under contract to make the film with another studio.   He also considered trying Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but RKO considered the project too experimental, and he finally decided to write a script based on Booth Tarkington’s novel, which had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1919 (McBride 53).   It had been filmed once before as Pampered-Youth, a 1925 silent film directed by David Smith (McBride 53).   Tarkington’s novels were a favorite of Welles’, including the trilogy of which Ambersons was...


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