Film Review: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Release Date: July 9th, 1942 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
Cast: Joseph Cotton, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Richard Bennett, Don Dillaway, Orson Welles (narrator)

Mercury Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 88 Minutes, 148 Minutes (original cut), 131 Minutes (preview version)

Review:

“Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Minafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him.” – Narrator

While this is considered to be one of Orson Welles’ all-time classic motion picture masterpieces, I was somewhat underwhelmed by it.

The main reason is because it felt like it needed more meat and potatoes. The story was a bit skeletal and I felt like I needed to know the characters on a deeper level to be more invested into the story and their lives.

However, this problem with the film isn’t really the fault of Welles, as his original cut was 148 minutes, not the 88 minutes that this ended up being. Had this film had that extra hour, I think it would’ve been a much richer, more intimate and more complete body of work that could’ve possibly lived up to the iconic status of Welles’ previous film, Citizen Kane.

Still, most professional film critics today seem to have a very positive view on this film and apart from the issue I already mentioned, it’s easy to see why.

The film is absolutely stunning and beautiful. This “magnificent” world looks authentic and lived in. The sets are perfect but even more than that, the lighting, cinematography, shot framing and general mise-en-scène are stupendous. But coming off of Citizen Kane, Welles’ had already proven himself as an absolute maestro of cinematic craftsmanship and artistry. This honestly just adds even more credibility to the man’s legendary, iconic status as a filmmaker and visionary.

Additionally, the picture is superbly acted with Welles’ regular star, Joseph Cotton, taking the lead but also having solid assists from Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins and others. Also, Welles’ narration adds an extra level of magic to the film.

All those solid positives aside, though, it still suffers from a lack of depth and context. The film is full of many characters, all of whom are interesting, but only a few really get explored at length. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Welles’ intent but the finished film is somewhat diminished but this.

Ultimately, this is still a very good, almost great, motion picture. But it also makes me yearn for what could have been had Welles’ intended vision actually made it to the silver screen.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other early Orson Welles pictures.

Film Review: The Blue Gardenia (1953)

Release Date: March 27th, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Charles Hoffman
Based on: Gardenia a short story by Vera Caspary
Music by: Raoul Kraushaar
Cast: Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Sothern, Raymond Burr, Nat King Cole, George Reeves

Blue Gardenia Productions, Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“How about you slip into something more comfortable, like a few drinks and some chinese food.” – Harry Prebble

Man, Raymond Burr is in so many noir pictures. I really enjoyed him in this one, even if he does meet a quick end, being the murdered victim that sets the story in motion. Regardless, it was nice seeing him not play the evil heavy for once.

The star here though, is Anne Baxter, an actress who I am really starting to appreciate more, as I discover a lot of her old films. When I was younger, I really only knew her as Egghead’s (Vincent Price) criminal girlfriend Olga, Queen of the Cossacks on the 1960s Batman television series.

She also shares a lot of time on screen with Richard Conte, a guy I like, who shows off his charisma in this. You also get a small part by Superman himself, George Reeves, and a musical cameo by Nat King Cole.

The film is directed by the magnificent Fritz Lang and even though it goes to serious and dark places, it isn’t a film devoid of lightheartedness and plays like a comedy, at times. The opening of the film is quirky, as we see the life of Anne Baxter’s Norah and her roommates.

In this film, Norah is dumped by her G.I. boyfriend through a letter. She then decides to go out with the flirtatious Harry Prebble. They have a good time, she ends up at his home and later wakes up hungover. However, during her blackout, Harry was murdered. Norah is the prime suspect as some of her personal effects were left behind in Harry’s apartment. She has no memory of what happened but we’re pretty sure she didn’t do it. The rest of the film follows her on the run, trying to get help from a media personality (Conte) and evading the police until everything is properly sorted out.

This isn’t a noir with a lot of twists but it has just enough to keep things interesting. Noir pictures could often times get over complicated and convoluted but this is almost like noir light.

The Blue Gardenia is a fun movie. Sure, it’s dark and it involves murder but it doesn’t become as dreary as the cinematic style typically suggests. And maybe, by 1953, Fritz Lang was tired of doom and gloom and wanted to craft something a little more upbeat and playful.

Rating: 7/10