Friday, December 27, 2013

That film they "destroyed"

TCM is showing The Magnificent Ambersons tonight at 8:00 PM in honor of costume designer Edward Stevenson. I have to admit that this is one of those movies that I've always found a tough slog for whatever reason, and I don't think I've actually seen it all the way through. It's one of those movies that I first learned about, I believe, from watching some documentary or another on PBS back in the days where you had to be in a huge city to have more than four or five TV channels. It was mentioned, of course, because it's the Orson Welles movie that was "destroyed" by the studio. Those evil studio bosses, ruining the movie!

Ever since I first tried to watch the movie, though, I've wondered how much of the problem I had is because of the studio editing it, and how much is down to the movie perhaps not being quite as good as it's cracked up to be. Finally having done a bit of online research, I'm still not certain. Apparently, Orson Welles' original edit of hte movie was quite a bit longer than the roughly 90-minute version we have today. There's nothing wrong with longer movies, of course; even Welles' previous Citizen Kane ran two hours and is damn good at that running time. But, for whatever reason, the preview audiences didn't like the first cut, or a second preview that had brief edits. It's after this tht the big changes were made.

Robert Wise, who worked as an editor on the film, this being before he became a top-notch director, would later claim that Welles' original wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. Composer Bernard Herrmann, on the other hand, so a large portion of his score go when about a third of the movie was excised, to the point that he decided he didn't want his name on the credits. They also changed the ending, although supposedly the studio ending is more true to the book. I haven't read the original book either, and my relatively brief searching didn't yield much information on what Tarkington himself thought. He died four years after the movie was released but was blind by the end of his life.

The impression I'm beginning to get now is that there probably was a great movie to be made from Tarkington's original source material, but that neither the 1942 movie we got, nor what Orson Welles conceived, was quite it. Kind of like Greed in that regard. But judge for yourself.

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