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Minority Opinion: The Magnificent Ambersons, Part 4 — 9 Comments

  1. I made the same comparison between George Minafer and Scarlett O'Hara when I read the book. They're protagonist and villain simultaneously, and it's something of a conjuring trick on the author's part to keep the reader interested in them. (And then, too, as I mentioned when I wrote a review of the book a year ago, perhaps it's partly the reader hanging on to see them "get their come-uppance", as Tarkington was so fond of saying.)

    I think Ambersons is a tricky book to adapt in the first place, because some of the character motivations are rather hard to get across. George's primary motivation is his insane pride in "the family name," (arguably something he doesn't even really understand himself), and it's the idea that Isabel's remarriage would somehow reflect on "the family name" that prompts him to break it up. But isn't that rather hard to get across on the screen? Even some of the supporting characters, like Fanny and Lucy, seem like they would be harder to understand simply through their dialogue and actions. I haven't seen the movie yet, of course, so I can't judge how good a job it did with this.

    On the other hand, some of the sequences in the book do seem very cinematic. The two vividly contrasting porch scenes, for example, showing how much has changed in the space of years between them, and the montage-like section after George and Isabel go abroad, where Tarkington describes the changes in the city.

    Incidentally, in the book Fanny's companion in the second porch scene was Uncle George/Fred/Jack, not Major Amberson. I wonder why Welles didn't just go back to that when Richard Bennet wasn't up to the task?

  2. Elisabeth, by a remarkable coincidence I first saw Ambersons in the summer of 1962, shortly after first reading Gone With the Wind. The comparison between George and Scarlett struck me, too — but when I mentioned it to an actress in the show I was doing, she refuted it rather forcefully and (to me) convincingly. Yes, she said, they're both the selfish, willful focus of wealthy families brought low by changing times. But the crucial difference is that Scarlett never gets her come-uppance. She ends as she began, airly dismissing an unpleasant thought: "I'll think about that tomorrow." She hasn't learned — implicitly, will never learn — that she can't always get her own way. "Those," my friend said, "are not the words of someone who's gotten her come-uppance." I couldn't answer her at the time, and now I think she was right.

    Of course, it's important to remember that the ending of GWTW the novel is quite different from that of the movie — not in substance, but in tone. The movie ending stresses Scarlett's iron will and inner strength, while the novel underlines her fiddle-de-dee-ness and self-delusion.

  3. Jim, as always, I'm truly wowed by all the work you did in whipping your stunning series "Minority Opinion: The Magnificent Ambersons, Part 4" into shape. Too bad Orson Welles didn't have as much focus and clarity in the making of his film as you've had in the writing of this series! As I've said in earlier parts of this series, the story-behind-the-story is as riveting as the story itself. Great job, Jim, as always!