Minority Opinion: The Magnificent Ambersons, Part 6 — 9 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing again, barre117able! I see your point, but again, I'm afraid you miss mine. My opinion of the 88 min. version of Ambersons is not in preference to the 132 min. version, but in preference to Citizen Kane. I refer you to the very first sentence of Part 1: "It happens to be my personal opinion that Citizen Kane is Orson Welles's second greatest movie…" I see we are in perfect accord on this point, and for the reasons you cite (and which I touched on in the second and third paragraphs of Part 1) — Kane: cold, hollow; Ambersons: warm, human, real.

    It was never my intention to draw any direct comparison between the rough cut and release versions, because (as you correctly point out) we can't. Prof. Robert Carringer's painstaking annotated reconstruction is immensely valuable, but I think he'd be the first to admit that it can't give us a true sense of the movie any more than we can get the flavor of a cake from reading the recipe after the chef has deserted the kitchen. I only compared the two versions to point out that there is nothing in Prof. Carringer's reconstruction that plainly says, this should not have been cut.

    Even if that answer print shows up someday down in Brazil (may we both live to see it!), any "restored" version that results from it will be no more that somebody's best guess — without the benefit of input from Welles, Wise, Bernard Herrmann, Joseph Cotten or anybody else who was around at the time. (Still, I hope and trust it'll happen someday; it would at least be preferable to that miserable A&E "restoration".)

    It is indeed a shame that the outtakes weren't preserved, but I think I'd stop short of calling it a crime. Nitrate film was a terrible fire hazard, and studios thought long and hard before hanging on to it (though admittedly, not always long and hard enough). It wouldn't have helped anybody if those preserved outtakes had someday become the flashpoint for a vault fire that wiped out the whole library. Then there was the mindset at RKO by mid-1942: Virtually everybody (except Robert Wise) who admired and respected Orson Welles had been purged, and the survivors were fed up with him; they no doubt saw preserving Ambersons outtakes as throwing good money after bad.

    Again, thanks for stopping by, and for contributing to a very lively discussion!

  2. Mr. Lane thank you for your reply and for your civilized and intelligent tone. Thank you too for all your research into the Magnificent Ambersons saga. Your detail and analysis beats Callow by a nose!…which is amazing.

    My point is that your Minority Opinion in favor of Robt Wise's 88 min. edit over the 132 min. rough cut isn't very cogent. Since nobody alive or dead ever saw OW's full concept and execution, at whatever length that might have been… how do you know Wise's version was better? In a way I'd like to agree with you, but I (we) have nothing to compare it with. And Mr. Wise has said the 132 min. cut was a better movie, but he was under orders from Koerner to shorten it. OW always said TMA was going to surpass CKANE in quality. BTW: I much prefer the Welles/Wise Magnificent Ambersons to CKANE. Kane is cold and hollow. TMA is warm and human and real, and yes Wise. Ooops.

    The real crime was burning the outtakes and trims. RKO executives should have preserved these film pieces. After all they paid a million dollars to produce them! Welles, for his part, should have come back to Hollywood to meet his editing responsibilities rather than expect Mr. Moss, a bookkeeper/magician, to defend the picture against the post-Shaeffer management-beast. Its clear Koerner&Co. hated Welles personally and they expressed their contempt for him by destroying company assets (the film cuts) and also by failing to promote the film upon release, which further added to the $$ losses causing more harm to the shareholders. HELL: the damn thing got 4 OSCAR nominations…it wasn't a piece of garbage!! RAGE INJUSTICE

    PS: Joseph Cotten, who was a screenwriter as well as an actor, didn't think OW's rough cut was sucessfull and wrote Welles to this effect. So who do we believe? Welles/Wise on one side or Koerner/Cotten/Foy on the other? I believe Welles. He was a lot smarter and more talented than me.

  3. Thanks for dropping by, barre117able, and taking the trouble to comment. Alas, you seem to have missed my point. The "Minority Opinion" I expressed was of the 88 min. version, which is in fact the only one we have. You're quite right that I haven't seen "Mr. Welles final picture", and for a very good reason: it never existed. Not even Welles ever saw it except in his head, where it changed over the years — that's why he could tell Peter Bogdanovich that it ran 148 min., which was never the case.

    Anyhow, I was discussing the Ambersons we actually have, and how it came to us. I can't agree that my not having seen a movie that never existed somehow devalues my opinion of one that does. But we are in full agreement about Welles's "volcanic" talents, and your metaphor of the volcano that both creates and destroys is very apt.

    Again, it was wholly a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks again for stopping by.