Adapted from the 1916 novel by Booth Tarkington, Orson Welles’ second film is an elegy for the passing way of life of an upper-class family living in a small mid-western town in the early 20th century.
After the dazzling experimentation of Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons found Welles’ visual creativity undiminished, again incorporating inventive editing transitions, expressionistic lighting and elaborate camera angles. The Ambersons’ Indianapolis home was created on the RKO studio lot, complete with removable walls to accommodate the ornate cinematography of Stanley Cortez.
Sadly, preview audiences reacted negatively to the film’s melancholy tone, leading RKO to cut an hour and order the filming of a new happy ending while Welles was away in South America. The removed footage was subsequently destroyed.