Customer Review

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Butchered by the studio - but still a Masterpiece, 30 Sept. 2007
This review is from: The Magnificent Ambersons [DVD] [1942] (DVD)
This film is almost as fresh and original as Citizen Kane but for different reasons. It's darker and more lingering, and Stanley Cortez's deep contrast black and white photography is breathtaking. The oppressive sets are shot from low angles often with minimal camera movement and should be viewed in 4:3 aspect to appreciate their carefully controlled composition. Many of the scenes consist of long uncut shots where the actors move in and out of shadows to assemble themselves, disperse, and come together again in an obviously carefully arranged manner that must have required hours of painstaking rehearsal. This - the very antithesis of 21st century jump cutting - is what stands out in Ambersons. It's a grand noir amalgam of theatre and photography and in some senses even ballet.

Some of the acting is a little wooden but more than made up for by Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorhead's fine performances - to say nothing of Orson Welles' narration.

It's frustrating that RKO butchered the cut in Orson's absence and apparently destroyed the original (no director's cut here I fear). The print used here is not restored but nevertheless the transfer of picture and sound are pretty good. You would be wise to ignore the crass ending - re-shot without Welles, but it's remarkable that what's left still has the power to amaze after 65 years.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 May 2013 10:16:23 BDT
Ahantrobus says:
I would be interested to know your definition of wooden acting. It is a description that is
used a lot in these reviews. Usually unfairly.
Do they stand in a scene like cigar store indian figures, or what?
I think that cinema acting has to be subtle. The camera sees everything.
Should actors be emoting continuously?....Just interested!

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jun 2013 01:39:47 BDT
I know what you mean - it's an easy throwaway criticism. Strangely even the smallest parts filled by Mercury regulars are performed with a satisfying richness and fullness. But in this case the worst offender is Tim Holt who seems vacant throughout in his key lead role, always staring into the middle distance, and delivering his lines with a persistent whine. Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorhead are so warm and natural that Holt lets the side down by comparison. However I guess he 'got his comeuppance' too because his career had fizzled by the late 40s.
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