The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) was one of the many, many movies I saw in the glorious summer of 2007. That was the year I fell in love with classic movies, and that summer I watched as many of them as I could. I actually didn’t like The Magnificent Ambersons at first, but I always like to give movies a second chance, and this one actually grew on me over time.
The Magnificent Ambersons follows the Amberson and Morgan families throughout the years. Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten) and Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello) have been in love with each since they were teenagers, but she decides to marry Wilbur Minafer (Don Dillaway) instead. Fast forward about 20 years: Eugene is back in town, he’s still very much in love with Isabel and vice-versa, but her son George (Tim Holt), a.k.a. the black sheep of the family, doesn’t approve of it. On top of that, he falls in love with Lucy (Anne Baxter), Eugene’s daughter, but she doesn’t want a future with him because he has no ambition in life. Simply put, The Magnificent Ambersons is the original soap opera. Only better.
Hollywood’s rebel child Orson Welles made this movie just one year after his masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941), and it could have easily suffered because of it. It almost did, apparently. The preview was a disaster and the movie itself was heavily edited against Welles’ will. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a fantastic film, albeit depressing. I’m guessing the reason the sleigh ride scene is so iconic is probably because it’s the only moment of happiness in this parade of misfortune, gossip and deceit. Everything from forbidden love to intimidating shadows to the constant clashing between George and his aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead in an Oscar-nominated performance), The Magnificent Ambersons has it all. And it is indeed magnificent.