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The Essential Orson Welles - The Magnificent Ambersons

The 27-year-old Welles followed up his groundbreaking Citizen Kane with an equally ambitious but even more mature project: an adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s 1918 novel about the decline of a prosperous Indiana family in the early years of the 20th century.


Back from college, brattish Tim Holt gets his comeuppance “three times filled and running over” when he falls for radiant Anne Baxter, the sole daughter of inventor Joseph Cotten, who also happens to be a crestfallen, onetime suitor of Holt’s mother (Dolores Costello). Add Agnes Moorehead in an Oscar-nominated supporting performance as spinster Aunt Fanny, plus the talent and technical resources of a studio-backed production, and The Magnificent Ambersons proves to be an accomplished, darkly sumptuous period film. The final cut of the film was famously taken out of Welles’s hands while he was in Brazil working on his abortive third film, It’s All True. The Magnificent Ambersons was released in an 88-minute version featuring additional scenes not shot by Welles (composer Bernard Herrmann took his name off the final credits, though much of his bittersweet score remained in the film), but the film received four Oscar nominations including Outstanding Motion Picture and Black-and-White Cinematography (Stanley Cortez), and has gone on to become one of Welles’s most acclaimed efforts.

1942, 88 minutes, black and white, 35mm | Written by Orson Welles, based on the novel by Booth Tarkington; directed by Orson Welles; with Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Richard Bennett.

Screen legend Orson Welles was a pioneering filmmaker and raffish public personality, best known for the remarkable achievement of Citizen Kane. This series presented by the Academy will focus on Welles as a trailblazing director, presenting nine of the 11 films completed in his lifetime (several of them screening in brand-new restorations). As a body of work, these films – from the serene grandeur of The Magnificent Ambersons to the noir intrigue of The Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil – reveal the dexterity and inventiveness of Welles's craftsmanship. The series will offer examples of his dazzling technical expertise, such as overlapping dialogue, potent bursts of montage and bravura cinematography, and explore the themes that fascinated him, from anti-heroes corrupted by power to the dangers of pursuing uncomfortable truths. These films are a testament to Welles the tireless visionary, who, whether in the lap of studio luxury or exiled in Zagreb, approached each motion picture as a mystery that only he could unravel.

The series runs from May 3 through June 7. For more screenings, please visit our Events page.


Event Information

Saturday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Bing Theater
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

$5 general admission
$3 Academy members, LACMA Film Club members and students with a valid ID.

*Admission to both screenings on May 17: The Magnificent Ambersons and The Stranger.
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