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The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 10 July 1942 (USA)
2:05 | Trailer
The spoiled young heir to the decaying Amberson fortune comes between his widowed mother and the man she has always loved.


Orson Welles, Fred Fleck (uncredited) | 1 more credit »


Booth Tarkington (from the novel by), Orson Welles (script writer)
Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 4 wins. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Joseph Cotten ... Eugene Morgan
Dolores Costello ... Isabel Amberson Minafer
Anne Baxter ... Lucy Morgan
Tim Holt ... George Minafer
Agnes Moorehead ... Fanny Minafer
Ray Collins ... Jack Amberson
Erskine Sanford ... Roger Bronson
Richard Bennett ... Major Amberson
Orson Welles ... Narrator (voice)


The young, handsome, but somewhat wild Eugene Morgan wants to marry Isabel Amberson, daughter of a rich upper-class family, but she instead marries dull and steady Wilbur Minafer. Their only child, George, grows up a spoiled brat. Years later, Eugene comes back, now a mature widower and a successful automobile maker. After Wilbur dies, Eugene again asks Isabel to marry him, and she is receptive. But George resents the attentions paid to his mother, and he and his whacko aunt Fanny manage to sabotage the romance. A series of disasters befall the Ambersons and George, and he gets his come-uppance in the end. Written by John Oswalt <jao@jao.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


From the Man Who Made "The Best Picture of 1941" See more »


Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

10 July 1942 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Magnificent Ambersons See more »


Box Office


$850,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Mercury Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (original cut) | (preview)

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The film had a budget of $1 million, but lost over $600,000--a huge amount of money for a small studio like RKO. See more »


Towards end of long tracking shot with George and Lucy in horse-drawn carriage, portion of rear end of camera car and some sort of filmmaking equipment briefly enters left side of frame. See more »


[first lines]
Narrator: The magnificence of the Ambersons began in 1873. Their splendor lasted throughout all the years that saw their midland town spread and darken into a city. In that town, in those days, all the women who wore silk or velvet knew all the other women who wore silk or velvet, and everybody knew everybody else's family horse and carriage. The only public conveyance was the streetcar. A lady could whistle to it from an upstairs window, and the car would halt at once and wait for her, ...
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Crazy Credits

All of the credits except the RKO logo, the film's title and the copyright notice are recited orally (by Orson Welles) at the end of the film, not written out onscreen. As Welles recites the names of the production crew, we see such items as a motion picture camera when he says "Director of Photography", a pair of hands turning knobs as he says the words "Sound Recording By", etc. See more »

Alternate Versions

There are three alternate version to The Magnificent Ambersons, none exist any more:
  • the original version, Welles' first cut is the only one that has any type of record that exists. It was 132 minutes long. It included an extended Ball sequence. An extended sequence of Jack and George in the kitchen, a completely different ending, as well as other cuts too numerous to mention. The original last part of the movie was (in order): George and Jack at the Rail Station, George's walk home and comeuppance, Fanny at the boiler, Bronson's office, Eugene and Lucy in the garden, George in accident, Eugene hears of accident, Eugene visits Fanny in the Boarding house. The cutting continuity, which was recorded five days before the first preview, is included in the book, The Magnificent Ambersons- A Reconstruction.
  • The first preview audience saw the original cut for the most part. Welles ordered small cuts and one major cut prior to preview but no record of what they were exists. The movie ends the same way except the scene of Eugene and Lucy in the garden was dropped.
  • The second preview audience saw version that ran about 110 minutes. Twenty minutes of footage was scrapped and the ending went: George and Jack at the railroad station, Fanny's breakdown, Bronson's office, George's walk home, Eugene and Lucy in garden, George hit by car, Eugene hearing about accident, (shorter version of) Eugene visits Fanny in Boarding House.
  • When the previews still weren't to the studios satisfaction, the film was cut over and over, a new ending was filmed (not by Welles) and the film was finally released at its current run of 88 minutes.
See more »


The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo
(1892) (uncredited)
Music and Lyrics by Fred Gilbert
Sung a cappella by Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter,
Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead and Ray Collins
See more »

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User Reviews

"Loose Quicksilver In A Nest Of Cracks"
4 April 1999 | by stryker-5See all my reviews

In a Mid Western town at the turn of the century, an ostentatious family lives in an ostentatious house and arrogantly considers itself superior to all the other folks. Isabelle Amberson is the doyenne of the family, and is courted by Eugene Morgan, a bright young engineer. Isabelle rejects Eugene because of an imagined slight, and marries the worthy if unspectacular Wilbur Minafer. This sets in train a tragedy of unrequited love as Eugene continues over the years to yearn for Isabelle, while Isabelle's plain sister Fanny carries a secret flame for Eugene. Isabelle's imperious son George grows up and, thwarted in his own love for Lucy Morgan, develops an intense antipathy towards Eugene, the ever-present guest at the Ambersons' dinner table.

Welles' affection for the Booth Tarkington novel which inspired this masterpiece is easy to understand. It is set in the snowbound countryside of the northern Mid West, the very place where Welles was born and raised, and the Ambersons are just the kind of upper middle class family from which Welles sprang. More than this, George Minafer IS Welles. Spoiled and deferred to as a child, George grows up knowing no bounds to his whimsy. The monster that he becomes is oddly attractive, partly because of his utter self-belief. Welles himself was such a man. He must surely have contemplated casting himself as George: Tim Holt, who actually appears in the role, resembles Welles uncannily, with his pudgy good looks and resonant baritone speaking voice. Welles had an inordinate fondness for strawberry shortcake, and so does George.

The sombre, brooding atmosphere of the film is reinforced by its symbolic scheme. It is a film of departures and sunderings, with characters forever disappearing on long vacations, dying or merely vanishing behind closing doors, as when Fanny scurries away, devastated by the courtship joke.

As with "Citizen Kane" in the previous year, the film's stylistic approach is to show groups of interlocutors as ensembles, without the camera moving in on the individual speaker. Some of the faces remain in shadow or are otherwise obscured. The viewer works out from the context whose words he is hearing. In "Kane", the device helped to show the many-faceted nature of a human life. Here, it underscores the centrality of the family. Each of the Ambersons is subordinate to the family itself, and the family is the continuum, the amber in which these characters are trapped. Another of the "Kane" themes is developed here - that wealth and status cannot protect anyone against unhappiness. Welles' fascination with mirror images, indulged here in the brief bathroom scene, was to emerge again in "The Lady From Shanghai".

George Minafer and his "grand, gloomy and peculiar way" is at the heart of this film. He clashes unpleasantly with Eugene for two important reasons - George, the classic 'mommy's boy', sees Isabelle's lover as a rival, and Eugene is despicable because he is 'in trade' - and therefore far too vulgar a man to be lounging around the Amberson drawing-room. George's excuse for the confrontation is his ostensible desire to protect his mother from scandal, but this convinces nobody. In the climactic scene where George refuses Eugene admission to the house, we see George first through etched glass, emphasising his emotional aloofness, and his essentially defensive posture. Mrs. Johnson addresses George as "Mr. Amberson", then corrects herself and gives him his actual title, "Mr. Minafer". The error is significant, because George is the archetypal Amberson - sneering, haughty and strangely dissatisfied with life. In the scene where George and Lucy sever their connection, George protests indignantly that the emotional stress is going to make him faint. He doesn't collapse, but Lucy does. This is typical of George - he is quick to make his own selfish position clear, but does not in fact share the emotional vulnerability of the rest of humanity. His arrogance seals him off. Lucy's discourse on indian names throws up 'Ven Do Nah', the legendary hero whose name means 'Rides Down Everything'. It is, of course, a veiled allusion to George. Perhaps 'They Couldn't Help It' is a reference to the decline of the Ambersons.

After the death of Wilbur, and a seemly period of mourning, Eugene tries again to court Isabelle. In this saga of lost love, Eugene's suffering is the most acute. When he writes to Isabelle after the rift with George, he pleads with her most touchingly not to "strike my life down twice". Eugene's forbearance and dignity are ever-present. Joseph Cotten plays him as a man who endures his misery with stoicism. His speech at the dinner table on the dubious benefits of the automobile is powerful, generous - and a classic Welles creation.

It is Lucy's fate to repeat her father's tragedy, growing old in the absence of love. Ann Baxter is charming as Lucy, and the ageing process is convincingly depicted. Her forced levity in the scene where George breaks with her is very moving.

Welles' record is unique: two years, two films, two masterpieces.

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