Monday, November 11, 2013

Movie Monday: The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons
On the second and fourth Monday of every month, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize that few people have the time or desire to read the amount that I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good movie almost as much as a good book.

First off, let me apologize for only one post last week - and a late one at that!  It's been a little crazy in our personal life lately. My mother-in-law is having major surgery today and we are with them.  It's put me a little behind in getting posts up, but I hope you understand. Family comes first. Always.

Today, for Movie Monday, I'm covering Orson Welles' adaptation of The Magnificent Ambersons. Booth Tarkington's novel just barley makes it onto Modern Library's prestigious list at #100. If you remember from my original post on the book back in August, I am very happy it scraped by. 

Because I enjoyed the book so much, I had high hopes for the film adaptation. After all, it has Orson Welles' name right in the title. He wrote, directed, and narrated the film. The film premiered in 1942. No surprise, then, that is is in black and white.

Overall, the movie stayed true to the plot. It made virtually no changes. It did, however, leave so much out. Due to the length of the movie (well under two hours), so much detail was omitted. The main story got told, but much of the nuance was gone. That made me sad, as I derived so much pleasure from the details of the book.

The ending, particularly, was extremely abrupt. In the book, Tarkington shows the slippery slope leading to the demise of the Amberson fortune. In the film, it seems far too fast and improbable. It seems everything falls apart in one bad investment, rather than the series of misfortunes the novel portrays.

One thing Welles nailed was George's demeanor.  The first scene after the death of George's father feature him stuffing his face at a table full of food. He displayed no grief or angst. Instead, he was focused on the present and on himself. He came off as just as much of a prick on screen as he did on the page.

For all the old movies I have watched over the years, and the number is not small, this one still caught be off guard at the end.  The credits were all spoken, rather than being shown scrolling across the screen or slide by slide. It certainly seemed a nicer way to recognize those who worked on the movie. Of course, these days, spoken credits would last longer than the feature at times.

If you are a fan of old movies and have read The Magnificent Ambersons, I definitely recommend this piece. However, if you haven't read the book, I'd definitely start there. It holds so much more detail and nuance that make the story much better.  And, of course, if black and white movies aren't your thing, steer clear here. 

I am very much looking forward to a future viewing of the 2002 adaptation. I am hopefully that one will show more of the detail and therefore capture more of the essence of the book. Stay tuned for that review.

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