Filmmaker Investigates What Really Happened to Orson Welles’ Original Cut of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS

Photo from IMDb

Filmmaker Investigates What Really Happened to Orson Welles’ Original Cut of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS

By Movieguide® Staff

In 1942 famed Hollywood director Orson Welles followed up what is considered the best movie ever made, CITIZEN KANE, with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS.

While the latter won four Oscars and drew critical acclaim, it was not the movie that Welles envisioned.  

After 25 years of research, filmmaker Joshua Grossberg will document his life goal of finding and restoring Welles’ original picture, unchanged by the studios.  

The documentary following Grossberg’s journey is titled THE SEARCH FOR THE LOST PRINT: THE MAKING OF ORSON WELLES’ THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS.  

According to Grossberg, his journey began after first watching the movie in college at Northwestern University. 

“I wasn’t aware of the turmoil that went on behind the scenes during the ‘Ambersons’ production, and I became intrigued,” Grossberg said. “I became fascinated with the mythology of the print. And it became this rabbit hole that kept going deeper and deeper.”

Although Welles died in 1985 at the age of 70, his daughter Beatrice Welles said she is “thrilled beyond measure” at the prospect that her father’s intended movie could still be out there.

Due to poor reception at initial screenings, the studio changed Welles’ movie, without his knowledge, before it hit theaters.

“Here was an artist who created a very personal film and never really got the chance to finish it,” producer Joseph Schroeder told Fox News. “That really affected him for the rest of his career. It was a critical turning point. Ever since he lost control of ‘Ambersons,’ he was never able to regain the power he once had in Hollywood. And he essentially became an independent filmmaker, as we would describe it today.”

Grossberg revealed that his research led him to Brazil.  

“Robert Wise, Welles’ editor who also edited ‘Citizen Kane,’ sent the original director’s cut to Orson Welles in Rio,” Grossberg explained. “This was in early 1942 shortly before they were going to hold test screenings in Los Angeles. Welles was down there on behalf of the state department to film stories… about Pan-American relations since the war had just broken out. The idea was that Welles would use this director’s cut they had completed together as a reference, in case he wanted to make any suggestions to Wise.

“Part of our expedition is to go search and see if it has survived,” Grossberg continued. “The original version of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film ‘Metropolis’ was discovered in an Argentine museum in 2008. So it’s still possible to find films that are 80 years old or more, films that people once thought that never even existed, particularly down in South America. So we remain cautiously optimistic.”

Grossberg plans to travel to Brazil in 2021, as COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen for international travel.

“I think seeing the real version of ‘Ambersons’ as well as intended will create a number of great bar fights at trivia nights across the country among movie nerds, as to whether it is better than ‘Citizen Kane,” Schroeder said. “There are so many experts out there that have looked at what ‘Ambersons’ could have been if it was released exactly the way Orson Welles wanted, without all the cuts.”

“It was basically butchered,” he shared. “Many people still believe it was the greatest film that Welles ever made. And that’s a high order, right? ‘Citizen Kane’ is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, period. So if it’s better than ‘Kane,’ that will change the whole conversation.”

A portion of Movieguide®’s review of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS reads

The 1942 classic THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS by Orson Welles is a tremendous movie about the dangers of arrogance and pride. While the movie concludes with repentance and forgiveness, the price paid for pride is incalculable. The movie opens with the Ambersons being the wealthiest, if not the most respected, family in Indianapolis. Isabel Amberson loves Eugene but is publicly disgraced by an incident where he drunkenly stumbles and breaks his bass violin while trying to serenade her, that she breaks their engagement and marries another man. They have a son, George, who grows up to be an obnoxious snoot that everyone in town hopes will get his “comeuppance.” George’s arrogance and pride, based on his life of wealth and privilege, causes arguments, ruined lives and much misery.

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS ends on a sudden redemptive note that was added after some audience screenings, against the wishes of Orson Welles. Nonetheless, the movie provides a great lesson about the dangers of arrogance, pride and spoiling one’s children. And, the sudden ending strangely works, despite its suddenness. Orson’s brilliant narration holds this masterpiece together, especially the powerful climactic scene of prayer and repentance.