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Citizen Kane is considered by many to be Orson Welles's masterpiece, but more than a few prominent critics have argued that his second film, 1942's The Magnificent Ambersons, is an even greater artistic achievement. It's certainly the source of the most painful injustice of Welles's brief career in Hollywood, having been seized from the director's control, drastically cut from over two hours to merely 88 minutes, and reshot with a different, upbeat ending that Welles vehemently disapproved of. Adapted by Welles from the novel by Booth Tarkington, it remains a truncated masterpiece, as impressive for what remains as for the even greater film it might have been. The story is set during the late 19th century and follows the rise and fall of the wealthy Amberson family of Indianapolis, Indiana. Central to the drama is George Amberson Minafer (Tim Holt), who is snobbishly to the manor born, and whose petty jealousies and truculent pride compel him to prevent a wealthy inventor (Joseph Cotten) from marrying his widowed mother (Dolores Costello). This in part is the cause of the Ambersons' downfall, and ultimately leads to George's humbling "comeuppance" at the film's dramatic conclusion. It's an absorbing tale of fading traditions and changing times, and it's also a magnificent showcase for Welles's cinematic audacity, famous among film students for its long, fluid shots and ambitious compositions. Responding to the film's drastic cutting and re-editing, Welles justifiably complained that "they destroyed the heart of the film, really." And yet, the director's stamp of genius is evident throughout--the work of a young master (Welles was only 26 when the film was made) that still shines despite its unfortunate fate. --Jeff Shannon
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