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With much less publicity than usual, Orson Welles presents another of his famous attacks upon the traditional standards of art. After marked victories over both radio and stage conventionality, he has turned upon the moving picture business in a brave attempt to make it into a real art. "Citizen Kane" demonstrated great possibilities for advance in technique and threatened the complacency of the movie industry. Unfortunately "The Magnificent Ambersons" merely repeats that threat.
The same new discoveries in photography are used throughout this new movie with no additions. Scenes are played both in semi-darkness and in complete darkness. The actors walk through so many shadows that one feels as though he were seeing Superman walk through walls. Shadows become too real and destroy the mood they were supposed to create. In contrast, light, when used, is too concentrated and too brilliant. There is no reality of illumination, and this alone is the source of the picture's weaknesses.
The cast, in which Orson Welles does not appear, are all good actors with difficult roles to perform. Dolores Costello and Tim Holt, as her spoiled son, present the central conflict of the plot. The son, whose character is strikingly like that of Citizen Kane, lacks the one saving grace of the Ambersons--their charm. His narrow-mindedness and conceit contrast sharply with the polish and warmth of his mother. Yet his stronger traits triumph over her more delicate virtues, destroy her life, and dissipate the family fortune. Once again the main role is that of an unpleasant, cruel man like Kane, but for variation the audience is assured that bitter experience has made a better man out of the last of the Ambersons.
A plot such as this gives Orson Welles much opportunity to present emotion on the screen, to revel in lights and shadows. He does so unrelentingly. The result is that the characters and the situations are never quite believable because of over-dramatization. Like a child with a new toy, Orson Welles uses the new technical discoveries beyond the point of satiation. He has not yet realized that many things are best said simply.
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