Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

In director Orson Welles' period drama, with impressive photography and innovative cinematic techniques, about the demise of the Amberson family due to the oncoming industrial revolution:

  • the opening voice-over narration (Orson Welles) sequence demonstrating the changing styles and fashions: ("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, while she shut the window ... put on her hat and coat ... went downstairs... found an umbrella... told the 'girl' what to have for dinner...and came forth from the house. Too slow for us nowadays, because the faster we're carried, the less time we have to spare") - with the narrator's ultimate conclusion: "Against so homespun a background, the magnificence of the Ambersons was as conspicuous as a brass band at a funeral"
  • the views of the great Amberson mansion, a convincing, turn-of-the-century re-creation, inhabited by the richest family in the town: (voice-over: "There it is, the Amberson mansion. The pride of the town...Sixty thousands dollars worth of woodwork alone. Hot and cold running water, upstairs and down. And stationary washstands in every last bedroom in the place")
  • the introduction of young George Minafer (Bobby Cooper as boy) ("George Amberson Minafer, the Major's one grandchild, was a princely terror") - the offspring of dull, pallid, colorless and passionless Wilbur Minafer (Don Dillaway) and beautiful Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello), the only daughter of Major Amberson (Richard Bennett); the boy was a spoiled, insufferable, hateful, daredevil brat dressed in velveteen and with golden ringlets in his hair; he was seen riding recklessly through town in a tiny carriage, whipping his buggy pony; careening by, he upset a gardener with a hoe; although indulged and adored by his mother, everyone in town longed to see George receive his ultimate "come-uppance": "They did hope to live to see the day, they said, when that boy would get his come-uppance"
  • the courtship between George Minafer (Tim Holt as adult) and Lucy Morgan (Anne Baxter), when George first encountered her father, automobile entrepreneur and widower Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten), who was dancing in the mansion dancing Aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead), Wilbur Minafer's unmarried, shrill-voiced sister; George insultingly called Eugene "a queer looking duck" before actually meeting him
  • their sleigh-riding sequence in winter-time, when the couple were seen whirling along in a horse-drawn sleigh, passing Eugene's stalled vehicle and calling out: "Get a horse!" but then their sleigh carriage tipped over, and dropped them into the snow where they were seen sneaking a kiss with each other; at the end of the sequence, as Eugene drove away from the snowy scene in his experimental car, the camera slowly irised-out on the car [a tribute to older silent films], turning the screen black
  • the dining room table sequence in which Eugene Morgan elegantly and beautifully delivered a very significant speech, philosophizing about the growth of the new invention: the automobile - and admitting the possible consequences of the new industrial revolution: ("With all their speed forward, they may be a step backward in civilization. It may be that they won't add to the beauty of the world or the life of men's souls. I'm not sure. But automobiles have come. And almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They're going to alter war and they're going to alter peace. And I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles. And it may be that George is right. It may be that in ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine but would have to agree with George: that automobiles had no business to be invented"); before the speech George insultingly despised automobiles as a "useless nuisance"
  • the revealing conversation of self-pitying and gossipy Aunt Fanny and George on different landings of the Amberson's circular staircase, with each successive landing of the staircase featuring stained-glass windows that were labeled "Faith," "Hope," "Charity," "Music," and "Poetry"; Fanny confessed her loneliness following her brother Wilbur's death, and then revealed that Isabel never really cared for any other man in her life but Eugene; George was incensed that gossips in the town talked of Eugene's love for his widowed mother Isabel, and his jealousy intensified
  • the marvelous scene in which Isabel was deeply affected after reading Eugene's letter asking if she would choose her oedipal son or stand up against him: (in part: "...And so we come to this, dear. Will you live your life your way, or George's way? Dear, it breaks my heart for you, but what you have to oppose now is your own selfless and perfect motherhood. Are you strong enough, Isabel? Can you make a fight? I promise you that if you will take heart for it, you will find so quickly that it's all amounted to nothing. You shall have happiness and only happiness. I'm saying too much for wisdom, I fear. And oh my dear, won't you be strong? Such a little short strength it would need...") - ultimately, Isabel chose her son George's wishes over happiness with Eugene
  • the close-up image of George watching Eugene leave the mansion for the last time just before Isabel's death - his determined face was reflected in the window pane from Isabel's familiar vantage point - he replaced her image and imposed his own will
George Watching Eugene Leaving Mansion
Isabel's Death-Bed Scene
  • the emotional sequence of the promenade of George and Lucy along the main boardwalk of the town during a long take, when George tried to force Lucy to show some emotion for him, and essentially told her goodbye forever: ("This is our last walk together, Lucy...This is the last time I'll see you ever, ever in my life. Mother and I are starting on a trip around the world tomorrow"); she wished him well (without betraying her sadness): "I do hope you have the most splendid trip"; once George had left, her face revealed a deep sadness and her eyes filled with tears
  • soon after her return from abroad, the scene of Isabel's death-bed farewell scene with George by her side, with spider-web shadows falling over her face - and at the moment of her death, the shade was pulled down over the lace curtain and the web patterns became dark over her face
  • the rambling and incoherent speech in which the old and senile patriarch - Major Amberson disjointedly mused on the source of life before his life also ended: ("It must be in the sun. There wasn't anything here but the sun in the first place...The Earth came out o' the sun, and we came out of the Earth. So whatever we are..") - he left no inheritance to either George or Fanny
  • the lyrical scene of the discussion between Eugene and Lucy in the garden, when she resigned herself to not marrying George because of his vindictiveness, and instead decided to support her father's every wish
  • the lengthy sequence of Aunt Fanny suffering a nervous breakdown in the empty crumbling Amberson mansion with her nephew George, after they had both fallen on hard times; in the empty kitchen, George and Fanny discussed the sorry state of their finances and how much they would need to live; she worried that Georgie would abandon her, and complained about how her own penny-pinching efforts to provide have failed miserably; Fanny slumped helplessly against the boiler and slid to the floor; George commanded her to get up and not sit there with her back against the boiler, but she became hysterical: "It's not hot, it's cold. The plumber's disconnected it. I wouldn't mind if they hadn't...I wouldn't mind if it burned me, George!"
  • the sequence was followed by a brilliantly-choreographed, elaborate tracking dolly shot moving through four rooms, as they continued to argue; the two moved backward from the cold boiler out the kitchen door and through the reception hall (past the circular staircase) and into the boarded-up Amberson front parlor - where sheets shrouded the furniture in the otherwise empty living room
  • the low-key but powerful sequence, with voice-over narration (by Orson Welles), when George finally received his "come-uppance" after his mother died and he sat at her empty bedside: ("George Amberson Minafer walked homeward slowly through what seemed to be the strange streets of a strange city. For the town was growing, changing. It was heaving up in the middle, incredibly. It was spreading incredibly. And as it heaved and spread, it befouled itself, and darkened its sky. This was the last walk home he was ever to take up National Avenue to Amberson Addition, and the big old house at the foot of Amberson Boulevard. Tomorrow, they were to move out. Tomorrow, everything would be gone....Something had happened, a thing which years ago had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town. And now it came at last: George Amberson Minafer had got his come-uppance. He'd got it three times filled and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it. And they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it, and all about him")
  • shortly later, George would be seriously injured, ironically, in an automobile accident

The Amberson Mansion

Young George Minafer
("A Princely Terror")

Courtship in the Mansion: George Minafer and Lucy Morgan

Sleigh-Riding Sequence - Ending with Iris-Out Effect

Eugene's Dinner-Table Speech About the Invention of the Automobile

On the Staircase: George and Aunt Fanny

Promenade: Goodbye Scene Between George and Lucy

Death of Major Amberson

Aunt Fanny's Nervous Breakdown with George Next to Inoperative Boiler ("It's not hot, it's cold")

George Kneeling at His Mother's Empty Bedside - He Had Finally Received His "Come-Uppance"


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