Quarantine Cinema 3

If you have a whole night to fill, you might enjoy a double feature consisting of the first movie, below, followed by one that it inspired.

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Orson Welles wrote, directed, produced and narrated this classic tale about the decline of a wealthy Midwestern family during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  While Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) tops any number of “greatest American movie” lists, The Magnificent Ambersons remains somewhat in the shadows. That’s in no small part because after the filming was finished nervous studio executives took the movie out of Welles’s hands, cut 50 minutes and added a Hollywoodized ending. Yet for all that, and despite the undeniable greatness of Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons is the one I keep coming back to. Graced by Welles’s wise, nostalgic narration, it seems somehow warmer and more human.

Embarrassed by her beau’s drunken serenade, heiress Isabel Amberson (Delores Costello) rejects him and marries the ineffectual Wilbur Minafer instead. In the absence of true love for her husband, Isabel turns all of her attention to their son, George (Tim Holt), who grows into a holy terror. The entire town anticipates the day when George will finally get his “comeuppance.” That process is set in motion when Isabel’s erstwhile beau, Eugene (Joseph Cotten), returns to town as a widower. A pioneer in horseless carriages, Eugene serves as a fitting symbol of an encroaching industrial age that will forever change the Ambersons, their town, and their way of life. The 1918 Booth Tarkington novel on which the movie is based inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—just as Welles’s film version inspired the movie below.    

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Filmmaker Wes Anderson has cited The Magnificent Ambersons as an important influence for his third movie. Though Anderson’s films are uniquely and unmistakably his own, that influence is evident not just in the title, but in the wistful narration (with Alec Baldwin subbing for Orson Welles) and in the gently unfolding lives of a complex, multigenerational family. Gene Hackman plays the title character, Royal Tenenbaum, a rogue who has failed as a father, husband and businessman and who now seeks redemption from those he has let down.

Anjelica Huston plays Etheline, his ex-wife on the cusp of a second marriage. Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson and Ben Stiller are Royal’s three grown children. All are struggling with varying degrees of success to forgive their father and repair the damage he’s caused. Danny Glover, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson (who co-wrote the script with Anderson) help round out the ensemble cast. The Royal Tenenbaums has the Wes Anderson trademarks of sets that look and feel like pictures from a children’s book, and a lush soundtrack of familiar and obscure pop songs. The Royal Tenenbaums plays like a slightly twisted urban fairy tale with humor and lightness interspersed with a few shocks and intimations of disaster. In the end, Anderson’s greatness is about much more than style. Underneath it all, the human connections are genuinely moving and make this a memorable film.