14 September 2014

Perhaps it wasn't as disastrous as I'd feared

In March 1942, Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" received both positive and negative reactions from preview audiences. Focusing on the negative reactions (which said the film was too long and too depressing), RKO decided that the film needed serious editing and eventually cut it down from 131 to 88 minutes. The man in charge of post-production was film editor Robert Wise, who became later known as the director of "West Side Story" (1961) and "The Sound of Music" (1965). While Wise was busy editing "The Magnificent Ambersons", Orson Welles was in Brazil working on a propaganda film as part of the war effort. In Welles' absence and under Wise's supervision, approximately 40 minutes were cut from the original version and -in order to prevent a possible reconstruction- the deleted footage was destroyed. Outraged by the butchering of his film, Welles later said: "They destroyed 'Ambersons' and 'it' destroyed me."

English theatre critic and writer Kenneth Tynan was a great admirer of Orson Welles. In 1943, when Tynan was only 16 years old, he wrote Welles a letter in which he commented on "The Magnificent Ambersons". Delighted with the boy's positive remarks on his film, Welles answered Tynan's letter on 29 April 1943. Welles' letter can be read below.

Left photo: Orson Welles and Anne Baxter on the set of "The Magnificent Ambersons"; right: Kenneth Tynan.
Via: mike in mono


April 29, 1943

Mr. Kenneth P. Tynan
229, Portland Road 
Birmingham, 17

Dear Mr. Tynan:

It is difficult for me to tell you how mightily cheered and heartened I was by your kind letter. What you said about "The Magnificent Ambersons" particularly made me happy. While I was away in South America, the studio cut it without my knowledge or consent, and released it before I could work on it. The picture suffered from all this meddling, but your letter makes me feel the result perhaps wasn't as disastrous as I'd feared.

Again, many thanks, and all good wishes.



Orson Welles

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