Some may say that it’s a little too early to declare Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane a cinematic revolution, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that movies as we know it will never be the same (on a side note, I wish people would stop spoiling the twist ending for those that haven’t seen it). Even though the controversial film was robbed at the Oscars and suffered disappointing box office due to William Randolph Hearst’s meddling, Welles should be given license to do whatever he wants after turning out that caliber of film as his feature debut.
But now it’s being rumored that Welles has been shut out of the editing room by studio RKO on his follow-up feature, The Magnificent Ambersons. The adaptation of the 1918 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel centers on an affluent family in Indianapolis who suffers a downfall due to the rise of the automobile industry. It’s not the cheeriest subject material, but it’s not like Citizen Kane was a laugh-a-minute riot. Nevertheless, it’s a prestige picture from a ridiculously talented director, so what’s the problem?
Welles may have made a critical error in sacrificing final cut as part of a negotiation with RKO. Test screenings have been getting a mixed response, but RKO has apparently jumped in right at the first cut, and the studio is rumored to be removing over 40 minutes from the feature. I know RKO is an institution and it’s not going anywhere for a long time, but that kind of creative tampering is obscene, especially when it’s over a movie from Welles. It’s like they’re trying to snuff out a rising talent before he has a chance to burn even brighter.
So what happens to the footage that’s left on the cutting room floor? Will they preserve it? I doubt it. The movie seems lost. But the greater cost is Welles. He had to fight tooth and nail for Citizen Kane, and now it looks like he’s going to be defeated on this one.
Luckily, he’s already hard at work on his next film, the incredibly promising spy thriller Journey Into Fear. I have a feeling we’re going to look back on The Magnificent Ambersons as a tainted blip on Welles’ resume, while Journey Into Fear will be rightfully regarded as his proper—and no doubt wonderful—Citizen Kane follow-up.