The Magnificent Welles

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Magnificent Welles Movie Poster Image
A fascinating look at Orson Welles.
  • NR
  • 2003
  • 93 minutes

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Some strong language.

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Parents need to know that this movie has some coarse language and drinking.

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What's the story?

THE MAGNIFICENT WELLES is a spectacular one-man play written by and starring Marcus Wolland. (The stage play's original title is Lost Eden: An Evening with Orson Welles). This drama is set in 1942, when Welles is still a remarkably promising filmmaker after creating the acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Citizen Kane. Much of the play is autobiographical, with Welles going over the appeal of magic and storytelling to him while informing us all about his hard climb to the top. Often he stops and makes calls to various people in Hollywood over his new film, The Magnificent Ambersons. He thinks it's even better than Kane, but the studios think it's too long and depressing and Welles passionately struggles against the cuts the studio wants to make. Being where we are in history, it is comforting to know that Welles will be redeemed when Citizen Kane becomes generally regarded as the finest film in American history, but saddening to know that he will never reach these heights again, and the studio will not only cut but destroy forty-four minutes of The Magnificent Ambersons and we'll never know what Welles' final version really was.

Is it any good?

Always entertaining and impressively put together, this is a fascinating look at arguably the most fascinating figure in the history of American film. Wolland is obviously intrigued by Welles, (who can blame him?) and his intrigue helps him slide right into the part. His script is convincing and well-researched, and his own energy, talent, and ambition in the theatre world, as well as his physical resemblance, feels like you're spending an evening with the man himself.

Wolland gives an in-depth analysis of most of Welles' life and projects, focusing on how Charles Foster Kane was a mockery of Welles himself among others and captivating the audience with his stories about his famous theatrical woes in his all-black cast of Macbeth and his anti-establishment Cradle Will Rock. He lets us in on several entertaining behind the scenes stories that are far too absurd to have been made up. Near the show's dismaying conclusion, the defeated Welles talks about how on stage if he touches just one person he has reached "an ultimate communication" and it is worth it to him. Consider it done, Mr. Wolland.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they learned about Orson Welles from this movie, and use it as a starting point to research Welles' work as writer, director, and actor. What's the story behind Citizen Kane? William Randolph Hearst was unsuccessful in his attempts to get the studio to destroy the film, but he did forbid his newspapers and radio stations from even mentioning the film. What are the dangers of a single person having this much control over print and other media, and can you think of any examples of this in today's world?

Movie details

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For kids who love dramas

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