Anderson’s film riffs nicely off Ambersons, but I really enjoyed going back to Welles’ film. I’d forgotten how effectively Welles uses space in the old mansion, with that fantastic curved staircase, and the low-key lighting in the mansion captured the family’s decline very effectively (of course I’m a sucker for low-key lighting). I also enjoyed Welles’ ability to map the Amberson family’s decline against the developing technologies of modern life, most notably the automobile that appears as a novelty at the film’s beginning when Eugene, Isabel’s longtime suitor (Joseph Cotten, a favorite actor of mine), takes several of the Ambersons for a drive in the snow. By the end of the film, the quaint town has been transformed into an industrial center, with tracking shots of smokestacks reinforcing the family’s decline.
Of course Ambersons is a very flawed film (the studio slapped on a happy ending and trimmed nearly 50 minutes (now lost) of the director’s cut while Welles was out of the country), but there are certainly some cool moments.