The only debate over The Magnificent Ambersons seems to be whether it’s a near masterpiece or an unqualified one. I’m going to say “near,” if only because there is no denying the harm done by the studio interference that took place once it left Orson Welles’ hands. Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington, Ambersons traces the downfall of a once-great Midwestern family in the early 20th century, mostly through the eyes of its spoiled young scion, George (Tim Holt). At least that’s the focus of the remaining 88 minutes, which is unfortunate, because Holt is hardly the actor to carry all of the thematic and narrative weight of a movie that was clearly envisioned as more of an ensemble epic (Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Agnes Moorehead and Ray Collins are all on hand in what feel like truncated turns). Nevertheless, the bold cinematic techniques Welles employed in Citizen Kane are put to even more sophisticated use here: deep-focus cinematography that emphasizes the sprawling emptiness of the Amberson mansion; the use of crane and tracking shots to heighten tension and drama; brooding production design that overwhelms the characters; long takes with faces in silhouette. It all forms a dark and deeply bitter picture of American progress, as George’s refusal to embrace the rise of the automobile – as consumer or investor – is depicted as one of the main reasons for his family’s ruin. “The faster we’re carried, the less time we have to spare,” Welles’ own narration observes. Ambersons is nostalgic for the rigid class structure of the American past, even as it questions whether that structure had a right to exist.