Turner Classic Movies is set to sponsor filmmaker Joshua Grossberg’s expedition to Brazil which is part of an effort to restore Orson Welles’ original version of “The Magnificent Ambersons.”
Considered arguably the most famous ‘lost work’ in film history, Welles’ 1942 feature originally ran 131 minutes long only for his home studio RKO to add new scenes (and a completely new ending) along with excising around 43 minutes of footage.
As a result, Welles claimed “They destroyed ‘Ambersons’ and it destroyed me”. His first post-“Citizen Kane” feature, the saga about the declining fortunes of a wealthy Midwestern family disappointed at the box-office even as that shortened cut is still considered one of the great films of all time.
At the time it was alleged the missing 43 minutes was melted down so the nitrate could be used for the war effort. For years there have been efforts to find footage that might have been saved so a restoration of the original vision could take place.
Greenberg has been searching for the missing footage since the late 1990s. The trail leads to Brazil where Welles did work for the U.S. Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs during the early days of America’s involvement in World War II.
At the end of January 1942, after finishing shooting “Ambersons,” Welles left for Rio de Janeiro and it’s believed RKO sent him a complete workprint of the film for him to edit while on the trip. That’s what Grossberg hopes to find.
The expedition will simultaneously be documented in the feature-length documentary “The Search for the Lost Print: The Making of Orson Welles’ ‘The Magnificent Ambersons.;”. Joseph Schroeder and Gary Greenblatt will produce that feature about the journey and the legend surrounding the lost print along with the original film’s troubled production, and Welles’ exile from Hollywood.
Charlie Tabesh, senior VP of programming at TCM, has acknowledged “it’s a long shot,” but “it’s too important not to try”. If found, the hope is the film can be restored and released to coincide with the 80th anniversary of “Ambersons” in July next year. Either way, the documentary will be released at that time.