THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS: THE STILLS
In the 1940s when a film was made at a major studio—and this holds true even today— for publicity purposes photographs or “stills” were prepared. These include formal photographs of the stars taken in a photography studio often dressed as their characters and more often than not photographed prior to the picture going into production. Some of these have no relation to the film but are just a head shot of a star and could be used to publicize a film. For example, the Orson Welles head shots were prepared when he came to RKO and were used to publicize both CITIZEN KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. Photographs are then taken of the film in production showing the director, technical people, etc. in the process of making the movie. Finally photographs are taken on the set which attempt to duplicate as best as possible in still photographs the scenes being shot by the film camera. To do this the still photographers will often stand beside the camera and take their photographs before and after a scene is photographed or during camera rehearsals. Again, this is done to make the still photograph as close a representation of a filmed scene as possible.
The formal studio photographs were usually distributed to publications before and after a film goes into production in order to create an awareness with the general public of the movie and its cast. The production photos are often used in pre-release publicity prepared for general interest and trade publications. The final set of photographs, the ones that attempt to duplicate the motion picture’s frames are distributed when the film is released and are seen by the public in displays prepared by theaters playing the film as well as well as in general publications including reviews. The final set of stills eventually find their way into film journals and various book publications decades after the film’s release. These photographs are also included in what is known as a press kit—along with studio prepared literature on the film, so that reviewers and anyone writing about the film can have at their fingertips information about actors, the plot and various other facts related to the film. Included in a press kits is a selection of photos can be published.
To the best of my knowledge the complete studio set of photographic stills for THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS comprised 275 numbered photographs. This master set was prepared after filming was completed. Before that, stills – some of which were omitted from the studio set – called candids and production stills were sent out to various publications to promote the film and, so, were numbered differently and never on the still itself. Example of these numberings are B4273-3 or N4237-1. Therefore, there could be as many as 400 – or perhaps even more – stills for the film. What I have here is every still that I could find and, trying to be as complete as possible, 14 were scanned from publications and therefore there is a noticeable loss in quality. In addition, I have organized this material first by Photography Studio (OW, JC, TH , AB, DC.) and (MA-ADV), second by production (MA-PUB-A) and finally press kit (MA-). At the end of this collection is a rare set of ‘The Star At Home’ photos taken of Dolorous Costello (DC-) at the time she signed with RKO for THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. These photos were usually used in the Fan Magazines.
The still numbers here are not to be confused with the sets of stills distributed to theaters. They had their own numbering and included various stills from the original studio set. This is a reason why many stills do not have the original numbers as they were removed for this “theater set” which did not have their identification number on the still itself but below to the right of the film’s title. As theaters were required to purchase these stills, few returned them to the studio and, over the years they became available to collectors. For this site I have tried my best to locate and organize AMBERSON s stills by their original studio identification numbers and, when I couldn’t find one, I placed the still nearest photographs from the same scene or performer.
What is of interest is that the Press Kit or “MA” still-set photographs, contain stills from almost every scene deleted from the 131 minute “rough Cut” and even scenes that Welles cut from his “rough cut” and, so, are the only representations of these lost scenes that we have. (Welles did have a set of frame enlargements but most of these are now lost. ) There is a reason for this. The complete studio set was compiled for the film’s planned April 1942 release, therefore much of this material were sent out to publications for articles written for that April release. Therefore these articles contain stills from scenes that do not exist in the film’s release version. In fact, many of the stills for deleted scenes have found their way into subsequent articles, advertisements and even Home Video packaging.
THE PRINT MEDIA AND AMBERSON STILLS
The Contemporary publications below are an example of how AMBERSONS stills were used to publicize THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS during it’s initial release. As you will notice, several of the articles include stills from scenes removed from the release print. Since it was initially planned that a fined tuned version of Welles rough cut would be released in April 1942, the RKO publicity department pushed for these stories to appear in conjunction with that aborted pril release. I have included the complete Photoplay article as it summarizes the film’s screenplay and not the theatrical cut of the film.
AMBERSON STILLS 76 YEARS LATER
Over 70 years after THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS was originally released magazine and newspaper articles continue to appear about the film utilizing AMBERSONS stills. Below are two examples. Of note is that in both examples, stills from cut scenes are used.
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