I've just received that 1990 CD of Herrmann's original score and read the cutting continuity in Robert Carringer's book while listening to the appropriate cues, and I'm absolutely overwhelmed.
Now I can finally understand why preview audiences hated its sombre mood, because it really is one tragedy after another, and when you hear the score you realise the actual tone of all that lost footage (especially that incredibly mournful reprise of "First Letter Scene" that was to play over the end titles). The whole middle and final acts were just the dying sighs of the characters. If I could only keep one piece of music from the film, it'd be "First Nocturne" that originally played during the porch scene with Fanny, Isabel and George.
With RKO's removal of so much music, you see to how great an extent the film's heart and power went with it. If the original version is ever discovered, it would be one of, if not *the* most impossibly moving film ever made.
Looking at all the stills in Carringer's book, the tiny glimpses of lost footage in the trailer and those on this website
(the terrifying image of Isabel decapitated by the shadows is the one that stands out most for me) only makes the agony and the ecstacy ever more vivid.
As it stands, The Magnificent Ambersons
is my favourite film, bar none. Were the full version ever recovered, it'd most likely become my all-time favourite work of art.
One last thing: I've always been under the impression that the 131-minute version of the film was not Orson's final cut but more of a first assembly version and he never really got to complete the film. Admittedly there are only two scenes that I can see as superfluous (the "Friends of the Ace" sequence near the start and the very brief follow-up to the Chemist's scene in the pool hall) and the rest should certainly stay intact - far from being too long, it's an absolute marvel of economic narrative - but was 131 minutes his definitive cut?
I'd have thought Orson could see that the "Friends of the Ace" scene contributes nothing to the plot or our understanding of George and practically stops the film dead in its tracks during one of the most breathless opening sequences in all of cinema. Similarly, that "flummoxed plum!" bit in the pool hall where the chemist brags to his friends about how his handsome visage made Lucy faint is a pretty off-key distraction from the tone of the surrounding sequences. Or am I completely way off base here?