Citizen Kane (1941)
Release Date: September 5th, 1941 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Orson Welles Actors: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Everett Sloane
ithout a doubt, “Citizen Kane” is one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time. It frequently ranks amongst collections of the most outstanding motion pictures, from magazine polls and individual critic lists, to the American Film Institute’s highly publicized “100 Years… 100 Movies” compilations – nabbing the #1 spot on both their 1998 and 2007 CBS primetime television countdown specials. Accolades aside, its influence is no less than monumental, swaying future filmmaking with its cinematographic innovativeness, powerful story, and nuanced acting. And to think that this 1941 epic was the feature-length producing, acting, writing, and directing debut of Orson Welles – for which he received Oscar nominations in the categories of Original Screenplay, Actor in a Leading Role, and Director (the film would also be nominated for Best Picture, Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Music, and Sound).
Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) dies alone in his superfluously enormous Florida estate named Xanadu. With his dying breath he utters the word “Rosebud.” Having been an instrumental, persuasive, prominent, and significant newspaper tycoon, his death sparks interest in reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland), who seeks out Kane’s friends and colleagues in an attempt to discover the meaning behind the word. He first peruses the private archive of Thatcher (George Coulouris), a deceased banker who raised Charlie. Then he journeys to meet with business manager Bernstein (Everett Sloane), best friend Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton), and Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), Kane’s second wife and opera singer hopeful. With each interview, he begins to piece together the life of “a man who got everything he wanted, and then lost it.”
Although it was just his first feature, Welles was already shaping the tragedies he would continue to explore throughout the rest of his career. “Citizen Kane” remarkably examines a flawed character that refuses to acknowledge his own shortcomings, spending his life struggling to obtain the unobtainable, overcompensating for the past, and avenging his stolen childhood; even with all the riches in the world, Kane cannot recognize the causes of his misery. His desire to impress upon others, to dominate their decisions, and to control every political situation and every person around him ultimately drives them away. He’s unable to buy friendship or love and, in the end, grasps onto the memories of a simpler time and age when monetary accumulation was inconsequential.
The story is sensational, delving deep into the groundwork of a man doomed by the consuming and fascinating cycle of witnessing other great men rise and fall. More than the film noir shadows, the bright lights and pitch-black silhouettes, the unique camera angles, deep-focus photography, the narrative structure with flashbacks, and the documentary-styled opening scene (“News on the March”) that synopsizes Kane’s history from afar (before Thompson’s character scrutinizes moments on a more personal level through the eyes of acquaintances), or any other technical achievement the film is frequently praised for, it’s the story that remains timeless and momentous. This comparatively transcends the notorious basis on William Randolph Hearst and the banning, controversy, and uproar that followed. Few other movies craft emotional, tragic characters that create such a commanding impact on audiences. Smart dialogue and a cast of actors that never miss a beat (especially Welles, whose performance is uncommonly confident) further contribute to a project that would coincidentally have as much reach as Kane’s own notoriety in the film.
The empty shell of Xanadu, a lonely, vast, incomplete castle overrun by rampant vegetation and roaming wildlife mirrors Kane’s correspondingly lonesome final days. The great mystery is that of “Rosebud,” which over the years has been unavoidably spoiled, spoofed, quoted, and interpreted, and debated. But even without the original shock of finally discovering the secret through hounding past encounters, the revealing of the deteriorating relationships of all who crossed Kane’s path, the false honesty of a declaration of principles for the interests of the underprivileged (by which he would hurt a portion of his own wealth for the sake of revenge on Thatcher), the transformation of gossip into news or interfering with news to make slanted material, and the all-consuming alienation of his entire legacy, a sincere pity for the egocentric is cleverly established. Kane is unforgettable and his intense character study is a masterpiece of cinematic sublimity that is rarely, if ever, equaled.
– Mike Massie