Top 100 Movie Review: No. 006 – Citizen Kane (1941)

Ranked 006 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017).
Watched movie during the month of August 2020.

Cast: Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane), William Alland (Jerry Thompson), Joseph Cotten (Jedediah Leland), Ray Collins (Jim W. Gettys), Everett Sloane (Mr. Bernstein), Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander Kane), Ruth Warrick (Emily Monroe Norton Kane), George Coulouris (Walter Parks Thatcher), Agnes Moorehead (Mary Kane), Harry Shannon (Jim Kane), Paul Stewart (Butler), Buddy Swan (young Charles Foster Kane)
Directors: Orson Welles
My rating: 9.0 / 10

In a grand mansion that he build with his fortune an elderly Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) is on his deathbed. Holding a snow globe, he utters a word, “Rosebud”, and dies alone; the globe slips from his hand and smashes on the floor. A newsreel obituary tells the life story of Kane, an enormously wealthy newspaper publisher and industrial magnate. Kane’s death becomes sensational news around the world, and the newsreel’s producer tasks reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) with discovering the meaning of “Rosebud”.

Thompson sets out to interview Kane’s friends and associates. He tries to approach his wife, Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore), now an alcoholic who runs her own nightclub, but she refuses to talk to him. Thompson goes to the private archive of the late banker Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris). Through Thatcher’s written memoirs, Thompson learns about the rise and decline of Kane’s personal fortune.

In 1871, gold was discovered through a mining deed belonging to Kane’s mother, Mary Kane (Agnes Moorehead). She hired Thatcher to establish a trust that would provide for Kane’s education and to assume guardianship of him. While Thatcher and Charles’ parents discussed arrangements inside, the young Kane (Buddy Swan) played happily with a sled in the snow outside the boarding-house. When Kane’s parents turned him over to Thatcher, the boy struck Thatcher with his sled and attempted to run away.

By the time Kane gained control of his trust at the age of 25, the mine’s productivity and Thatcher’s prudent investing had made him one of the richest men in the world. He took control of the New York Inquirer newspaper and embarked on a career of journalism, publishing scandalous articles that attacked Thatcher’s (and his own) business interests. Kane sold his newspaper empire to Thatcher after the 1929 stock market crash left him short of cash.

Thompson interviews Kane’s personal business manager, Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane). Bernstein recalls how Kane hired the best journalists available to build the Inquirer’s circulation. Kane rose to power by successfully manipulating public opinion regarding the Spanish–American War and marrying Emily Norton (Ruth Warrick), the niece of a President of the United States.

Thompson next interviews Kane’s estranged best friend, Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotton), in a retirement home. Leland recalls how Kane’s marriage to Emily disintegrated more and more over the years, and he began an affair with amateur singer Susan Alexander while he was running for Governor of New York. His political opponent Jim Gettys (Ray Collins), who Kane has been attacking for years in his news papers, discovered the affair and made it public with the scandal ended Kane political ambitions to be Governor and eventually President. Kane married Susan to save face and forced her into a humiliating operatic career for which she had neither the talent nor the ambition, even building a large opera house for her. After Leland began to write a negative review of Susan’s opera debut, Kane fired him but finished the negative review and printed it.

Susan later consents to an interview with Thompson and recalls her failed opera career. Kane finally allowed her to abandon singing after she attempted suicide. After years spent dominated by Kane and living in isolation at Xanadu, she left him. Kane’s butler Raymond recounts that, after Susan left him, Kane began violently destroying the contents of her bedroom. When he happened upon a snow globe, he grew calm and said “Rosebud.” Thompson concludes that he is unable to solve the mystery and that the meaning of Kane’s last word will forever remain an enigma.

Back at Xanadu, Kane’s belongings are being catalogued or discarded by the staff. They find the sled on which the eight-year-old Kane was playing on the day that he was taken from his home in Colorado. Deeming it junk, they throw it into a furnace. As the sled burns, the camera reveals its trade name, ignored by the staff: “Rosebud.”

What’s to Like
The amazing acting, the story with it’s mystery, the cinematography, the presentation of the story beginning at the end of Kane’s life and eventually ending there as well.

What’s not to Like

Considered one of the masterpieces of film created by a master of story telling Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane still pulls in audiences 70 years later and is referenced in many mediums.  The film is unique for it’s time as it tells the story almost entirely in flashbacks using different individuals points of view to explain events in the life of Charles Kane.  This technique means we are learning about how Charles Kane perceived and we need to interpret his actions as we are never presented with his version of events or reasons for his actions.

My perception of the his motivations is that having be stripped of his loving mother and simple life at a young age, hating the man who took it away from him, Kane decided that since money was what took him away from his mother than money was where real power existed and he would look for both during his life.  He also sought out the people’s approval as a replacement for the lose of the unconditional love he lost when he was taken away from his mother.  Kane spend his entire life looking for more money, power and unconditional love and praise.  He rarely formed friendships instead he accumulated lackey’s who would praise him at every step.  His only real friend is fired after he writes a bad review of Kane’s second wife musical performance since Kane can’t stand anyone who doesn’t fully and totally support him.

In many ways Kane is a dictator in the making.  His political speech uses imagery that could be frightening to those who don’t support him.  A man with this much ego determined to rule a country without empathy would have been a disaster.  If no pure motivation except to gain power and acceptance you can see some similarities with other dictators.  Ultimately at the end of his life I believe that Kane realised that it was the simple things he really missed, love and freedom.

The burning of his beloved sled ‘Rosebud’ without anyone realising it’s significance highlight’s how no one really knew Kane.  He will be remembered only for his grabs for power and his ego, dying alone and unhappy. Apparently some of this story was inspired in part on William Randolph Hearst who had some similar traits as Kane and also run a media empire.  Hearst banned his newspapers from mentioning the film.   

Before watching this film I knew that everyone believes that there is a major plot hole; how does anyone knew of Kane’s last words ‘Rosebud’, since he dies alone.  While there is no one in the room at least his butler had heard him say the word when he first found the snow globe that he was found dead with at the end of his life so it isn’t a great jump that this was his last word, or at least the last word the butler heard him say.

Academy Awards

  • Best Writing, Original Screenplay – Winner
  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Orson Welles) – nominee
  • Best Director (Orson Welles) – nominee
  • Best Cinematography, Black-and-White – nominee
  • Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White – nominee
  • Best Sound, Recording – nominee
  • Best Film Editing – nominee
  • Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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