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Citizen Kane (1941)

  • Review: **** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Everett Sloane, William Alland, Paul Stewart, George Coulouris, Fortunio Bonanova, Gus Schilling, Philip Van Zandt, Georgia Backus, Harry Shannon, Sonny Bupp, Buddy Swan, Orson Welles
  • Director: Orson Welles
  • Screenplay: Orson Welles, Herman J. Mankiewicz
  • Length: 119 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG

A cold winter’s day. A simple snow globe. A mystery surrounding the last word’s a wealthy dying man. Who is Rosebud and why did she mean so much to a man who had physically so much but emotionally so little?

There is little question that Citizen Kane is one of film history’s finest works. There isn’t a scene in the film that hasn’t inspired future generations of filmmakers. And it’s not just Orson Welles’ inventive techniques make the film what it is.

The film revolves around a newspaper magnate, Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), whose dying word “Rosebud”, set the film on its way. Joseph Cotton plays Jedediah Leland who is attempting to solve the mystery of the name by systematically interviewing every person who came into lengthy contact with the legendary Kane.

As Leland speaks with each of these persons, we are guided in flashbacks through Kane’s life. From his childhood caught between two parents who wanted different things for his future, through his rise to the top of the publishing world, in and out of his failed marriages and even looking at his political career. And along every step of the way, Leland finds fewer and fewer clues to his mystery.

Welles deftly guides us through Kane’s life effortlessly providing us every clue we need to resolve the mystery of Rosebud and as the film wraps and Rosebud is revealed, we realize just how clever and insightful the film’s screenplay is. Welles not only directed and starred in the film and he also wrote it and produced it.

The film got very little attention in its day for although many critics liked it and it was well-respected in many circles, there was one man who wanted it to fail. William Randolph Hearst, the legendary newspaper magnate who owned a significant portion of the nation’s papers during the early half of the century was incredibly well known for his dislike of the film. The parallels are staggering when you know more about Hearst, but there are enough artistic licenses with the film to make it an interesting and unique film.

Hearst even went so far as to instruct his gossip columnists and syndicate critics to pan the film and ensure that the buzz generated for the film was negative. And it worked. Although the film earned nine Oscar nominations including one for Best Picture, it received only one prize: Best Original Screenplay. The slap in the face to one of history’s best films is a painful topic for many. Unfortunately, most blame the winner How Green Was My Valley for taking Citizen Kane’s Oscar. Valley is a good film and certainly had it not been up against such a legendary film the vitriol spewed would not be so harsh.

However, it is still clear that the Academy made the wrong choice that year for Citizen Kane was not only the Best Picture of the year and Orson Welles the Best Director, the film and its director are testaments to the power, artfulness and quality of filmmaking. Few films can match the breadth and originality displayed in Kane and only by learning from it can you hope to duplicate its magnificence.