|Orson Welles Director||previously directed The Hearts of Age|
A 1941 drama written, directed, produced, and starring Orson Welles. Citizen Kane is widely speculated to be a portrait of then-news giant William Randolph Hearst. It is routinely lauded as one of the greatest and most influential films in American cinema.
Orson Welles was only 26 years old when here starred in & directed in the movie Citizen Kane.2 More Trivia
13 More Quotes
There's only one person in the world who's going to decide what I'm going to do and that's me...
|Herman J. Mankiewicz|
|Joseph Cotten||Jedediah Leland|
|Orson Welles||Charles Foster Kane|
|Dorothy Comingore||Susan Alexander Kane|
|Agnes Moorehead||Mary Kane|
|Ruth Warrick||Emily Monroe Norton Kane|
|Ray Collins||James W. Gettys|
|Erskine Sanford||Herbert Carter|
|Everett Sloane||Mr. Bernstein|
|William Alland||Jerry Thompson|
|See Full Credits|
Citizen Kane employs a unique style of storytelling. By no means is the film told in a linear fashion except in the news reel at the beginning of the film. The reel serves as a foundation of the narrative for the audience to be able to place what time frame time frame events occur in. After the reel, audiences are introduced to the reporter character who serves as a literal guide through the discovery of Kane’s life.
Throughout the film the reporter visits several people close to Kane in order to discover the meaning behind his last word “Rosebud.” The reporter visited Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander Kane but gives up when she refuses to talk. Instead he decides to visit the late Mr. Thatcher’s Memorial Library to read Thatcher’s unpublished memoirs in hopes to find the meaning of Rosebud.
Mr. Thatcher was a well to do banker and first met Kane as a boy in 1871 when Kane’s mother signed the rights to a large mine over to the bank and would eventually become Kane's on his twenty fifth birthday. The idea was that Kane was to be raised and educated so that he could handle the responsibility waiting for him instead of continuing to live in Colorado uneducated.
Thatcher had very little to do with Kane’s upbringing even though he was Kane’s guardian. At Kane’s twenty fifth birthday Thatcher writes him telling him that it is time for him to take care of his families fortune. However Kane writes back that he doesn’t want the mines or real estate only a small newspaper, Kane’s thinks it would be fun to run it.
Over about a few years or so Thatcher reads the headlines of Kane’s paper the Inquirer. The headlines expose Traction Trust, a public transport company, for being against the common man.
Thatcher finally visits Kane hard at work at his newspaper. He tries to convince Kane that he shouldn’t try to diminish the Traction Trust to which Kane owns shares too. Kane says that he is doing this for the common man even if he has to lose a million dollars a year.
His next encounter with Kane was in 1929. With the great depression oppressing Kane’s finances he is forced to sign everything back to the bank. That was Thatcher’s last entry into the memoirs leaving no clues to Rosebud. The reporters next stop was a business associate Mr. Bernstein.
Bernstein was with Kane the day he took over the Inquirer with Kane’s closest friend Jedediah Leland. The newspaper was filled with much older gentleman who kept the paper running only twelve hours of the day. Kane quickly moves into the editor’s office and runs the newspaper for twenty four hours. With the idea of sensationalism and not being scared of companies Kane publishes his Declaration of Principles. Leland asks to keep the document for future reference.
The Inquirer explodes and within six years Kane hires the entire work force of the opposing paper The Chronicle. At the hiring party Leland expresses concerns to Bernstein about Kane’s changing personality. Leland believes that Kane is on the path to lose what he originally believed in when he started the Inquirer.
Sometime later Bernstein gives Leland a letter from Kane who is traveling across Europe on vacation. Leland asks Bernstein if he is really stuck up and incapable of fun. Bernstein says yes only because that would have been how Kane responded to Leland's question.
With Kane finally returning Bernstein and crew try to award Kane with a trophy. However Kane is nervous and out of touch with the workings of the paper. He gives a wedding notice to the paper and quickly leaves to marry the niece of the current president.
Bernstein says that was pretty much all the interaction he had with Mr. Kane and suggests that the reporter talk to Leland.
The reporter finds Leland in a resting home no longer concerned with the world.
Leland tells him about the marriage to Kane’s first wife Emily. Their marriage began with the two of them deeply in love. However over the years they begin to drift apart. Emily doesn’t like what Kane writes in his papers and continues to deal with Kane’s growing harshness. Finally it comes to a head with the two of them not speaking.
The tale continues with Kane's first meeting with who would become his second wife Susan. When Kane was going to visit the belongings of his recently deceased mother he meets Susan. She asks him to come to her apartment to wash up after being splashed with mud. She tells him that she is in New York to become an actress and sings for Kane after he requests it. The image fades into a high class apartment suggesting that Kane bought it for her.
At that point Kane begins his run for governor against the supposable corrupt Gettys. Outside of Kane’s meeting hall he meets up with his ten year old son and wife. She sends their son away and requests that he come with her to Susan’s apartment.
There Gettys is waiting for Emily and Kane. Gettys threatens to expose Kane if he doesn’t drop out of the race. At the same time Emily threatens to leave Kane if he doesn’t leave Susan. However Kane refuses to give into Gettys and remains in the race in order to advance his career. The papers run the affair causing Kane to lose the election.
Leland reads the headline and walks into a bar. The day after the election results Leland visits Kane in his empty newspaper building. There, a drunken, Leland tells Kane that he only loves himself not the people or the women he surrounds himself with.
Shortly after Kane marries Susan and builds her an opera house. Opening night of her first show chaos goes on on set with no one ready for the big show. Finally the curtain goes up and Susan begins her big number. In the rafters two stages hands look at each and one holds his nose. Susan isn’t a good singer.
After the show Kane visits the Inquirer where Bernstein is putting together the paper's stories on the show. All that is left is Leland’s dramatic critic. Kane finds Leland drunk and passed out at his type writer. He was writing a bad review against the positive stories in the Inquirer. Taking the review Kane finishes the review the way Leland intended. However when Leland finally wakes up he confronts Kane about the review only to be fired by Kane.
The two of them never talked again.
The reporter returns to Susan who feels more like talking. Susan admitted that she never wanted to sing but Kane liked her voice. After some lessons we revisit the big opening night. When the current drops on the final act there is a modest applause. But when the applause starts to die down Kane continues clapping in an attempt to keep it going only to find himself clapping alone.
Susan confronts Kane about the bad review in the Inquirer. As they argue Kane receives his Declaration of Principles from Leland in the mail. Kane rips the document up and demands that Susan continue singing amidst the bad reviews.
Show after show the reviews never get better for Susan until she tries to commit suicide by taking too much medicine. When she barely survives Kane promises her she doesn’t have to sing ever again.
We cut to several years later with Susan and Kane living alone in the giant mansion Xanadu. All day Susan does nothing but solve massive puzzles. When she demands some excitement in her life Kane arranges an outing with a massive entrouge. There she confronts him about not actually caring about her.
Back at home Susan packs and leaves Kane alone in his fortress.
The reporter goes to Xanadu for one last chance.
For a thousand dollars Raymond tells the reporter that Kane did speak the word Rosebud once other than on his death bed.
Just after Susan walked out on him Kane rampaged through her room breaking everything in sight. At the last second he notices a snow globe. The same globe that was with Kane when he died. Picking it up Raymond heard Kane say Rosebud.
The reporter and his team walk through the remains of Kane’s art collection. They ask him if he ever discovered what Rosebud was. He tells them that they will never know and that Rosebud was not the key to Kane’s life it was only a missing piece of a larger puzzle.
In the closing shots the audiences sees men throwing things into the furnance of Xanadu. One object is the sled that Kane owned as a young boy, on it is the word Rosebud.
Citizen Kane is arguably one of the most important films in cinema history. Its influence has reached generation after generation of filmmakers making the story about how it almost never saw the light of day so much more compelling. This story is about when two of the most ambitious men America has ever seen locked horns, a battle that destroyed them both.
Orson Welles was the king of the news. At twenty years old he directed MacBeth using poverty stricken actors off of the street. At twenty two Welles produced what is considered the greatest performance of Julius Ceaser ever to be on Broadway. At twenty three he conjured a radio telling of War of the World that terrified a nation and is still read about in text books today. To say Welles was ambitious was an understatement. Right after the famous broadcast he was given a dream deal with RKO that no other artist in Hollywood had ever seen. After a couple of false starts Welles decided on Citizen Kane, a loose fictional telling of William Randolph Hearst.
At the time Citizen Kane came out Hearst was a shadow of his former self but his influence on Hollywood was still unprecedented. In Hearst’s day he was one of the most powerful men in the world with hundreds of newspapers under his control. Not only was he powerful but wealthy beyond belief owning land half the size of Rhode Island, and having the world’s largest private zoo. Many times people would compare Hearst to being a feudal lord, a tyrant over his subjects. For the most part the Great Depression destroyed Hearst but when Citizen Kane was on the verge of being released Hearst went after it with all the fervor he ever had.
What is believed the focus of the fight was over the portrayal of Hearst’s young wife Marion Davies in the film. Hearst had met her on a chorus line and brought her into his home even though he was married at the time. He thought of her as a great singer when in reality many appreciated her sense of humor and infectious personality. Hearst was not fond of that part of her personality and made her a singer in the public’s eye to the point that it became a joke to see her on the headlines of a Hearst paper over and over again. He would throw her parties of the greatest Hollywood personalities including a close friend Herman J. Mankiewicz.
Mankiewicz, or ‘Mank”, was a writer but a notorious drunk. He had spent a lot of time at San Simian, Hearst’s castle, and was possibly working on a book or screenplay on Hearst for a long time. When two film projects fell through for Welles Mank suggested a story based on Hearst’s life. Welles immediately jumped on the project. Mank was watched so that he would stay sober so he could write the script, while pages were sent to Welles who rewrote a large amount of the script.
The shooting of the film went as smoothly as a Welles production could have. Welles and his cinematographer Gregg Toland looked like kids in a candy store to the rest of the cast. They were found digging holes in the floor to get the low angle shots. At one point Welles fell down some stairs and had to act with metal braces and directed from a wheelchair. When the RKO executives showed up on set Welles would stop production and make everyone play baseball until the top brass would leave them alone.
Mank was a drunk and gambler so to say he was self destructive was not an exaggeration. For some unknown reason Mank gave a copy of the script to Charlie Letterer, the nephew of Marion Davies. It is unknown if Hearst ever read the script however when that version of the script was found again it was notated on by Heart’s lawyers.
It wasn’t until Louella Parsons saw the picture did the battle actually started. Parsons was Hearst’s number one critic and extremely loyal to Hearst. After her younger rival saw an early version of Citizen Kane Louella demanded to see the film. Furious Louella ran to Hearst and told him directly about the film. The biggest issue was the portrayal of Marion Davies and the alleged possibility that Rosebud was the nickname Hearst gave Marion’s genitals. It was then that Hearst wanted the film destroyed.
Louella Parsons took a three week break from her regular column to fight the film on Hearst’s behalf. She used Hearst’s name to threaten the lives of the RKO executives and claimed that RKO will have “the most beautiful lawsuits” if the company ever released the film. Hearst threatened to call the entire company “jews” slandering their name in the public eye. RKO decided to temporarily pull Citizen Kane to hold Hearst off.
Louie B. Mayer, the head of MGM, assembled other studio heads and offered 800,000 dollars for Citizen Kane’s negative just so that they could burn it. It was then that the RKO executives and their lawyers got together to show the film. The only other two people present at the screening were Robert Wise, Kane’s editor, and Orson Welles. The screening was to determine if it was in RKO’s best interest to shelve the film forever. Welles spoke to the executives about how shelving the film would be a violation of freedom of speech. This convinced them that releasing the picture was the only option, a fight against the government would be even worse.
Citizen Kane had a small showing of Hollywood celebrities and they all believed the film was amazing. Welles used this and released his own suit saying he would pay RKO a million dollars over Mayer’s eight hundred grand offer and show the film himself.
With time now on Welles side he continued his career on radio and on Broadway. He was even planning another film based on Jesus Christ. He was still confident when the theatre chains dropped Citizen Kane from their bookings. Welles called up RKO and told them to show it in tents with the slogan “The film your theatre won’t let you see.” Welles thought the controversy would only help his career and the film so he continued to fight Hearst.
A month after the offer, Welles made for the film, Hearst’s papers changed their strategy and came after Orson instead of the film. Hearst accused Welles to be a draft dodger, an adulterer, gay, and even a Communist which, at the time, was a mark of death. The communist accusation made the FBI open a file on Welles and ultimately declared Welles a threat to America.
But the FBI wasn’t moving fast enough for Hearst. Hearst went to the studio and said if they ran Citizen Kane there would be no more advertising for any other picture released by the studio.
No theatre in New York would run the theatre forcing RKO to revamp the Palace Theatre in order to show the film. Not a single Hearst paper spoke a word about it.
At the Academy Awards Citizen Kane was nominated for nine awards. When the first award was announced and Citizen Kane was listed as a nomination the crowd booed. This continued for the rest of the night. In the end Citizen Kane only got one award for best screenplay. With that RKO shelved the film and Welles never got complete control over one of his films ever again.
The amount Citizen Kane has changed cinema is nearly incalculable. Although the film did not resurface until around the mid fifties it wasn’t until the early sixties that it was being considered one of the greatest films of all time, twenty years after its release.
One of the more direct inspirations that came from Citizen Kane was the French New Wave of the late fifties and early sixties. This consisted of directors like Truffaut, Godard and Rohmer. In Truffaut’s film Day for Night Truffaut, an actor in his own film, dreams of stealing the images from Citizen Kane.
Many of them began as critics for a film magazine but found themselves bored by classic Hollywood. So they went out and made their own films. Many of these classic films are filled with mistakes and disjointed stories but radically shook the filmmaking community.
In turn the creation of the New Hollywood came out of the ashes, that was, classic Hollywood. This was kicked off by Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde and bred a generation of directors that changed filmmaking forever. Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, and Martin Scorsese may have not been directly influenced by Citizen Kane but the ground work laid by the classic film allowed these greats to become master craftsmen.
Film is an art form making it very fluid in how you critic and rank. Citizen Kane is at the forefront of this argument. Kane has topped the American Film Institute and Sight & Sound lists ever since their creation. Roger Ebert even stated “ So it's settled: Citizen Kane is the official greatest film of all time."
Citizen Kane does have its retractors and it may not be the ‘greatest’ film of all time but it is certainly one of the most ‘important’ films in cinematic history. It has defined generation after generation of filmmakers and used techniques and concepts twenty to thirty years before they even existed. Citizen Kane is nearly unparalleled in its importance and influence.
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