Film review: Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles
tl;dr: Way ahead of its time. One of the best films ever made that actually is as good as people claim.
Newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) dies in his frivolous Florida mansion “Xanadu”, uttering the word “Rosebud” on his deathbed. Reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) is tasked with finding out what that meant, because what a scoop that would be!
And so the rise and fall of Charles Foster Kane begins to unveil itself. It starts with humble beginnings as a boy in Colorado, where his mother (Agnes Moorehead) sends him away with a Mr Thatcher (George Coulouris) to get a good education after striking it rich. Young Charles isn’t thrilled.
Years pass by and the boy grows into a young man. At 25 he gets access to his trust fund and buys a newspaper. The newspaper becomes widely successful, making Kane a very rich man. He gets married (Ruth Warrick), divorced, re-married (Dorothy Comingore), almost has a career as a politician, and falls out with friends (Joseph Cotten) and co-workers (Everett Sloane), and so on.
To say that “Rosebud” is a sled is not really a spoiler. If it’s one thing people know about Citizen Kane it’s that, but it misses the point entirely. I knew what Rosebud was when I started watching, but it wasn’t until the final shots of that scene that the meaning of that was, and it was a gut-punch. I felt like standing up and applauding.
It’s not for nothing it’s one of the Top 250 films of all time on IMDb (#72 at the time of writing). I think it’s an amazing film. Sure, Orson Welles knew nothing about film-making at the time and basically made it up as he went along and got his Mercury Theatre pals to act in it. It’s innovative, and some shots I thought would have been impossible considering the technology at the time, but I guess telling Orson Welles something was impossible merely meant he saw it as a challenge to overcome.
Because he was so (in)famous from his radio work the studio gave him free reins to make a film. That he got free reins was, according to Welles, because he didn’t really want to make a film in the first place, but they insisted. Instead of asking for more money (which they would have no doubt given him), he asked for creative freedom. It might not have paid off at the box office the time, but it’s meant it’s a film we still watch and talk about today, and hail as one of The Greats – some even going as far as calling it the greatest film of all time.
Sadly, because Citizen Kane was a bit too ahead of its time, it wasn’t a box office smash the studio interfered with his subsequent projects and his career as a director suffered ever since. Like when the Emperor told Mozart The Marriage of Figaro had “too many notes”, except Mozart didn’t have to actually butcher his music.
Anyway. Yes, film, I love it. To finish up, here’s a great scene to showcase what an excellent piece of cinema history Citizen Kane is.
5 out of 5 snow globes.