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Citizen Kane (1941)


Citizen Kane
Orson Welles as Kane


'Citizen Kane' is an American dramatic movie made in 1941, and is regarded by many critics as the greatest Hollywood film ever made. It was directed and produced by Orson Welles who also co-wrote it, and he also starred in it, making his movie debut at the remarkably young age of 25. Many of the actors were from Welles's own Mercury Theatre group and were also making their movie debuts, among them Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Agnes Moorehead and Everett Sloane. The movie contains many remarkable scenes and new, technically brilliant cinematic techniques. It is an undoubted masterpiece.

It was nominated for 9 Academy Awards but won only one Oscar, for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz. The film was seen as being based on the life and career of William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaper tycoon, and he did his best to prevent its release, which hindered its immediate commercial success. But it was instantly and universally praised for its brilliance, sophistication and innovation and it has since justified its production costs many times over.

'Citizen Kane' stands at number one on the AFI's list of Best Movies of All Time. It was selected in 1989, by the Library of Congress, for preservation in the National Film Registry, as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

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Plot

A newspaper journalist Jerry Thompson, played by William Alland, investigates the life of powerful newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, played by Orson Welles, by interviewing those who knew him best. Thus we see and hear the story unfold from several different characters and from several different points of view. Thompson's paper is anxious to decipher the meaning of Kane's last word, "Rosebud". The complex story of Kane's life - his childhood, his rise to power and transformation from an idealistic journalist to a powerful, manipulative media mogul and his marriages - unfolds through the reminiscences of the interviewees, but by the end, as he picks his way through the remnants of Kane's palatial home, Xanadu, Thompson is still as ignorant of the significance of Kane's dying word as when he started.

This masterpiece was written as a collaboration between Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz and it represents the early, awesome pinnacle of Welles's genius. Although only 25 when he made it, he never equalled the achievement.

'Citizen Kane' is first and foremost a great piece of storytelling. The narrative unfurls in a natural way with the questioning of Jerry Thompson and we are carried along with him as we get to know a cast of characters that ages throughout the film.

The movie has been justly praised for its experimental technical innovations. Greg Toland was an established cinematographer and he worked closely with Welles, introducing unconventional lighting, particularly back-lighting and high-contrast lighting, similar to the low-key lighting of future film noirs and the use of 'dissolves' from one image to another. Toland also popularised the use of low-angled shots revealing ceilings in sets and also the succession of conversations with the same, aging, characters, which illustrate perfectly and very quickly the decline of the Kane marriage.

Main Cast

Orson Welles ... Charles Foster Kane
Joseph Cotten ... Jedediah Leland
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
Paul Stewart ... Raymond
George Coulouris ... Walter Parks Thatcher
Fortunio Bonanova ... Signor Matiste
Gus Schilling ... The Headwaiter
Philip Van Zandt ... Mr. Rawlston
Georgia Backus ... Bertha Anderson
Harry Shannon ... Kane's Father

The acting in the movie is of an excellent standard and features performers from Welles's Mercury Theatre Group, many of whom were making their movie debut.

Orson Welles(1915-85) The film belongs to Orson Welles who gives a virtuoso acting performance and convincingly ages from youth to infirm old age through the film.

He was a well known name in American broadcasting even before 'Citizen Kane'. Born in Wisconsin into a wealthy family, his creative abilities came to the fore at an early age. In 1937, the 21 year old teamed up with director John Houseman to form the Mercury Theatre which produced several acclaimed stage plays before moving into radio. In 1938 Welles became a nationally known figure when he broadcast his too-realistic adaptation of the H.G.Wells novel The War of the Worlds and caused panic in the streets. He became a target for Hollywood and in 1940 signed with RKO what was the most lucrative movie contract seen up to that time. We should be grateful, because 'Citizen Kane' was the result.

It is our loss that the movie industry never fully harnessed the restless energy and creative genius which Welles displays in 'Citizen Kane'. After 1941 he had numerous successes and important achievements but he never scaled the heights of 1941 again.

Joseph Cotten (1905-94) Cotten was a close friend of Welles and he portrays Jebediah, close friend to Charles Foster Kane. He is one of the principal witnesses to Kane's slide into moral decay. Cotten was a stage actor who debuted on Broadway in 1931. He joined Welles's Mercury group and 'Citizen Kane' was his Hollywood debut. After 'Kane' he starred in numerous movies for both Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. Cotten is the only member of the Mercury group subsequently to become a leading man in his own right.

Dorothy Comingore (1913-71) Before 1941, she had been busy as a stage actress and had also appeared in many comedy shorts and 'B' Westerns. Her performance as Kane's mistress and, later, second wife, Susan, was critically praised and was generally construed as a parody of Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies. Dorothy subsequently turned down some good roles and appeared in only 3 more films. In 1951 her career ended when she was put on the Hollywood Blacklist.

Agnes Moorehead (1900-74) After an early career as a teacher, Agnes became a radio performer. She made her film debut as Kane's mother in 'Citizen Kane' and had a successful movie career thereafter, receiving four Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress. She moved into television and in the late 1960's became most famous for her role as Endora in 'Bewitched'.

Everett Sloane (1909-65) Sloane's early career was in the theater and Wall Street. He joined Welles's Mercury Theatre and made his film debut in 'Citizen Kane' as Bernstein, Kane's loyal friend and employee. After continuing movie success in supporting roles for the next twenty five years, Sloane took his own life in 1965 after learning he was going blind.

Credits

Director ... Orson Welles
Producer ... Orson Welles
Story and Screenplay ... Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Cinematography ... Gregg Toland
Music ... Bernard Herrmann
Production Company ... RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., Mercury Productions, Inc.
Format ... B & W
Initial Release ... 1 May, 1941
Running Time ... 120 minutes

Academy Awards

One Win:
Writing (Original Screenplay ... Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles)
8 Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Mercury
Best Director ... Orson Welles
Best Actor ... Orson Welles
Art Direction/Set direction:(B&W) Perry Ferguson, Van Nest Polglase; Al Fields, Darrell Silvera
Cinematography (B&W) ... Gregg Toland
Film Editing ... Robert Wise
Music (Music Score of a Dramatic Picture) ... Bernard Herrmann
Sound, Recording ... RKO Studio Sound Dept., John Aalberg, Sound director