Citizen Kane, starring Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Joseph Cotton, directed by Orson Welles, RKO Radio Pictures, 1941
Recently I reviewed the 2011 Academy Award –winning film The Artist and commented in that review that the silent movie directors and producers of the 1920s (the actors I am not quite as sure of) would have given their eye-teeth (or at least their first born) to have had the technology available now back then to produce higher technical quality films. I am not so sure that I could say the same about director Orson Welles’ 1941 film classic, Citizen Kane.
Oh sure some of the technical stuff today could (and has on the remastered versions ) enhance the sound, and maybe some of the production values but this magnificent film does not rely on technical skill so much (although some of the scenes and backdrops are of high quality) as the driving plot line, the script, and above the acting of director Orson Welles’s merry band of Mercury Theater players (think Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloan and, oh yes, Orson Welles, among others).
The plot line and the way it unfolds beginning with a clever news-of-the week video of Charles Foster Kane’s life after he passed away to bring us up to speed really is something to watch. Of course it did not hurt that this piece was a thinly-veiled portrait of the famed newspaperman and arch imperialist war-monger (the Spanish-American War and other little adventures be exact) William Randolph Hearst. He of “yellow journalism” fame although today he would be strictly minor league, maybe scandalous in Toledo or someplace like that.
Then to have the strong cinematic personality of actor Orson Welles (shown as well in other films like Falstaff, The Lady From Shang-hai, and The Third Man) play that strong Hearst personality just added to the drama. As well as did the flashbacks by various parties who knew Kane, had worked for Kane, had loved Kane, had hated Kane or were just pure baffled by him. And then that dramatic undercurrent throughout the film of Kane’s characteristic that would banish him from the godly pantheon, his utter incapacity to love anybody but himself that left him alone at the end. Yet he was still able to go back into deep childhood to remember the good part of his life, the part many of us harken back to as we age. We all, or almost all, have our Rosebud memories and maybe that is the connecting thread to the continuing relevance of this classic film. Just make sure you don’t go for popcorn or something out in the kitchen at the beginning of the film, okay. Trust me on that please.