Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Citizen Kane, continues to impress some 75 years after its original release. The film plays like a Dickensian ghost tale with the audience first meeting the central character after he has died and uttered his final word. Charles Foster Kane (Welles), modeled after William Randolph Hearst, left quite a legacy, and it’s up to a bunch of reporters to figure how this man could rise to such heights and sink to such lows.
The movie has rightfully entered the annals of history as one of the crowning achievements of Hollywood. From the acting to the directing to the spectacle of it all, Citizen Kane makes good on its promises to entertain and engage.
The visuals of the film are breathtaking, especially the eerie shots of Xanadu, Kane’s palatial and foreboding estate. Welles has a way of making these black-and-white images pop with verve and drip with a dreamlike quality that can be quite haunting.
We come to learn of Kane, both as an ordinary man and faraway legend, through a series of flashbacks, and in many ways his story mimics the American dream. He rises through the ranks and catches a few breaks along the way. Eventually he finds himself in charge of a newspaper at the height of the yellow journalism era. One success leads to another, and Kane becomes a bonafide media tycoon, showcasing power and riches well beyond his humble beginnings. He has become everything he ever wanted in life — and then some. Those unlucky few who stepped in his way were turned aside and left in the dust. With so much success, why did this powerful man seem so despondent and reclusive on his deathbed? Why did he utter that iconic final word, Rosebud?
There are several important themes that circulate throughout the movie. From the inability to purchase happiness to the harsh realities of capitalism to the bending of rules to suit one’s personal ambitions, Citizen Kane is filled with many lessons, almost too many to comprehend within a couple of hours. It’s a credit to Welles as the director of this epic film that everything feels fluidly connected and pertinent. I’m not sure there’s a single scene worth cutting or trimming; this is just about as good as it gets on the silver screen.
Citizen Kane, much heralded and much studied, deserves the praise and adulation of viewers for generations to come. Many directors have tried to one-up its mastery, and they almost always fail. This one will forever remain in the history books as a visceral example of heartfelt storytelling. It’s a film worthy of deep, deep introspection.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz
Starring Welles, Joseph Cotten and Dorothy Comingore