Citizen Kane (1941)

 

 

 

 

Director: Orson Welles

Starring:  Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane), Joseph Cotten (Jedediah Leland), Everett Sloane (Mr. Bernstein), Agnes Moorehead (Mary Kane), Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander Kane), Ray Collins (James W. Gettys), George Coulouris (Walter Parks Thatcher), Ruth Warrick (Emily Monroe Norton Kane), William Alland (Jerry Thompson), Paul Stewart (Raymond), Erskine Sanford (Herbert Carter). 

Oscar:  screenplay by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz

Based on the life of William Randolph Hearst.  Historically, the film is a masterpiece because of its many firsts in the history of film.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A sign says "No Trespassing".  A light in a room of a huge mansion goes out.  The mansion has definitely seen better days than this.  Charles Foster Kane is holding a snow globe in his hand and he lets loose of it as he says: "Rosebud."  The globe cracks to pieces.  A nurse comes in and covers the face of the deceased. 

A newsreel runs about the landlord of Xanadu.  "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree --  "  Today in Florida is the world's largest private pleasure ground.  Into the mansion was taken enough artifacts to constitute ten museums.  It also contains the biggest private zoo since Noah.  "In Xanadu last week was held 1941's biggest, strangest funeral."  The newsreel refers to Kane as America's Kubla Khan. The claim is that Kane was the greatest newspaper tycoon of this or any other generation.  In his hey day Kane controlled over 37 newspapers, two syndicates and a radio network.  In addition, he had hooks into all types of businesses, including gold mining. 

In 1868 Mary Kane was a simple boarding housekeeper.  One of her defaulting boarders leaves her the deed to what was supposed to be a worthless mine.  This turned out to be the Colorado Lode. 

57 years later Walter P. Thatcher of Wall Street testifies before congress that he was brought in to help Mary Kane manage her considerable fortune.  Mrs. Kane asked Walter to take charge of her son, Charles Foster Kane.  One of the congressmen wants to know ifthis is the lad that hit Walter in the stomach with a sled and then personally attacked him afterwards.  Charles Kane, Walter says, is a communist!  Meanwhile, in Union Square Kane is referred to by worker representatives as a fascist. 

1895 to 1941.  "All of these years he covered, many of these he was."  Kane pushed participation in the Spanish-American War but then opposed US entry into World War I.  There is a scene where Kane stands next to Adolf Hitler and other Nazis.  Kane was twice married and twice divorced.  His first marriage was to Emily Norton, a niece of a president of the United States.  She left him in 1916.  Two year later she died with their son in an automobile accident. 

16 years after his first marriage, Kane marries one time opera-singer Susan Alexander at the Town Hall in Trenton, New Jersey.  For her Kane built Chicago's Municipal Opera House.  He also started work on Xanadu for her.  Kane never held elective office but through his newspapers he had tremendous political influence on events. 

In 1916 Kane was running for governor when his first wife entrapped him as a "love pirate" with Susan Alexander.

In the first year of the depression, 1929, Kane's first paper folds.  In four short years Kane's empire collapses. 

Kane returns from a tour of Europe and tells everyone that they can take his word:  there will be no war. 

Kane now sits alone is his decaying pleasure palace and is seldom visited. 

The newsreel finishes and Mr. Rawlston wants to know what the boys think of it.  They agree that 70 years of Kane's life is a lot to try to get into a newsreel.  Another man says the newsreel needs "an angle".  The newsreel has to tell who was this man Kane.  What were his last words?  Maybe he revealed something interesting with his last words.  One of the guys says Kane had only one last word:  "Rosebud."  The boss wants his men to find out what or who this Rosebud is.  He says that it will probably turn out to be a very simple thing.

Reporter Jerry Thompson tries to talk with Susan Alexander but she won't talk to him.  One of her men, however, did ask her what's this "Rosebud" thing that everyone is talking about?  He says she didn't know.  Mr. Thompson know goes to the Walter Thatcher Library to read that part of the Thatcher memoir concerning Charles Foster Kane. 

In the memoir Charles is just a young boy when his mother sends him off to live with Walter Thatcher.  Mr. Kane opposed it, but the deed to the property was signed over to Mrs. Kane and not to Mr. Kane, and Mrs. Kane pulls the strings now.  The problem is that Charles doesn't want to go with Thatcher.  He attacks Thatcher with his sled. 

For Christmas Charles gets a new sled, but still resents Thatcher. 

On the 25th birthday of Charles, Kane gets his full freedom from Thatcher and company and now he is in charge of the sixth largest private fortune in the world.  Thatcher provides a list of all of the many holdings belonging to Charles.  He sends the list to Charles.  Charles says he is coming home to America.  The only thing that interests him on Thatcher's list is a small newspaper.  He writes in a letter to Thatcher:  "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper." 

And when Charles starts running the New York Daily Inquirer he runs anti-trust news such as "Traction Trust Smashed by Inquirer" and "Landlords Refuse to Clear Slums".  Thatcher is extremely angry at Charles.  He goes to see Charles at the newspaper to blow off some steam at him.  Charles introduces Thatcher to Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Leland.  Bernstein reads a cable:  "Girls delightful in Cuba. Stop.  Could send you prose poems about scenery but don't feel right spending your money. Stop.  There is no war in Cuba." Signed "Wheeler".  Kane sends back this message:  "Dear Wheeler:  You provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war." 

There is no talking to Kane for Thatcher.  The man is committed to fighting the robber barons that rip off the ordinary man.  He's a crusader.  Thatcher tells him his newspaper losses are $1 million dollar per year.  Kane smiles and says at that rate he'll have to close the newspaper in 60 years. 

When the Depression hits, Kane has to sign over most of his control of his newspapers to Thatcher.  Kane says:  "I always gagged on that silver spoon." 

Mr. Thompson has to quit reading the manuscript at the Thatcher Library because it is 4:30 in the afternoon.  Now he goes to see Mr. Bernstein.  Bernstein doesn't know the identity of this Rosebud.  He does, however, recommend that Mr. Thompson go see Mr. Leland, Kane's closest friend.  They went to school together.  And he was with Kane when he first acquired the Inquirer.  Kane decides to live right there in the newspaper office.  He's tough on the old editor, Mr. Carter, who doesn't like Kane's interests in things like gossip and crime stories. 

The circulation of the paper is only 26,000 while the Chronicle has a circulation of 495,000.  But soon Kane hires all the Chronicle staff away from his main competitor.  And now Kane's paper has a circulation that is the greatest in New York:  684,132.  He has a fancy dinner for his newspaper staff and then he brings out a band and chorus girls for entertainment.  Kane dances with the chorus girls and has a blast.  Only Leland is worried.  With all these new Chronicle men with the staff perhaps they will change Charlie without his knowing it.   

Kane goes abroad.  He buys and sends home a lot of statues.  He also buys the world's largest diamond.  When Kane gets back from Europe he announces his engagement to Emily Monroe Norton, the niece of the President of the United States.  Everyone rushes to the window to take a look at Emily. 

Mr. Thompson now goes to the hospital to talk to Mr. Leland.  He tells Thompson:  "I was his oldest friend, and as far as I was concerned, he behaved like a swine. Not that Charlie was ever brutal.  He just did brutal things."  He adds that Charlie "never believed in anything except Charlie Kane.  He never had a conviction except Charlie Kane in his life."  Leland can't help with the Rosebud thing, but he does talk to Thompson about Charlie's marriage to Emily.  Kane spent so much time at the newspaper that soon Emily was feeling alone and neglected by her husband.

Leland says that Charlie never seemed to be loved enough for him.  That's why he wanted to go into politics --  he wanted all the voter to love him too.  In fact, all he every wanted out of life was love.  He then switches to talking about Susie Alexander, his second wife.  The night they met, Susie had a toothache.  A car went past Kane and splashed him all over with mud.  Susie just started laughing and laughing at the sight of the mud-soaked gentleman.  Kane doesn't appreciate her laughing and starts talking to her.  She soon invites him upstairs to her place where he can get cleaned-up. 

After he is cleaned-up, he makes Susie laugh to take her mind off her toothache.  She says her mother wanted her to be a singer.  So Charlie has her sing for him. 

Kane becomes a candidate for the New York State governorship.  He is touted as the liberal, the friend of the working man.  Kane says he is out to break the "downright villainy of Boss Jim W. Gettys' political machine now in complete control of the government of this state."  After his speech his wife confronts him about this Susie Alexander.  She is taking a taxi over to pay a visit to this lady.  Kane says he'll go with her.  They go upstairs and Susie says that Jim Gettys forced her to write a letter to his wife.  Gettys is there and up to blackmail. 

Gettys and the two women want Kane to play ball with them.  Kane is to say he is sick and retire from politics for awhile and then the sordid gossip will not appear in the newspapers.  But Kane surprises Emily.  He says he is staying here.  He is going to fight this thing.  He won't let his wife and Jim Gettys force him out of politics.  Charlie screams at Gettys that he is going to send him to Sing Sing prison. 

The story of the scandal appears in the papers.  Kane is defeated at the polls.  Leland gets drunk and goes to confront Kane.  Kane tells him don't bother talking to him about Susie Alexander.  And there's no need to remind him that the cause of reform has received a bad setback.  But Leland balls him out anyway.  Then he wants a transfer to the paper in Chicago.  Kane tells his friend he can go. 

Kane marries Susie Alexander.  He then builds the Chicago Opera House even though Susie is not very good at singing opera.  Leland does not write a good review of Susie's performance.  Kane goes in to confront him.  Leland has passed out at his typewriter.  Kane rewrites his review.  When Leland awakens he figures that Kane would never let his review go through, but Bernstein informs him that Kane is not writing a good review of the performance, but a negative review like Leland started.  Leland goes to see Kane and Kane fires him. 

Susie finally agrees to see Mr. Thompson.  She tells him that she never really wanted to be a singer.  The Opera House was his idea.  Everything was his idea, except for her leaving him.  Her opera teacher told her that she cannot sing  --  that it's impossible.  Kane scolded the maestro for telling Susie she can't sing. 

Susie performs an opera and it gets panned.  She's also mad about Leland's bad review of her.  Mad too that although Kane fired Leland, he send him a check for $25,000 dollars.  Kane gets a letter from Leland containing the torn up check.  Susie tells Kane that she is through with singing, that she never wanted to do it in the first place, but Kane tells her she will continue with her singing.  He will not be made to look ridiculous.  Susie goes from city to city performing the opera.

Susie takes an overdose of pills.  Kane sits with her day after day and night after night.  When she regains consciousness she tells Kane that this was her only way she could communicate to him that she didn't want to sing anymore.  She can't stand it when the audience doesn't want her.  Kane agrees that she doesn't have to fight the audience anymore.

Susie is lonely and bored with life lived in a near-deserted palace.  She begs Charlie to take her to New York where she can have some fun.  Charlie doesn't want to go.   

One day Charlie takes Susie on a picnic.  As they drive to the Everglades, Susie tells him:  "You never give me anything I really care about."  About 20 cars are in the picnic convoy.  They have music, dancing and fancy dining, but Susie is still not happy.  She tells him:  "You never really gave me anything that you care about.  . . . You never gave me anything in your whole life.  You just tried to buy me into giving you something. . . . You don't love me.  You want me to love you."  He slaps Susie for these remarks. 

When they go back to the mansion, Susie packs and leaves.  Kane begs her to say, but she leaves anyway.

Susie tells Mr. Thompson to go see Raymond, Mr. Kane's butler because he knows where all the bodies are buried. 

After Susie left Kane, Raymond says Kane started tearing up her room and breaking everything.  He picked up the snow globe with a little house inside it and says:  "Rosebud."  He puts the globe in his pocket and walks slowly away from the room past all his many servants.  The photography crew takes pictures of everything in Kane's vast collection.  Then they ask Mr. Thompson if he ever found out what that Rosebud word meant?  Thompson says no, but he doesn't really think it's all that important.  He says a man's life cannot be summarized by one word.  Amongst this vast collection of items there is the old sled Kane owned as a boy.  Raymond has it burned.  Written on the sled is the word Rosebud. 

 

 

 

Regardless of what reporter Thompson thought, the word "Rosebud" was important to the understanding of the life of Charles Foster Kane.  A terrible thing happened to Kane when he was a small boy.  His mother gave him away to be raised by a banking firm.  In the snow Charlie got the news of his departure while he was holding his Rosebud sled.  He used it to strike at the banker, Mr. Fletcher, for taking him away.  What a terrible thing to do to a child to yank him out of his home and from his family and send him to New York City to be brought up by some lame banker.  Charlie never recovered from the blow.  That is why he was always searching for love and yet never really found it because he didn't know what it was.  And why should he know?  What feelings of betrayal he must have harbored against his father and mother for what they did to him!  Talk about your child abuse!

Charlie was for the little man and against business tycoons because of his hatred of his care-taker banker Mr. Fletcher.  Charlie was a rebel because of his early rejection.  He acted out badly in school and kept getting kicked out because of what happened to him early on.  His two marriages failed because he could not establish a real love relationship with any female.  He ran for political office because he wanted the voters to love him.   

The newsreel producers wanted to find out the real Charlie Foster Kane.  They did get a lot of the pieces together, but then they never found out that Rosebud was Charlie's sled.  With that piece of the puzzle I think the viewer can says he or she knows the real Charlie Kane. 

The film is a rather sad story to say the least.  An early delivered big piece of abuse affected Charles Kane for the rest of his life and he was never fully functioning because of it.  He was always a very flawed man unable to achieve real happiness. 

The film was a little tiring to me because the newsreel presented most of the story at the very beginning of the film and then the rest of the film told each part again but in more detail. But in learning the details we also learn that Charlie was a very damaged soul, so the journey was worth it.        

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.  

 

 

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