Classic Movie Review: Citizen Kane (1941) #AtoZChallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter K

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Today is a bit of a cheat, as I technically post a third movie starting with the letter C, but you’ll excuse me because this is a great one!  Also, forgive me for publishing this a day late.

Title: Citizen Kane
Release Date: September 5, 1941
Director: Orson Welles
Production Company: Mercury Productions

By the time I was a teenager, I was already aware that Citizen Kane was considered “one of the greatest films of all time!” and watching it for the first time back then did not elicit contrarian opinions.  I watched it a few more times, but somehow like a lot of classic films I saw in my younger days, I didn’t watch it again for decades.  So it was great to have an excuse to revisit this movie.  What’s harder is trying to find something to say about Citizen Kane that hasn’t been said before.  It is the number one movie on the AFI’s 100 Years list and the Cahiers du Cinéma list, and number two on the Sight and Sound list.

Perhaps we’ll start with a quick summary. The movie is a pseudo-biopic of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), a wealthy, celebrity newspaper publisher based on real life figures like William Randolph Hearst. The story follows reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) as he tries to learn the meaning of the last word Kane uttered before his death, “Rosebud!”  We see several non-chronological scenes from Kane’s life told from the perspectives of people who knew him, none of whom are particularly reliable narrators.  In order we see an obituary newsreel, Thompson reading the personal diary of Kane’s childhood guardian and banker Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris), Kane’s business manager Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), Kane’s lifelong “frenemy” Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), and Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), and Kane’s butler Raymond (Paul Stewart).  In the final scene, the mystery of what Rosebud is revealed to the film viewers, but remains unknown to any of the characters.

With that said, here are some stray thoughts I have on Citizen Kane:

  • Apart from Welles and Cotten, none of the main cast were particularly famous or became famous later despite starring in “the greatest movie of all time.”  Alland is essentially the main character of this movie but he doesn’t seem all that well remembered (not least because the movie never shows a close-up of his face).
  • The movie is known for its innovation and technical brilliance but it also is wildly entertaining and relevant to watch today, which sets it apart from some other movies regarded for their innovation such as Battleship Potemkin.
  • Speaking of relevance, it actually really sad that 80 years later we still as a culture continue to idolize and prioritize the opinions of disgustingly wealthy people like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Rupert Murdoch, and Bill Gates. And if Kane’s campaign speech where he promises to imprison his opponent and his claims of fraud when he loses the election don’t remind  you of a certain loathsome person, I don’t know what to say.
  • Watching it this time it really hit be just how cruelly Kane treats Susan and it hits really hard.
  • That being said, the scene where Kane entertains Susan to distract her from her toothache is really sweet and maybe the moment where Kane is depicted with the most humanity.
  • Someday I need to rewatch this film and explore it from an archivist’s perspective.  The scene in Thatcher’s library and Leland saving Kane’s “statement of principles” are particularly interesting depictions of people’s’ relationship with records.
  • If you’re interested in learning more about the aspects of Citizen Kane that make it “great,” I’d recommend reading Roger Ebert’s “A Viewer’s Companion to Citizen Kane.
  • Kane slow-clapping for Susan at the opera house is an oft-used GIF on Twitter, but really this movie could be mined for so many more GIFs.


Rating: *****