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USA 1941
Directed by
Orson Welles
119 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Citizen Kane

That Orson Welles was only 25 years old when he made Citizen Kane, regularly touted as “the best film ever made”, is quite remarkable but not perhaps as remarkable as the fact that already for a decade he had been regarded as a wunderkind in the world of theatre, and particularly after his infamous 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. Both mediums have a clear influence on the film and also Welles’s reputation got him some top drawer collaborators including Gregg Toland who had just finished The Grapes Of Wrath (1940) for John Ford and who offered his services to the tyro director, A-list scriptwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (who with Welles as co-author won an Oscar for the  screenplay), Bernard Hermann who had worked with Welles on his radio productions and Robert Wise, assisted by Mark Robson (uncredited), as editor, not to mention the little recognized contribution of Linwood Dunn and Vernon Walker on what was for its time state-of-the-art post-production work.

Whilst Toland in particular is vital to the film’s standing this does not devalue the auteurial hand of Welles. It remains to this day a marvellous achievement, not least as a debut, and Welles never managed to top it (although legend has it that he would have the following year with The Magnificent Ambersons had not RKO irretrievably butchered the original print).

Although the uniqueness of the film (a thinly veiled account of the life of newspaper tycoon Randolph Hearst with Welles in the title role) was recognized at the time it was not a commercial success. The critics, and even Welles himself had reservations about the film’s “coldness” – a lack of organic development or insight into the character of Kane as he evolves from passionate idealist to lonely recluse.

But giving an account of a man's life in two hours is an weighty project and whilst the episodic approach used here handles the evolution in rather lumpy, prosthetically-enhanced steps, this is not only not as much as a problem as it might seem (how much do we know of the inner life of Michael Corleone, for instance?), the final shot of the “No Trespassing” sign on the gate of Xanadu echoing the scripted conclusion voiced by the investigating journalist (William Alland) that Kane’s inner life will forever remains inaccessible, Of course, unlike the players, we the audience know the meaning of “Rosebud” and thus the loss that ultimately determined the tragedy that was Kane's life. 

 

 

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