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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Citizen Kane (1941)


  • Orson Welles, Writer/Director/Charles Foster Kane

  • Joseph Cotten as Jedediah Leland

  • Dorothy Comingore as Susan Alexander Kane

  • Ruth Warrick as Emily Monroe Norton Kane

  • Agnes Moorehead as Mary Kane

  • Ray Collins as Jim W. Gettys

  • Erskine Sanford as Herbert Carter

  • Everett Sloane as Mr. Bernstein

  • William Alland as Jerry Thompson

  • Paul Stewart as Raymond, Kane's butler

  • George Coulouris as Walter Parks Thatcher

  • Fortunio Bonanova as Signor Matiste

  • Harry Shannon as Jim Kane, Kane's father

  • Sonny Bupp as Charles Foster Kane III

  • Buddy Swan as Charles Foster Kane


  • Citizen Kane has been frequently cited as the greatest film ever made.

  • For 50 consecutive years, it stood at number 1 in the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound decennial poll of critics, and it topped the American Film Institute's 100 Years ... 100 Movies list in 1998, as well as its 2007 update.

  • During the 1941 Academy Awards, Citizen Kane was nominated in nine categories (Best Picture, Director and Actor (Welles), Original Screenplay (Welles and Mankiewicz), Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Original Score, and Sound) and it won for Best Original Screenplay by Mankiewicz and Welles.

  • Citizen Kane is often praised for Gregg Toland's cinematography, Robert Wise's editing, Bernard Herrmann's music, and its narrative structure, all of which have been considered innovative and precedent-setting.

  • Although it was a critical success, Citizen Kane failed to recoup its costs at the box office. The film faded from view after its release, but it returned to public attention when it was praised by French critics such as André Bazin and re-released in 1956. In 1958, the film was voted number 9 on the prestigious Brussels 12 list at the 1958 World Expo.

  • In 1962, it was first voted at #1 on the prestigious Sight and Sound poll, and would hold its #1 place until unseated by Vertigo (1958) in 2012.

  • Citizen Kane was selected by the Library of Congress as an inductee of the 1989 inaugural group of 25 films for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

  • Citizen Kane currently holds a 99% on RT among critics, a 100 score on Metacritic, and a 4.2 out of 5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: Like the original working title of the movie (The American), this film takes to task our collective American obsession with wealth, greed, popularity, fame, and celebrity. As things that we think will bring us love and admiration, but ultimately leave us bitter and alone if we focus solely on that.

Plot Summary:

When the newspaper baron Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in America, if not the world, dies, a journalist starts to dig into his past seeking the meaning of his last word: “Rosebud." As he interviews Kane's family and friends, a picture of a wealthy, idealistic, but deeply flawed and dark man appears. The stories of Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotton), Kane’s best friend and confederate, Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore), Kane’s second wife, and Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), Kane’s friend and manager, share a complex series of stories about Kane and his life. But do they really understand Kane and the meaning of Rosebud?

Did You Know:

  • Despite all the publicity, the film was a box-office flop and was quickly consigned to the RKO vaults. At the 1941 Academy Awards, the film was booed every time one of its nine nominations was announced. It was only re-released to the public in the mid-1950s.

  • The camera looks up at Charles Foster Kane and his best friend Jedediah Leland and down at weaker characters like Susan Alexander Kane. This was a technique that Orson Welles borrowed from John Ford who had used it two years previously on Stagecoach (1939). Welles privately watched Stagecoach (1939) about 40 times while making this film.

  • The film's opening with just the title and no star names was unprecedented in 1941. It is now the industry norm for Hollywood blockbusters.

  • During filming, Orson Welles received a warning that William Randolph Hearst had arranged for a naked woman to jump into his arms when he entered his hotel room, and there was also a photographer in the room to take a picture that would be used to discredit him. Welles spent the night elsewhere, and it is unknown if the warning was true.

  • On the night the movie opened in San Francisco, Orson Welles found himself alone with William Randolph Hearst in an elevator at the city's Fairmont Hotel. Aware that his father and Hearst were friends, Welles extended an invitation to the magnate to attend the film's premiere. Hearst turned down the offer and, as he was about to exit the elevator at his floor, Welles remarked, "Charles Foster Kane would have accepted".

  • Originally, the movie was going to be based on the life of Howard Hughes with Joseph Cotten in the lead. Eventually, Orson Welles realized nobody would believe most of the stuff Hughes had done, so he decided to make Kane a media baron instead.

  • According to Ruth Warrick, Orson Welles was not in good shape at the beginning of production. When principal photography began, Welles was suffering from the effects of caffeine poisoning as the result of consuming thirty to forty cups of coffee a day. Welles then switched to tea, figuring that the hassle of having to brew the beverage would naturally limit his intake. But Welles had someone on call to brew the tea for him, and within two weeks, Welles was the colour of tannic acid. It was also reported that he would go for long periods without eating, then put away two or three large steaks with side items at one sitting.

  • One subplot discarded from the final film concerned Susan Alexander Kane having an affair that Kane discovers, said to be based on Marion Davies' rumored affair with Charles Chaplin. There were scenes written and storyboards designed for this sequence, though as rumors of William Randolph Hearst's ire grew, Orson Welles ordered the sequence deleted from the script. He refused to discuss the real reasons for its removal in any public forum throughout his life, even long after Hearst's death, as he claimed elements of the subplot were so scandalous they could cost him his life. Privately, however, he did discuss the subject with his close friend Peter Bogdanovich. According to Bogdanovich, the danger of the subplot stemmed not from the affair, but of its result: Welles claimed that Davies did in fact have an affair with Chaplin, and Hearst learned of it while on a trip on Hearst's yacht with Davies, Chaplin and a number of other celebrity guests. Welles asserted that Hearst walked into a room and saw Davies and Chaplin having sex. He pulled a gun, and Chaplin ran out of the room onto the deck. Hearst fired at Chaplin, but accidentally shot pioneering producer/director Thomas H. Ince, who shortly afterward died from the wound. An elaborate cover-up followed (supposedly, columnist Louella Parsons was on board and witnessed the killing, and Hearst promised her a job with him for life if she kept her mouth shut. She did). The legend became the basis for Bogdanovich's own film The Cat's Meow (2001).

Best Performance: Orson Welles (Director/Writer/Kane)

Best Secondary Performance: Greg Toland (Cinematographer)/Robert Wise (Editor)

Most Charismatic Award: Greg Toland (Cinematographer)/Orson Welles (Director/Writer/Kane)

Best Scene:

  • Cold Open

  • News on the March

  • Young Kane

  • Statement of Principles

  • Breakfast(s) Montage

  • Candidate Kane

  • Susan Alexander

  • Leland is Fired

  • Susan Leaves

  • The Remnants of Xanadu

Favorite Scene: Breakfast(s) Montage/News on the March

Most Indelible Moment: The Remnants of Xanadu

In Memorium:

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Jedediah Leland: I can remember everything. That's my curse, young man. It's the greatest curse that's ever been inflicted on the human race: memory.

Mr. Bernstein: A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.

Mr. Bernstein: Old age. It's the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don't look forward to being cured of.

Mr. Bernstein: Well, it's no trick to make a lot of money if all you want is to make a lot of money.

Female reporter: If you could've found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would've explained everything.

Jerry Thompson: No, I don't think so; no. Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything... I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a... piece in a jigsaw puzzle... a missing piece.

Jedediah Leland: He married for love. Love. That's why he did everything. That's why he went into politics. It seems we weren't enough, he wanted all the voters to love him too. Guess all he really wanted out of life was love. That's Charlie's story, how he lost it. You see, he just didn't have any to give. Well, he loved Charlie Kane of course, very dearly, and his mother, I guess he always loved her.

Charles Foster Kane: Rosebud...

Charles Foster Kane: [to Thatcher] The trouble is, you don't realize you're talking to two people. As Charles Foster Kane, who has 82,634 shares of Public Transit Preferred. You see, I do have a general idea of my holdings. I sympathize with you. Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel. His paper should be run out of town. A committee should be formed to boycott him. You may, if you can form such a committee, put me down for a contribution of $1,000 dollars. On the other hand, I am the publisher of the Inquirer! As such, it's my duty - and I'll let you in on a little secret, it's also my pleasure - to see to it that decent, hard-working people in this community aren't robbed blind by a pack of money-mad pirates just because - they haven't anybody to look after their interests.

Charles Foster Kane: Mr. Carter, if the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough.

Charles Foster Kane: You're right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars *next* year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place in... 60 years.

Charles Foster Kane: The news goes on for 24 hours a day.

Charles Foster Kane: I was on my way to the Western Manhattan Warehouse in search of my youth. You see, my mother died a long time ago and her things were put in storage out West. There wasn't any other place to put them. I thought I'd send for them now. Tonight, I was going to take a look at them. You know, a sort of sentimental journey.

Jedediah Leland: That's all he ever wanted out of life... was love. That's the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane. You see, he just didn't have any to give.

Charles Foster Kane: A toast, Jedediah: to Love on my own terms.

[On Kane finishing Leland's bad review of Susan's opera singing]

Mr. Bernstein: Everybody knows that story, Mr. Leland. But why did he do it? How could a man write a notice like that?

Jedediah Leland: You just don't know Charlie. He thought that by finishing that notice he could show me he was an honest man. He was always trying to prove something. The whole thing about Susie being an opera singer, that was trying to prove something. You know what the headline was the day before the election, "Candidate Kane found in love nest with quote, singer, unquote." He was gonna take the quotes off the singer.

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 9

Impact/Significance: 7

Novelty: 10

Classic-ness: 9.13

Rewatchability: 7

Audience Score: 8.6 (82% Google, 90% RT)

Total: 50.73

Remaining Questions:

  • Why "Rosebud"?

  • Would having a mistress still be a scandal in 2023?

  • How long did Kane live alone in Xanadu before he died?

  • Why didn't Kane sell all his artwork and statues before giving up his empire?

  • Why did his first wife and son have to die narratively in the story?

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