50 Greatest Movies – Citizen Kane

C, Movies, Reviews

Citizen Kane?

Yes. I said my list was going to be like no other, yet here I am starting with the movie that ranks #1 on almost every list out there. You know why I’m including it? Because Citizen Kane is a great movie. The first time I watched it I was blown away. I was not influenced by lists, critics or any of that stuff.

Welles, Cotten, Sloane

In 1940, in the midst of tight studio control of every picture made, Orson Welles was given a practically blank check and no studio interference for his first picture. So of course, he created a masterpiece that was a financial flop.

So why is Citizen Kane a masterpiece? The story, the acting, the dialog, the directing, the cinematography, the editing, it all comes together in a way that few movies do.

The story by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles is about a kid who inherits a gold mine. With all his money, when he grows up what he wants to do is to run a newspaper. He then uses this position to accumulate fame and power. His greatest wish is to be loved, but he doesn’t understand love. As he grows older, he grows more demanding, more arrogant, and ultimately withdraws from a painful world.

Citizen Kane introduced a handful of actors that you may be familiar with. This is the first full-length picture for Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten (Gaslight, Niagara), Agnes Morehead (Bewitched), Ruth Warrick (Payton Place), and Everett Sloane (character actor in a zillion things), all of whom are familiar faces to classic movie lovers. Joseph Cotten as Jedediah Leland is outstanding as the moral center of the story.

Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, Nashville) gets lots of acclaim for realistic overlapping dialog, but there is plenty on display in Kane which predates Altman’s movies by 25 years. Many memorable lines are sprinkled throughout the script:

Bernstein: Well, it’s no trick to make a lot of money… if what you want to do is make a lot of money.

Leland: Bernstein, am I a stuffed shirt? Am I a horse-faced hypocrite? Am I a New England school marm?
Bernstein: Yes. If you thought I’d answer you any differently than what Mr. Kane tells you…

Charles Foster Kane: You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.

The direction can be a bit “stagey” compared to what we are used to today, but each scene develops organically. Camera placement, lighting, blocking, and the deep focus photography by cinematographer Greg Toland create a spectacular visual feast. The editing pulls together things like the camera coming thought the skylight and the “years of marriage at the breakfast table” scene beautifully.

Ultimately, every film is an ensemble piece, but Citizen Kane was obviously Orson’s baby. Like Charles Foster Kane, Welle’s ego and stubbornness eventually was his undoing. However, we are grateful that he was given a chance, for even if this was his only cinematic creation, he would still rank among the greats.

Citizen Kane, 1941, directed by Orson Welles, written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles, produced by Orson Welles, starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and Everett Sloane. 119 minutes.

Citizen Kane (Two-Disc Special Edition) Citizen Kane – Screenplay formatted for Kindle Citizen Kane [Blu-ray] Citizen Kane (BFI Film Classics)

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2 thoughts on “50 Greatest Movies – Citizen Kane

  1. This is one in a long, long list I’ve only recently seen lately for the first time for one reason or other. I loved it. I remember thinking how ‘modern’ the movie looked…and I mean that in a GOOD way. (I hate much of modern filmmaking for many reasons) It was the camera work that just felt really frssh to me even though it’s so old. Know what I mean?


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