FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE REVIEW: “Citizen Kane” stars Orson Welles (Touch of Evil, Confidential Report), Joseph Cotten (The Third Man, Shadow of a Doubt), Everett Sloane (The Lady from Shanghai, Lust for Life), Ray Collins (Perry Manson [TV series], The Best Years of Our Lives), Ruth Warrick (Song of the South, Peyton Place [TV series]), Dorothy Comingore (Prison Train, The Hairy Ape), Agnes Morrehead (Bewitched [TV series], The Magnificent Ambersons), Erskine Sanford (Kidnapped, Crack-Up), and George Coulouris (Papillon , Murder on the Orient Express ). It was directed by Orson Welles, who also wrote the screenplay with Herman J. Mankiewicz (The Pride of the Yankees, Dinner at Eight).
When a millionaire newspaper tycoon by the name of Charles Foster Kane (Welles) passes away with the last words “rosebud,” a reporter goes on the hunt to discover the meaning behind it, interviewing people who have gotten to know Kane over his lengthy career.
After almost ten years and 908 reviews, we arrive at the final analysis I will publish on this site: Orson Welles’ 1941 classic, “Citizen Kane.” Cinephiles know of its stature; how it has been deemed by many critics and historians as “the film.” Why? Because Welles and his team defied what was even thinkable in cinema upon its release. The way it was shot shook the foundation of filmmaking and inspired many creatives to follow suit in pushing the envelope of how something could be captured. In choosing what would become my last critique for Juicy Reviews, the reputation of “Citizen Kane” played a big hand in its consideration. However, what truly sold me on selecting it was not its fame, but something far more… unique.
You see, “Citizen Kane” was intended to be reviewed many years ago. Almost six years, to be exact. When I was a freshman in film school, it was a right of passage to watch this feature for homework. My film history course placed its viewing as an assignment (the best part about early film classes: the homework was to watch movies!), and I was so surprised by this old piece of cinema that I thought I’d analyze it. The draft was created, worked on, but never completed, and it lied in my draft tab all this time. Twas the only review on this site to never be completed (my workspace window of it pictured below).
All this time later and I have finally revisited the classic – and on a Friday night at that. The lights turned off, popcorn in hand, and a screen fully lit to the image of a chain-link fence displaying a sign that reads “No Trespassing.” Off to the races we go, on a journey that redefined cinema…
Before I get too deep in the weeds on this review, I will flat out say it: “Citizen Kane” proceeds its reputation. Whether you appreciate its impact on history or not, the flick is one of the most modern, old movies there is. Its story is a labrynth, performances captivating, and cinematography… well… chef’s kiss. Those who frown upon the feature are more so soured by the fact that it has been hailed as the greatest movie of all time. Of course it won’t be everyone’s favorite film; the medium is completely subjective. So if you haven’t seen this and are curious, I ask that you keep an open mind. Don’t raise your expectations on account of what the world says; you may just find yourself disappointed (especially when a movie has as great acclaim as this one). With that out of the way, let’s proceed to the review!
First and foremost, we must talk about the crowning jewel of “Citizen Kane”: its imagery. The cinematography and lighting of this are a masterpiece. Absolutely brilliant, deserving of a masterclass. Think I’m wrong? Look at the shots I’ve posted in this review (or search the web for some). As a filmmaker, the way Welles’ and his team shot this piece is stunning. Harsh lighting, transition trickery, and layered composition are its greatest strengths, most of which were pioneered at the time. You could see the ceilings of rooms (at the time, everything was shot in a soundstage and you never looked up), and there was something to observe at varying distances from the lens. Almost every shot had a lot going on and was beautifully crafted in the most specific ways. The shot where the snowglobe is shattered on the floor and we catch the nurse’s reflection in it, or the shot where we see a young Kane playing in the snow, only for the camera to pull back far into the house and land on his mother at the kitchen table; things that you would find in film today, but only because “Citizen Kane” led the charge. Making this film fairly timeless.
Adding to the pot are the performances. If you’ve seen older cinema, you’re well aware of the acting style of the time: grandiose. Its broad and big. Completely theatrical. While there are hints of that here, for the most part this cast plays it reserved. Their acting is controlled, with stand-out performances that stick with you, including that of Orson Welles, Ruth Warrick, Dorothy Comingore, and Joseph Cotten. They’re all-star players, and the fact that Welles pulled quadruple duty on this (directing, acting, producing, and writing [supposedly]) is astounding. Say what you will about him and his career as a whole, his creation of “Citizen Kane” serves enough as a golden ticket into the cinema legends. I loved many moments throughout this picture because of how strong the acting was, a highlight being Kane and his wife (Warrick) visiting the home of his mistress; that scene is terrific.
Journeying through the narrative of this picture, it’s a well-orchestrated non-linear piece. We jump around in time as a newspaper employee searches for the meaning behind Kane’s last words, cycling through a number of moments in fine detail after they have been summarized at the beginning. Yep. My biggest gripe of this picture would be its opening, as it felt quite lengthy. It’s a newspaper reel showcasing Kane’s life in headlines, being narrated by a booming voice. Though I’m sure it wasn’t too long, it felt like it was never going to end, as there was a lot of ground to cover. I was definitely thankful by the time we made it to the reporters. Not to say that the newsreel isn’t important; in fact, it serves as an integral piece in that we see the surface level of Kane – what the public eye saw in the newspapers – only for his true nature to be revealed through the detailed accounts of his life foretold by his closest peers/loved ones. I’m only saying that my attention waned during it. Because of this, I also got a bit lost in the timeline of events, and reasons as to why Kane got where he did (particularly, him being brought into a rich family as a kid). However, I am well aware that a simple rewatch will remedy this. After all, the meaning behind “Citizen Kane” isn’t that complex: it’s about a man in search of love and acceptance, while never being satisfied by either he receives. His being is picked apart by many characters in the feature, most of which saying the theme repeatedly as time passes.
Being on-the-nose can be regarded as a big flaw in a film. Though “Citizen Kane” isn’t really on-the-nose, some have shrugged it off as being simplistic in story. I have no issue with this, as I have often admired movies that go above and beyond in the way they go about telling simple stories. Welles and his team dazzle in their delivery; the style of it is truly exceptional, and the simple tale truly holds a great character study. Do I hold it as perfect or the greatest film of all time? No. There were moments (much like the newsreel) where my mind wandered, but as a whole it is truly a sight to behold; a film that serves itself on a silver platter and stands the test of time. As a cinema buff, you should see it. And if you are looking for a quality movie, I’d point you in its direction as well.
Don’t let its reputation set you up for disappointment. There is no film that could be labeled as the greatest ever made. But listen to me when I say that this takes a good shot at it. “Citizen Kane” is well worth the watch. FINAL SCORE: 97%= Juicy Popcorn
This movie has been inducted into The Juicy Hall of Fame.
Here is the trailer: