Rewind 75 years and Citizen Kane is tak­ing the world by storm. Bosley Crowther, film re­viewer for The New York Times, ap­praises Or­son Welles’s con­tem­po­rary block­buster

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

Within the with­er­ing spot­light as no other film has ever been be­fore, Or­son Welles’s Citizen Kane had its world pre­miere at the Palace last evening. And now that the wraps are off, the mys­tery has been ex­posed and Mr Welles and the RKO di­rec­tors have taken the much-de­bated leap, it can be safely stated that sup­pres­sion of this film would have been a crime. For, in spite of some dis­con­cert­ing lapses and strange am­bi­gu­i­ties in the creation of the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ter, Citizen Kane is far and away the most sur­pris­ing and cin­e­mat­i­cally ex­cit­ing mo­tion pic­ture to be seen here in many a moon. As a mat­ter of fact, it comes close to be­ing the most sen­sa­tional film ever made in Hol­ly­wood.

Count on Mr Welles; he doesn’t do things by halves. Be­ing a mer­cu­rial fel­low, with a fright­en­ing the­atri­cal flair, he moved right into the movies, grabbed the medium by the ears and be­gan to toss it around with the dex­ter­ity of a sea­soned vet­eran. Fact is, he han­dled it with more verve and in­spired in­ge­nu­ity than any of the el­der crafts­men have ex­hib­ited in years.

With the able as­sis­tance of Gregg Toland, whose ser­vices should not be over­looked, he found in the cam­era the per­fect in­stru­ment to en­com­pass his dra­matic en­er­gies and ab­sorb his pro­lific ideas. Upon the screen he dis­cov­ered an area large enough for his ex­pan­sive whims to have free play. And the con­se­quence is that he has made a pic­ture of tremen­dous and over­pow­er­ing scope, not in phys­i­cal ex­tent so much as in its rapid and graphic ro­ta­tion of thoughts. Mr Welles has put upon the screen a mo­tion pic­ture that re­ally moves.

As for the story which he tells — and which has pro­voked such an un­com­mon fuss — this cor­ner frankly holds con­sid­er­able reser­va­tion. Nat­u­rally we wouldn’t know how closely — if at all — it par­al­lels the life of an em­i­nent pub­lisher, as has been some­what cryp­ti­cally al­leged. But that is be­side the point in a rigidly crit­i­cal ap­praisal. The blam­able cir­cum­stance is that it fails to pro­vide a clear pic­ture of the char­ac­ter and mo­tives be­hind the man about whom the whole thing re­volves.

As the pic­ture opens, Charles Kane lies dy­ing in the fab­u­lous cas­tle he has built — the cas­tle called Xanadu, in which he has sur­rounded him­self with vast trea­sures. And as death closes his eyes his heavy lips mur­mur one word, “Rosebud”. Sud­denly the death scene is bro­ken; the screen be­comes alive with a stac­cato March-of-Time-like news fea­ture re­count­ing the ca­reer of the dead man — how, as a poor boy, he came into great wealth, how he be­came a news­pa­per pub­lisher as a young man, how he as­pired to po­lit­i­cal of­fice, was de­feated be­cause of a per­sonal scan­dal, de­voted him­self to ma­te­rial ac­qui­si­tion and fi­nally died.

But the ed­i­tor of the news fea­ture is not sat­is­fied; he wants to know the se­cret of Kane’s strange na­ture and es­pe­cially what he meant by “Rosebud”. So a re­porter is dis­patched to find out, and the re­main­der of the pic­ture is de­voted to an ab­sorb­ing vi­su­al­i­sa­tion of Kane’s phe­nom­e­nal ca­reer as told by his boy­hood guardian, two of his clos­est news­pa­per as­so­ci­ates and his mistress. Each is agreed on one thing — that Kane was a ti­tanic ego­ma­niac. It is also clearly re­vealed that the man was in some way con­sumed by his own ter­ri­fy­ing self­ish­ness.

But just ex­actly what it is that eats upon him, why it is there and, for that mat­ter, whether Kane is re­ally a vil­lain, a so­cial par­a­site, is never CITIZEN KANE: the play­ers Orig­i­nal screen play by Or­son Welles and Her­man J. Mankiewicz; pro­duced and di­rected by Or­son Welles; pho­tog­ra­phy by Gregg Toland; mu­sic com­posed and con­ducted by Bernard Her­rmann; re­leased through RKORa­dio. At the Palace. Charles Foster Kane . . . . . Or­son Welles Kane, aged eight . . . . . Buddy Swan Kane, aged three days . . . . . Sonny Bupp Kane’s Fa­ther . . . . . Harry Shan­non Jede­diah Le­land . . . . . Joseph Cot­ten Susan Alexan­der . . . . . Dorothy Comin­gore Mr Bern­stein . . . . . Everett Sloane James W. Get­tys . . . . . Ray Collins Wal­ter Parks Thatcher . . . . . Ge­orge Coulouris Kane’s Mother . . . . . Agnes Moore­head Ray­mond . . . . . Paul Ste­wart Emily Nor­ton . . . . . Ruth War­rick Her­bert Carter . . . . . Ersk­ine San­ford Thomp­son . . . . . Wil­liam Al­land Miss An­der­son . . . . . Ge­or­gia Backus Mr Rawl­ston . . . . . Philip Van Zandt Head­waiter . . . . . Gus Schilling Sig­nor Matiste . . . . . For­tu­nio Bo­nano clearly re­vealed. And the fi­nal, poignant iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of “Rosebud” sheds lit­tle more than a vague, sen­ti­men­tal light upon his char­ac­ter.

At the end Kubla Kane is still an enigma — a very con­fus­ing one.

But check that off to the ab­sorp­tion of Mr Welles in more vis­i­ble de­tails. Like the nov­el­ist, Thomas Wolfe, his abun­dance of im­agery is so great that it some­times gets in the way of his logic. And the less crit­i­cal will prob­a­bly be con­tent with an un­de­fined Kane, any­how. Af­ter all, no­body un­der­stood him. Why should Mr Welles? Isn’t it enough that he presents a the­atri­cal char­ac­ter with con­sum­mate the­atri­cal­ity?

We would, in­deed, like to say as many nice things as pos­si­ble about ev­ery­thing else in this film — about the ex­cel­lent di­rec­tion of Mr Welles, about the sure and pen­e­trat­ing per­for­mances of lit­er­ally ev­ery mem­ber of the cast and about the stun­ning man­ner in which the mu­sic of Bernard Her­rmann has been used. Space, un­for­tu­nately, is short. All we can say, in con­clu­sion, is that you shouldn’t miss this film.

It is cyn­i­cal, ironic, some­times op­pres­sive and as re­al­is­tic as a slap. But it has more vi­tal­ity than 15 other films we could name. And, al­though it may not give a thor­oughly clear an­swer, at least it brings to mind one deeply moral thought: For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? See Citizen Kane for fur­ther de­tails.

An orig­i­nal poster, left for Or­son Welles’s Citizen Kane

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