Twenty-five year old Orsen Wells co-wrote, produced, directed and performed in what has been called the greatest movie ever, Citizen Kane. From the opening moments when a broken gate, perching monkeys and an abandoned golf course frame a desolate mausoleum on the hill, to the dying man’s whispered words “rosebud” there is a feeling of slow decay, which is immediately contrasted with the staccato cadence of the newsreel which draws the audience through the life of Charles Foster Kane. The newsreel calls Kane the Kubla Kahn of Florida living in Xanadu the modern version of Kubla Kahn’s palace.
The show was controversial as was most of Orsen Welles budding career. In 1936,at the age of 20, Welles and his friend and co-writer John Houseman set Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Haiti featuring all African American actors. In 1937 clashing with their current performing group, they formed the Mercury Theater, named for the American Mercury, a magazine featuring many of the important writers of the time. They were immediately successful in Broadway and then radio, performing the famous “War of the Worlds” in 1938. Citizen Kane was his first movie, but it was almost banned before it was shown.
The story centers around Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy eccentric newspaper mogul who abandons his principals and is left friendless. William Randolf Hurst a newspaper magnate took over the San Francisco Examiner from his father. He is credited with beginning yellow journalism which is using sensational news which may or may not be true to sell newspapers. He eventually owned over 30 newspapers and later added magazines. He engaged lawyers to try and stop the film and refused to let any of his newspapers comment on it. There are striking similarities between Hurst and Kane. Hurst used his influence to draw the United States into a war with Spain in 1898, as it was intimated did Kane. Kane ran for Governor and lost. Hurst ran for mayor and governor of New York.
After the newsreel at the beginning of the story, the audience knows the details about Kane’s life, but before the reel is released the editor wants more. He wants to know the real Kane. He sends a reporter out to find out the meaning of the last words, “Rosebud.” Through interviews and flashbacks, the viewer is taken back through Kane’s life beginning with a snowy day when his mother who was given a gold mine that was considered abandoned but was a producer, sends him, a eightish-year old boy to live in the city to be raised by the bank. There is a hint at the father’s brutishness, but no explanation or warning was given to Kane. The movie skips to Kane as a young man ready to enter the business world. He has millions of dollars and many companies due to the apparent brilliance and honesty of his legal guardian, but refuses to man them. Instead he takes over a small failing business and takes aim at the large corrupt corporations and government entities around him by building it into a powerful entity. He signs a pact of social conscience which his friend tucks away for a time when Kane may need a reminder.
In his determination to beat the circulation of the Chronicle, he hires the entire state of the Chronicle and then leaves town abandoning the paper, signaling the end of his idealism. When he returns from Europe, the newspaper staff was greats them with an enthusiasm he would have heartily embraced before he left two years before. They had purchased a very large sterling silver cup with sentimental inscriptions. However, he brushed through the office, handed a wedding announcement to one of the staff, grabbed the cup and went back to his wife waiting in a chauffeured carriage. Becoming heady with his own power he runs for governor. When he is exposed for spending time with a young woman, he loses the election and his first wife and son. By the end of the movie he has burned through two wives and is alone in Xanadu the marble mausoleum he created for his second wife. From an open sharing personality to the overbearing puppet master that forced his second wife to perform a series of operas opening her to criticism and derision, the movie is a descent from socialistic ideas to capitalistic despotism.
In the original review in the New York Times it is stated that only Charlie Chaplin equals Welles when he wrote, directed and produced “The Great Dictator.”