Movie Review – Citizen Kane (1941)

Throughout most of the history of cinema, one film has consistently held the title for being simply one of the best films ever made —- Citizen Kane.

Released in 1941, Citizen Kane not only stars Hollywood legend Orson Welles, but he directed, produced, and co-wrote the film as well.

Citizen Kane (1941) — movie poster

Citizen Kane begins in the present year.

Citizen Kane (1941) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures

Inside of Xanadu, a vast and incredibly luxurious mansion in Florida, an elderly Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) is nearing his death.  He holds a snow globe, says the word “rosebud,” and then dies.  The snow globe falls to the floor and breaks, signaling the end to the legendary man.

Citizen Kane (1941) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures

News races around the world of Kane’s death, and a newsreel takes people on a quick journey into the Xanadu estate as well as the life of Charles Kane, a newspaper tycoon and one of the most powerful people in the country.  It’s all straightforward until the producer of the newsreel questions Kane’s last word, “rosebud.”  The meaning of “rosebud” is tasked to reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland), and he goes off in hunt of the elusive answer.

Citizen Kane (1941) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures

The majority of Citizen Kane is told through flashbacks as Thompson tracks down and interviews those surviving people who were close to Kane at various points in his life.  The story goes back to Kane’s youth as he lived in Colorado with his mother, and he enjoyed playing outside in the snow.  They were poor, but after it was discovered that his mother had the deed to a gold mine in Colorado, she sent young Kane away to live with a banked named Walter Thatcher (George Coulouris) so that he could be properly educated.  Kane is reluctant to leave his home, but he’s forced to move away from his mother.

Citizen Kane (1941) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures

After turning twenty-five years old, Charles Kane gains control of his trust funds and gains access to the wealth from the gold mine.  He takes control of the New York Inquirer newspaper.  He uses tricks and sleazy tactics to gain readers and expand the newspaper, going so far as using it to turn people in favor of the Spanish-American War.  Kane then his fame to marry Emily Norton (Ruth Warrick), the niece of the President of the United States.

Citizen Kane (1941) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures

Years pass and Kane’s marriage deteriorates.  When he’s running a successful campaign to become Governor of New York, his opponent discovers Kane’s affair with a singer.  The affair is exposed and it ends Kane’s political career on the eve of him claiming victory in the race to become governor.  Kane then marries the singer, Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), and forces her to follow in the career of being an opera singer, something in which she does not have the talent to succeed.

Citizen Kane (1941) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures

More time passes, and when Susan threatens to kill herself, Kane allows her to finally quit performing in operas.  She then leaves Kane, causing him to go into a rage and destroy parts of his bedroom.  His anger quickly calms when he sees a snow globe and says, “rosebud.”  This was witnessed by several of Xanadu’s staff.

Back in the present time, Thompson has exhausted his leads to solving the mystery of “rosebud.”  Nobody knows why Kane said it as his final words.  It will forever be a mystery.

Citizen Kane (1941) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures

Citizen Kane ends with a crew going through some of Kane’s vast collection of items.  Somebody places an old wooden sled into a furnace to be burned as scrap.  As it catches on fire, we see that “Rosebud” was the sled’s brand name.


So is 1941’s Citizen Kane a good movie?

Yes, this is definitely a great movie, but it’s also not for everybody.

Citizen Kane is a classic story of the rise and ultimate fall of an incredibly wealthy and powerful individual, all wrapped around the investigation and mystery of a single word — “rosebud.”  Here we see how somebody basically rose from nothing, caught a lucky break with a gold mine, and then used his finances, education and cunning ways to grow himself a fortune.  He had it all, complete with being married twice to beautiful women.  But in the end, alone on his deathbed in an incredibly lavish mansion, his final word and favorite memory was that of his childhood, back when he was poor and living with his mother.

He had it all and lost his happiness because of his controlling and abusive ways.  There were no heirs to pass on his legacy.  The legend of Charles Foster Kane died alone in his room.

Citizen Kane (1941) – movie trailer

Of course, that brings to light a flaw with the movie.  If Kane was alone in his room when he died, then how did anybody hear his final word?  Perhaps he uttered it earlier when the nurse was checking on him, and the staff just agreed that it was his final word.

Anyway, this is a mostly interesting film that’s very enjoyable to watch.  Despite being a film that came out in 1941, it’s visually very appealing.  There are plenty of creative scenes and great cinematography in Citizen Kane.  It’s also easy to keep watching whenever Orson Welles is on the screen as he dominates the scenes with his personality and legendary voice.

Speaking of Orson Welles and his voice and acting, be sure to listen to his 1938 radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.”  The broadcast was infamous for sparking a panic as listeners who missed the introduction actually thought that the Earth was being attacked by Martians.

Orson Welles – “The War of the Worlds” radio broadcast (1938)

In the end, Citizen Kane is a great film.  This film isn’t for everybody, and modern audiences may find it boring or too old fashioned.  This didn’t strike me as a film that I wanted to watch again in the near future, especially since I already know the ending to the mystery.

[first lines]

Charles Foster Kane – “Rosebud…”


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.”