“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“You’re right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place in… 60 years.”
If you’re ever worried about feeling a little cocky, a little too good about yourself and your accomplishments, just remind yourself of this; Citizen Kane was Orson Welles’ first movie… Oh, and he was only 24 when he made it. Citizen Kane is number one on this AFI list of the greatest movies of all time. Citizen Kane has occupied the top spot and those close to it on a many a list of the greatest movies of all time. And Citizen Kane is a movie that I have never heard anyone contrarian enough to dispute its place atop those lists. You know why? Because Citizen Kane might just be the greatest movie of all time.
Opening in the 40s, Charles Foster Kane (Welles) dies alone, feebly uttering “rosebud” as his final words. When a newsreel is compiled detailing Kane’s life, it’s decided that a blow by blow biography of his greatest hits isn’t enough. This man loomed too large of America for too long, and his real story needs to be told. Deciding that discovering the truth behind who or what rosebud is, journalist Jerry Thompson (William Alland) is dispatched to interview those who knew Kane best.
Getting a view of Charles Foster Kane via three people who managed to be close to him at different times in his life, Thompson speaks to Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), Kane’s ex wife, now a washed up singer appearing at her own dive bar. There’s Kane’s business manager, Bernstein (Everett Sloane) and one time best friend and trusted colleague, Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotton). Thompson even gets to the bottom of Kane’s childhood via the archives of deceased guardian, Walter Thatcher (George Couloris).
Through these sources, we learn of Kane’s beginnings. As a young boy, a goldmine was discovered on his family’s farm. Paranoid that they have no idea how to raise their son to live in the world of the rich he now occupies, his parents send him away to live with Thatcher, who will teach him how to take advantage of his fortune and make it grow. The second he is old enough to take complete control of the sixth largest personal fortune in the world, Kane quickly dismisses everything Thatcher advises and decides to buy a newspaper. He turns it into a nationwide syndicate and becomes one of the moist powerful men in the country. Powerful enough to swing elections and take Susan Alexander as a trophy wife. But his plans are bigger than winning government for others, and soon, Kane wants it for himself.
I’ve probably seen Citizen Kane four of five times in my lifetime, and I think it gets better and more impressive with every watch. You could watch it just for the performances, and be blown away be pretty much everyone with a speaking role. You could watch it just for the technical film making and direction, and still be flawed by Welles’ innovation and visual skill, no matter how many times it’s been copied in the three quarters of a century since. You could watch it just for the story, loosely based on real life newspaper mogul and professional prick, William Randolph Hearst, and be hard pressed to find a better yarn. But the thing is, Orson Welles managed to make a movie where all of those aspects are as close to perfect as you’re likely to ever see in a movie. And the bastard managed to do it when he was only 24. What a show off.
Best Picture (nominated, lost to How Green Was My Valley)
Best Director (Welles nominated, lost to John Ford for How Green Was My Valley)
Best Actor (Welles nominated, lost to Gary Cooper for Sergeant York)