Citizen Kane was a cinematic achievement for its time and the film has only grown to become an all-time classic over the years. As of this week, the film is also available in 4K Ultra HD through The Criterion Collection.
Initially, Citizen Kane was a forgotten movie. One thing that would help bring him back to the forefront was the praise of critics in France. It also helped that the film was released again in 1956 and also benefited from RKO’s sale of its theatrical library on television. Combined with an essay by Andrew Sarris in Film culture, things would definitely start to improve Citizen Kane in America.
Nowadays, Citizen Kane is also rebroadcast frequently on TCM. Nothing about streaming is permanent, so I always encourage ownership of physical media. You certainly can’t go wrong with the Criterion 4K UHD! It is also the first time that the film has been available in this format.
The great mystery surrounding the film is the mysterious Rosebud. Everyone is starting to wonder who Rosebud could be. A mistress, perhaps? It is not a who but a what. This is a case where co-author Herman J. Mankiewicz drew on his own childhood experiences with the loss of a beloved bicycle. Mank never forgot about this incident and used it in the movie. Instead of his beloved bicycle, the film uses a sled, named after 1914 Kentucky Derby winner Old Rosebud. Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) would call his beloved sled Rosebud. To learn more about this idea and more, I highly recommend reading The Mankiewicz brothers by Sydney Ladensohn Stern.
The gist of the film is that Kane dies and the film soon enters his life story. Kane is dying on his deathbed in his Florida mansion Xanadu. Holding a snow globe in his hand, Kane can only speak of “rosebud” before his last breath. The globe crashes to the ground in one of the most iconic moments in cinema history. A March news journalist, Jerry Thompson (William Alland), is tasked by his producer with understanding the mystery surrounding Rosebud. Kane’s wife, Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore), doesn’t want to talk to him. Thompson then looks at the memoirs of banker Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris). It is through these memories that Thompson learns more about Kane, now deceased.
Between the gold found in one of Mary Kane’s (Agnes Moorehead) mines and Thatcher’s own investments, Kane was well on his way to getting rich when he was 25. New York investigator newspaper before selling to Thatcher when the stock market crashed.
While still married to his first wife Emily Norton (Ruth Warrick), Kane ran for governor. It might just be amazing foresight, but looking at last year someone like Donald Trump could easily serve as an inspiration for the film. Or maybe even Rupert Murdoch? Either way, Kane cheats on his wife with Susan Alexander during the campaign. Suffice it to say that he gets caught by his rival Jim W. Gettys (Ray Collins) and that the scandal puts an end to his political career. He sets out to build an opera house for Susan after practically forcing her into a career in opera.
Mank wrote the vast majority of the script according to Stern’s book. I’m not going to get into the legal drama that happened during her onscreen writing credit. Let’s just say things got dramatic. No matter the drama with Welles, Kane himself is a satire of the press barons of the day, primarily a William Randolph Hearst. Mank knew him in real life, so it made sense to rely on Hearst as the main root of the film’s satire.
There is a controversy based on Susan Alexander Kane. Hearst speculated that Kane’s wife was based on his mistress, actress Marion Davies. Welles attributes these aspects to the life of Samuel Insull and Harold Fowler McCormick. But hey, mistresses were not rare at that time. However, the assumption is why Hearst decided to do whatever it takes to kill the film’s box office chances.
There is so much to enjoy in the classic. Bernard Herrmann took care of the film’s score for years before haunting us with his work on psychopath and other Hitchcock films. If this is a trivial question, this is his first film score. Future director Robert Wise edited the film. Sound design in Citizen Kane would influence Wise’s own choices when he moved on to directing. And now that brings us to cinematographer Gregg Toland. Toland was a prolific cinematographer when he died in 1948 at the age of 44. Behind the camera, he mastered the technique of deep focus. Toland’s experience also came in handy when you factor in that Welles was a new director behind the camera.
Would the lighting in this film be the same without Gregg Toland? I do not know. What I do know is that Toland’s knowledge helped with the lighting choices on set. It is also on this film that he will master the deep focus – helped by the scenographer Perry Ferguson. Toland worked with Kodak for the film.
Lots of techniques in Citizen Kane had been used before. The film brings it all together for one of the first times in the history of cinema. In terms of storytelling, the film does not use the traditional narrative approach. Instead, it goes back and draws on multiple narrators so to speak, a first at this point in Hollywood history. Outside of Toland’s cinematography, sound design would mark another Hollywood innovation.
Don’t forget to also check out the current exhibit at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures!
- New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and three Blu-rays with the film and features
- Three audio commentaries: from 2021 with Orson Welles fellows James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum; from 2002 with the filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich; and from 2002 with the film critic Roger Ebert
- The Complete “Citizen Kane” (1991), a rarely seen BBC documentary feature
- Interviews with critic Farran Smith Nehme and film scholar Racquel J. Gates (NEW)
- Video essay by researcher Orson Welles Robert Carringer (NEW)
- Film special effects program by film specialists and effects experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt (NEW)
- 1990 interviews with editor Robert Wise; actor Ruth Warrick; optical effects designer Linwood Dunn; Bogdanovich; filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Henry Jaglom, Martin Ritt and Frank Marshall; and directors of photography Allen Daviau, Gary Graver and Vilmos Zsigmond
- Documentary featuring archival interviews with Welles (NEW)
- Interviews with actor Joseph Cotten from 1966 and 1975
- Hearts of age, a short silent film directed by Welles while he was a student in 1934
- 1979 and 1988 TV programs featuring appearances by Welles and Mercury Theater producer John Houseman
- Program featuring a 1996 interview with actor William Alland about his collaborations with Welles
- Selection of radio plays from The Mercury Theater on the Air featuring numerous Citizen Kane actors
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- MORE: Luxury packaging, including a book with an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri
For more information on Blu-ray and Disc 1 replacement, please click here.
DIRECTOR: Orson Welles
SCREENWRITERS: Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles
DISTRIBUTORS: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, William Alland