Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Citizen Kane (1941)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Interview with Kane's personal manager Bernstein:

(3) Next, Thompson leans forward to interview Bernstein in his New York City office in front of a fire in the hearth. Kane's portrait above the mantle dominates the scene. Bernstein was hired as Kane's devoted assistant for the paper, his general business manager. Bernstein is seated in a flat, high-backed leather chair with his arms folded on his shiny polished desktop, reflecting his image. His eyesight is failing, evidenced by a large magnifying glass in front of him. He is also free of self-importance: "Who's a busy man, me? I'm chairman of the board. I've got nothing but time."

Thompson immediately asks his essential question about the meaning of Rosebud:

Thompson: We thought maybe if we could find out what he meant by his last words, as he was dying.
Bernstein: That Rosebud, huh? Maybe some girl. There were a lot of them back in the early days.

Bernstein reminisces about an unforgettable moment he had experienced years earlier, one of the film's own unforgettable moments:

A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry. And as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in. And on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all. But I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I hadn't thought of that girl.

Revealing his sympathy for Susan, he remembered to call her after Kane's death: "I called her myself the day after he died. I thought maybe somebody ought to." Bernstein reminds Thompson of his long-term loyalty and faithfulness to Kane: "From before the beginning, young fellow, and now it's after the end." In other memories, Bernstein believes that Thatcher "was the biggest darn fool I ever met...well, it's no trick to make a lot of money, if all you want is to make a lot of money. You take Mr. Kane, it wasn't money he wanted. Thatcher never did figure him out. Sometimes, even I couldn't." As he makes this observation about Thatcher, he goes to the ticker-tape machine near the rain-spattered window to look at the Wall Street prices.

Bernstein then remembers the first day that Kane took over the Inquirer with his college friend Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten). In a flashback, the camera moves down the side of the Inquirer building and then dissolves to a view of the inside of a hansom carriage, where fashionably-dressed dandies Kane and Leland are riding. After climbing out of the carriage, it moves out of view, and they are seen entering the offices of the failing newspaper for the first time. And then Bernstein's wagon pulls up in the same view, bearing chairs and a iron bedstead (possibly from the Kane Boarding House) and Bernstein himself atop the delivery. They are welcomed by a Dickensian character, a Mr. Herbert Carter (Erskine Sanford), the silly editor-in-chief, who turns in a self-important half-circle, rings a little bell, and descends from his platform to approach them. Kane greets him very politely, after Carter shakes hands with Leland - mistaking him for Kane. The senior Carter continues to be disoriented by mistaking Kane for Leland. Kane appoints Leland to be the paper's dramatic critic:

This is Mr. Leland...our new dramatic critic. I hope I haven't made a mistake, Jedediah. It is dramatic critic you want to be, isn't it?

The rest of the paper's staff stand around at attention. In the confusion and changing of the guard, Bernstein noisily tumbles over items to be moved into the office. Kane strides over to Carter's office, which the aging editor blocks with his body, reluctant to relinquish control and power over to the new publisher. Carter has been keeping the entire operation open for only twelve hours a day. A youthful, energetic Kane describes his plan to change how the paper will be run - he will evict Carter from his office and move his bed and furnishings in for a new round-the-clock operation: "Mr. Carter. I'm going to live right here in your office as long as I have to...the news goes on for twenty-four hours a day." Shortly thereafter, the much-disgruntled Carter stands over the seated Kane as the new occupant of his private sanctum cheerfully remakes the rules.

Kane's first editorial idea to build middle-class paper circulation [symbolic of his own personal popularity] is to sensationalize the front-page, three-column headline story in the Chronicle about the disappearance of a woman named Mrs. Harry Silverstone in Brooklyn:

Kane: Now look, Mr. Carter, here's a front-page story in the Chronicle about a Mrs. Harry Silverstone in Brooklyn who's missing. Now, she's probably murdered. Here's a picture of her in the Chronicle. Why isn't there something about it in the Inquirer?
Carter: 'Cause we're running a newspaper...

[Kane's tactic to take on the Chronicle with his Inquirer mirrors Hearst's own battle of his paper, the Journal against Pulitzer's World.] He intends to turn his paper into a tabloid with fabricated, bold, front-page headlines to increase readership - he will transform the Silverstone disappearance into a lurid, scandal-sheet murder case:

If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough.

Opposed and dismayed by the tactic, Carter sputters at him: "There's no proof that that woman is murdered, or even that she's dead...It's not our function to report the gossip of housewives. If we were interested in that kind of thing, Mr. Kane, we could fill the paper twice over daily." Kane makes no secret that his intention is to transform the genteel journalistic paper: "Mr. Carter, that's the kind of thing we are going to be interested in, from now on."

Kane instructs Carter to send his best reporter (masquerading as a detective from the central office) to see Mr. Silverstone in Brooklyn, with instructions that unless he produces Mrs. Silverstone at once, the Inquirer will have him arrested. "If Mr. Silverstone gets suspicious and asks to see your man's badge, your man is to get indignant and call Mr. Silverstone an anarchist, loudly, so the neighbors can hear!" Although Carter voices his objections, he is conspiratorially surrounded on both sides by Kane and Leland and must give in. As a forcefully-evicted and flustered Mr. Carter leaves the New York Inquirer's building (an artist's rendering), a newspaper boy hawks the competing paper's headlines on the street corner.

In the next scene preceded by a dissolve from the previous scene, the camera slowly moves forward toward Kane who leans against the office window, writing on a piece of paper held against the window glass. Jedediah looks out at the Chronicle newsboy crying the headlines. Another dissolve moves through the window and into the room, where they have been up all night.

Jedediah: We'll be on the street soon, Charlie, another ten minutes.
Bernstein: (chiming in) Three hours and fifty minutes late, but we did it!

After remaking the front page four times in one night, and finishing their first paper almost four hours behind schedule, Kane faces Jedediah and Bernstein and suddenly announces: "I've got to make the New York Inquirer as important to New York as the gas in that light." [Ironically, electric light made gaslight obsolete in the early 20th century. The Gaslight Era ended around 1915.] Kane reads outloud the first editorial that he has written, a just-completed "Declaration of Principles" that crusadesfor the downtrodden and becomes a servant and an idealistic champion of the people:

Bernstein: You don't want to make any promises, Mr. Kane, that you don't want to keep.
Kane: These will be kept. 'I'll provide the people of this city with a daily paper that will tell all the news honestly. I will also provide them...'
Jedediah: That's the second sentence you've started with 'I'.
Kane: People are gonna know who's responsible. Now they're gonna get the truth in the Inquirer, quickly and simply and entertainingly and no special interests are gonna be allowed to interfere with that truth. (continuing with the declaration) 'I will also provide them with a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and as human beings. Signed, Charles Foster Kane.'

Kane instructs Solly, the typesetter, to remake the front page to include his "Declaration of Principles" as a boxed item on the front page. Leland states his wish to have Kane's original hand-written document of principles returned to him, sensing its significance:

I'd like to keep that particular piece of paper myself. I have a hunch it might turn out to be something pretty important, a the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, and my first report card at school.

The camera shows a close-up of the front page where the 'Declaration of Principles' are displayed in a large box. As the camera pulls back, it gradually reveals the one bundled stack of Inquirer papers in a large room filled with many stacks of newspapers. Through the Inquirer's front window, Leland, Bernstein, and Kane (after a long night) are seen looking out and watching newsboys hawking the morning's paper. The paper's meager circulation figures are painted on the window: 26,000.

The next shot is a similar one - the three are reflected in the front window of their competitor, the Chronicle, glumly staring at their rival paper's circulation figure of 495,000. Reflected in the window is a portrait picture of the Chronicle's staff - nine of the best journalists in the world, captioned: "THE GREATEST NEWSPAPER STAFF IN THE WORLD." With Leland and Bernstein, Kane discusses the possibility of taking his rival over - a formidable task. As the camera pans forward toward the staff picture, in a famous, clever transition shot, the Chronicle's staff picture hanging on the wall in the competing paper's office suddenly comes to life. (In the intervening six years, Kane has attracted the top newsmen of his rival by offering them high ideals and salaries - he buys the Chronicle's renowned staff.)

The nine staff, that took twenty years for the Chronicle to assemble, are having their picture taken six years later, now as part of the Inquirer's staff! Kane is holding a party in their honor to celebrate their wholesale switch (by acquisition) to the Inquirer:

Six years ago, I looked at a picture of the world's greatest newspapermen. I felt like a kid in front of a candy store. Well tonight, six years later, I got my candy, all of it. (A photographer's loud flash mechanism punctuates his words) Welcome, gentlemen, to the Inquirer. Make up an extra copy of that picture and send it to the Chronicle, will you please? It will make you all happy to learn that our circulation this morning was the greatest in New York, 684,000.

Bernstein corrects: "684,132!" Kane has successfully built the paper into the best-selling newspaper in the city. At the celebration party held in the city room of the Inquirer, a long narrow table is covered with champagne bottles and surrounded by newspaper staff - another scene with deep-focus photography. At Kane's end of the table, an initial "K" ice-sculpture stands - frozen inside it is a front-page headline that welcomes the new staff. At the other end of the table, there are two carved-ice busts that are caricatures of Leland ("Broadway Jed" Leland) and Bernstein ("Mr. Big Business" Bernstein), and they frame the screen as Kane talks to everyone. Kane banters to the staff about his upcoming vacation to Europe and his fetishistic penchant for acquiring and collecting artwork - in particular, statues [symbolic of people that can be possessed and controlled]:

Kane: I promised my doctor for some time now that I'd leave when I could. I now realize that I can't.
Bernstein: Say, Mr. Kane, as long as you're promising, there's a lot of pictures and statues in Europe you haven't bought yet.
Kane: You can't blame me, Mr. Bernstein. They've been making statues for two thousand years, and I've only been buying for five.
Bernstein: Promise me, Mr. Kane.
Kane: I promise you, Mr. Bernstein.
Bernstein: Thank you.
Kane: Mr. Bernstein?
Bernstein: Yes?
Kane: You don't expect me to keep any of those promises, do you?

With his fingers in his mouth, Kane whistles, signalling a line of marching band members to enter, dressed in the costumes of Catherine the Great's Russia. They are followed by dancing chorus girls carrying rifles, in keeping with Kane's interest in the growing conflict in Spain. He jests to Leland when they appear, suggesting support of jingoistic attitudes in his paper to encourage US war-mongering and entrance into the Spanish-American War (1898) [an obvious reference to William Randolph Hearst's editorial attitudes in his own paper regarding Latin America]:

Kane: Are we going to declare war on Spain or are we not?
Leland: (tersely disapproving) The Inquirer already has.
Kane: You long-faced, over-dressed anarchist.
Leland: I am not over-dressed.

A rousing, intricately-edited song and dance number is performed like a stage show led by a baton-wielding comic named Charles Bennett (in a white-striped blazer and a straw hat). The crowd listens as Kane is given a tribute. The chorus girls, up-lit from below, echo some of the comic's lines. Soon, bachelor Charlie joins the chorus girls in the dance routine:

There is a man - a certain man
And for the poor you may be sure
That he'll do all he can!
Who is this one?
This fav'rite son?
Just by his action
Has the Traction magnates on the run?
Who loves to smoke?
Enjoys a joke?
Who wouldn't get a bit upset
If he were really broke?
With wealth and fame
He's still the same
I'll bet you five you're not alive
If you don't know his name
What is his name?...
It's Charlie Kane.
CROWD: It's Mister Kane.
He doesn't like that Mister
He likes good old Charlie Kane.

Who says a miss
Was made to kiss?
And when he meets one always tries
To do exactly this?
Who buys the food?
Who buys the drinks?
Who thinks that dough was made to spend?
And acts the way he thinks?
Now is it Joe?
CROWD: No, no, no, no!
I'll bet you ten you aren't men
If you don't really know!

Kane has succeeded in becoming a much-respected public figure. During the celebratory singing and dancing after he steals a kiss from one of the showgirls, he suddenly removes his jacket and tosses it towards the camera (in the direction of Leland and Bernstein). Leland catches the flying jacket, a tremendous three-dimensional effect.

While Charlie dances in the background with the troupe (and his playful image with the girls is often reflected in the glass of the window), Leland (on the left) and Bernstein (on the right wearing a Rough Rider's hat) in the foreground simultaneously speak about the Chronicle staff. Bored, unimpressed, resistant and already slightly disillusioned by Kane's brash ambitions, Leland reminds Bernstein:

Leland: These men who were with the Chronicle. Weren't they just as devoted to the Chronicle politics as they are now to our policies?
Bernstein: Sure, they're just like anybody else. They got work to do, they do it! Only they happen to be the best men in the business!
Leland: Do we stand for the same things the Chronicle stands for, Bernstein?
Bernstein: Certainly not. Listen, Mr. Kane, he'll have them changed to his kind of newspapermen in a week!
Leland: There's always a chance, of course, that they'll change Mr. Kane, without his knowing it.

While Kane is traveling on a treasure-hunting trip to Europe, Leland and Bernstein remain behind to unpack and store the sculptures in the offices of the Inquirer already crowded with statues that Kane has acquired and sent back for his collection. Bernstein receives a cable from Kane in Paris and joyously shares the news with Leland: "Look, he wants to buy the world's biggest diamond." Leland describes why he didn't accompany Kane to Europe - he would have hampered Kane's pursuit of pleasure:

Leland: Bernstein, am I a stuffed shirt? Am I a horse-faced hypocrite? Am I a New England schoolmarm?
Bernstein: (revealing himself) Yes. If you thought I'd answer you any different from what Mr. Kane tells you, well, I wouldn't.

Bernstein clarifies the object of Kane's pursuit - he's not only collecting material objects and statues, but he has transited to a new stage of his life:

He's collecting somebody that's collecting diamonds. Anyway, he ain't only collecting statues.

The staff surround a close-up of a large winner's cup as Bernstein reads the Welcome message engraved on it: "Welcome Home Mr. Kane From 467 Employees of the New York Inquirer." A dapper Mr. Kane returns from his travels and bursts through the office doors, dressed in a white outfit. The camera reverses itself and follows his stride through the assembled group of editors. Kane nervously and hurriedly presents a "little social announcement" to the society editor, Miss Townsend.

One staffer alerts everyone to the view he sees from the upstairs window as he looks down on Kane's open carriage. Everyone dashes over to see Kane's pretty new fiancee riding in the carriage, framed in the window. The society editor gushes after reading the announcement out loud:

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Monroe Norton announce the engagement of their daughter Emily Monroe Norton to Mr. Charles Foster Kane.

Emily Norton (Ruth Warrick) is the daughter of a senator and the niece of the President of the United States - a stepping-stone to the White House for Kane. During Kane's upward rise to power, youthful idealism as a prime motivator is replaced by patriarchal power. Bernstein speculates: "Before he's through, she'll be a President's wife." The staff waves farewell as the carriage pulls away - their faces are seen in the windows behind the large letters R E and R on the outside of the Inquirer's building.

Bernstein's adulations and reminiscences fade back to his office, where it is now nighttime, and the rain has stopped. He concludes his thoughts: "Miss Emily Norton was no Rosebud...It ended. And there was Susan. That ended too..." Bernstein speculates about Kane's final word - after his tragic decline:

Maybe that was something he lost. Mr. Kane was a man who lost almost everything he had.

Bernstein then suggests that Thompson go and visit Mr. Leland. Although he admits that Leland was "right" in disagreeing with Kane's exaggerated rhetoric, reformist politics, jingoistic attitudes and yellow-journalistic tactics surrounding the Spanish-American War, Bernstein nevertheless defends Kane:

Of course, he [Leland] and Mr. Kane didn't exactly see eye to eye. You take the Spanish-American War. I guess Mr. Leland was right. That was Mr. Kane's war. We didn't really have anything to fight about. But do you think if it hadn't been for that war of Mr. Kanes', we'd have the Panama Canal?

Bernstein's final words express his realism about old age and death: "Old age, it's the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don't look forward to being cured of."

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