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

Interview with Kane's best friend, Jedediah Leland:

(4) Thompson visits with and interviews Jedediah Leland, the college friend (and later drama critic) Kane had hired to work for him. Leland is a convalescent resident of the Huntington Memorial Hospital, a drab Manhattan retirement center on 180th Street. Thompson is viewed looking up at a large bridge that imposes itself above the hospital building. Leland, frail, a bit senile, wearing dark glasses, a cap/eyeshade and a dressing gown, and sitting in a wheelchair, opens their discussion with: "I can remember absolutely everything, young man. That's my curse - that's one of the greatest curses ever inflicted on the human race, memory."

The camera imperceptibly moves closer and closer to his face as he talks. Other patients are seen in their wheelchairs in the grey background. Leland remembers that Kane "behaved like a swine" but was never "brutal - he just did brutal things. Maybe I wasn't his friend, but if I wasn't, he never had one. Maybe I was what you nowadays call a stooge." The senile, bitter man begs for cigars during their talk, trying to sneak them past hospital doctors and nurses.

Leland discusses the early great days in Kane's newspaper empire and then offers a criticism of Kane's lack of conviction as he selfishly turns to politics:

I suppose he had some private sort of greatness, but he kept it to himself. He never gave himself away. He never gave anything away, he just left you a tip, hmm? Ha. He had a generous mind. I don't suppose anybody ever had so many opinions. But he never believed in anything except Charlie Kane. He never had a conviction except Charlie Kane in his life. I suppose he died without one. It must have been pretty unpleasant. Of course, a lot of us check out without having any special convictions about death, but we do know what we believe in, we do believe in something.

Thompson asks Leland about his understanding of "Rosebud," Charlie's dying words. Leland recalls having read about it in the Inquirer and offers his opinion: "I never believed in anything I saw in the Inquirer." Then, Leland recalls Emily Kane, Kane's first wife, as a "very nice girl" who he knew in dancing school. Leland comments on their disintegrating marriage after a short honeymoon period: "Well, after the first couple of months, she and Charlie didn't see much of each other except at breakfast. It was a marriage just like any other marriage."

Leland's thoughts are pictured in one of the most talked-about, virtuoso sequences in the film - the breakfast table montage comprised of 32 shots over two minutes and 11 seconds. Succinctly portrayed, Kane's rapidly deteriorating and failing marriage to Emily is visually captured - from their adoring, talkative, newly-wed days to their stony silence as an irreconciliable couple nine years later. The flashback is introduced with a slow dissolve from a medium shot of Leland.

The passage of time and Kane's first dissolving marriage over the course of nine years is vividly conveyed within six perfectly-crafted scenes by the technique of quick, swish pans, wipes or jump cuts. Each one marks the passage of time through each of the six progressive intervals. Changes in time are also reflected in differences in lighting (soft vs. harsh), changes in their positioning (they are gradually seated further apart or opposite from each other at the table), the special effects outside the window, the food, their hairstyles (including the appearance of Charles' mustache) and their wardrobes. Each transition is also accompanied by waltz music on the soundtrack that progressively becomes more dissonant as the marriage disintegrates.

Six Scenes in Breakfast Montage:

  1. (With lilting, romantic music in the background)
    Very much in love at the start of their marriage, Emily and Charles (who calls his new bride "beautiful") are still dressed in fancy evening clothes after having just returned from a whirlwind night of six parties. They are sitting close to each other at their breakfast room table for an early morning meal in the dawn's light. Charles is 'waiting' on Emily - signified by the dish-towel hanging over his arm. The fast life is new to Emily, and she is worried about what the servants will think - since they have stayed up all night (and the time can be interpreted as either 'early' or 'late'). Emily complains to Charles about the professional demands of the Inquirer on his (and their) personal time:

    Emily: I don't see why you have to go straight out to the newspaper.
    Charles: You never should have married a newspaperman. They're worse than sailors. I absolutely adore you.
    Emily: (suggestively) Oh Charles, even newspapermen have to sleep.
    Charles: (ready to comply) I'll call Mr. Bernstein, I'll have him put off my appointments until noon.

  2. Again, Emily (in a dressing gown) reproachfully complains to Charles (now with a mustache) about his obsessive work schedule. She is separated from him by a bouquet of flowers (in the foreground), and they sit at opposite sides of the table:

    Emily: Do you know how long you kept me waiting last night while you went to the newspaper for ten minutes? What do you do in a newspaper in the middle of the night?
    Charles: Emily, my dear, your only correspondent is the Inquirer.

  3. Emily is bothered by Kane's criticism of the Presidential office in public, an office she considers a sacred cow institution:

    Emily: Sometimes, I think I'd prefer a rival of flesh-and-blood.
    Charles: Oh Emily, I don't spend that much time on the newspaper.
    Emily: It isn't just the time. It's what you print - attacking the President.
    Charles: You mean Uncle John.
    Emily: I mean the President of the United States.
    Charles: He's still Uncle John, and he's still a well-meaning fathead who's letting a pack of high-pressure crooks run his administration. This whole oil scandal...
    Emily: He happens to be the President, Charles, not you.
    Charles: That's a mistake that will be corrected one of these days.

  4. In the sixth year of their marriage, they disagree over a gift that a matronly Emily states was given by Mr. Bernstein to their infant son (Junior). Emily, a true blue-blood, calls the gift: "the most incredible atrocity." (Is this commentary on anti-Semitism?)

    [Although unidentified, the "atrocity" is possibly the gift of a Jewish Menorah or Star of David. However, it is more likely that the gift is a mezuzah, a parchment scroll of handwritten Hebrew texts taken from the Torah that are enclosed in a decorative case and affixed to a doorframe or doorpost. It was often believed that the mezuzah act as a protective device. Every time a Jewish person passes through a door with a mezuzah on it, he/she touches the mezuzah and then kisses the fingers that touch it, expressing love and respect for God.]

    More objects appear on the table to separate the estranged couple. They argue over whether the gift should be in the nursery at all:

    Emily: I simply can't have it in the nursery.
    Charles: Mr. Bernstein is apt to pay a visit to the nursery now and then.
    Emily: Does he have to?
    Charles: (sternly) Yes!
    Emily: Really, Charles!

  5. Now, the couple appears to be in a formal dining room. They are also stiff and sharp toward each other. Charles angrily displays his oppressive egotism:

    Emily: People will think...
    Charles: (cutting in antagonistically and angrily) ...what I tell them to think!
    (He accentuates his last word by clinking down his coffee cup.)

  6. In the last scenario, in their ninth year of a now-disunified marriage, there is no verbal dialogue or exchange between them - only sinister-sounding music on the soundtrack. In the last panoramic view as the camera tracks backwards, they unhappily read rival newspapers at breakfast: Emily disloyally reads the competitive Chronicle in silent protest, while Kane (smoking a pipe) reads his own Inquirer. Each of them has become icy to each other, and more and more distant (both physically and emotionally) at opposite ends of a long table.

The scene dissolves back to a medium view of Leland during his interview with Thompson on the roof garden of the hospital.

Once he achieved power through his newspaper empire, Kane also quested for love, but it was unreciprocated - as explained by Leland: "All he wanted out of life was love...he just didn't have any to give." Kane confused the personal and political realms, because of his desperate need for love, after being taken from his mother in early childhood:

He married for love. Love. That's why he did everything. That's why he went into politics. It seems we weren't enough, he wanted all the voters to love him too. Guess all he really wanted out of life was love. That's Charlie's story, how he lost it. You see, he just didn't have any to give. Well, he loved Charlie Kane of course, very dearly, and his mother, I guess he always loved her.

Leland then moves on to discuss Kane's second marriage to singer Susan Alexander, whom Charlie called "a cross section of the American public," suggesting that he believes this proved he could be loved by the people. "Guess he couldn't help it. She must have had something for him. Well, that first night, according to Charlie, all she had was a toothache." [While Emily was associated with Kane's political and public life, Susan represented his personal and private life - a return to his first love for his mother.]

In a chance encounter on a wet, New York City street corner, Kane meets twenty-two year old Susan. Emerging from a drug store where she has had a prescription filled for a painful toothache, she giggles at him after a passing carriage splashes mud on him: "You're funny, mister. You've got dirt on your face." Having both suffered minor misfortunes (a toothache and muddiness), they commiserate with each other. He accepts her offer to get hot water in her nearby rooming house to clean the "mud" off of him. As they enter her apartment, the camera lingers behind in the hallway, almost voyeuristically, and views them through the light of the open door. Kane closes the door to Susan's room, causing the camera to rush forward, stopping only when Susan reopens the door. In the open doorway, she tells him: "Excuse me, but my landlady prefers me to keep this door open when I have a gentleman caller."

She sits at a dressing table in front of a mirror, decorated with a portrait of herself as a child, and where the snowstorm glass paperweight is again seen. [Second Appearance of Glass Ball in Film - chronologically, this is its first appearance - and represents or symbolizes Susan. It reminds Kane of his boyhood home.] To take her mind off the pain of her tooth and make her laugh, he wiggles both his ears at the same time, and she laughs in the reflection. He explains it was a boyhood trick taught him at one of the world's best boys school by the present President of Venezuela.

During their conversation, filmed in gauzy fuzziness, the camera captures their growing attraction for each other in a series of close-ups and shot/counter-shots. Kane cleverly makes illusory hand-shadows of a rooster on the wall to entertain her. She is impressed by his ability to make shadows on the wall come alive: "Gee, you know an awful lot of tricks. You're not a professional magician, are you?" He is delighted that she likes him even though she does not know who he is or how wealthy he is. She expresses a simplicity, lack of sophistication and ignorance that appeals to him. Kane feels a sentimental empathy towards her:

Susan: I don't know many people.
Kane: I know too many people. I guess we're both lonely.

He tells Susan what his mission was that evening - he was on his way to his warehouse "in search of (his) youth" and to look at his mother's belongings after her death [Do the belongings of his past include his boyhood sled?]:

I was on my way to the Western Manhattan Warehouse in search of my youth. You see, my mother died a long time ago and her things were put in storage out West. There wasn't any other place to put them. I thought I'd send for them now. Tonight, I was going to take a look at them. You know, a sort of sentimental journey.

[Note: during restoration efforts, a lone 35mm master negative and soundtrack of Orson Welles' The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952), long thought to have been destroyed, was found at the New Jersey-based Western Manhattan Warehouse -- an interesting, synchronous coincidence that part of Welles' 'youth' was also discovered there. In Welles' version of Othello as with Citizen Kane, the title character of the Moor was already dead at the start, and then the facts were investigated.]

He also explains his profession:

I run a couple of newspapers. What do you do?

After mentioning his own mother (only the second time in the film), Kane learns that Susan works in a sheet music store as a salesgirl. Her career ambition to be an opera singer was mostly her mother's idea:

I wanted to be a singer, I guess. That is, I didn't, my mother did.

[Later, Susan charges that Kane forced - or bullied - her into being an opera singer against her will, using the pretext that he was improving her hidden talent.] He requests that she sing for him while playing the piano in the parlor. [The combination of nostalgic reminders of his lost childhood and past, the glass ball, and thoughts of his mother become connected to Susan's singing in this crucial scene. The scene also has metaphoric sexual connotations in the way she performs for him.] He presides quietly to her right, pipe-smoking and contented (he doesn't appraise her singing ability correctly - even at this early stage) - listening to her struggling notes. The last line of Susan's song, taken from The Barber of Seville can be translated: "I have sworn it, I will conquer."

In another "lightning mix" (linking sexual and political conquest) - another of the film's ingenious transitions, his quiet applause (hand-clapping) for her private piano recital for him dissolves into applause during Jedediah Leland's campaign speech for Kane before a small crowd. [His interest in Susan through applause is ultimately linked to his downfall in the campaign due to an affair with Susan.] Kane seeks election as governor of New York in the 1916 elections. Leland introduces Kane on a workingman's ticket to a small outdoor audience, describing him with mythic proportions:

...the fighting liberal, the friend of the working man, the next governor of this state, who entered upon this campaign...

The scene jump cuts to Kane's memorable political speech in vast Madison Square Garden in front of a gigantic poster of himself - on the eve of the gubernatorial election. The echoing, booming Kane voice finishes Leland's words (in another "lightning mix"), a dramatic dovetailing of scenes to illustrate Kane's quick rise to power:

...with one purpose only, to point out and make public the dishonesty, the downright villainy of Boss Jim W. Gettys' political machine, now in complete control of the government of this state. I made no campaign promises, because until a few weeks ago, I had no hope of being elected. Now however, I am something more than a hope. Jim Gettys, Jim Gettys has something less than a chance. Every straw vote, every independent poll shows that I'll be elected. Now I can afford to make some promises. The working man, the working man and the slum child know they can expect my best efforts in their interests. The nation's ordinary citizens know that I'll do everything in my power to protect the underprivileged, the underpaid, and the underfed.

In the enthusiastic audience that is captivated by Kane's rousing speech, his son Junior sits in awe with his mother:

Junior: Mother, is Pop governor yet?
Emily: Not yet, Junior.

Kane's egotistical oratory and campaign goals center on ending corruption. His rivalry focuses on political boss and opponent Jim Gettys. Kane angrily makes one firm, final promise to his supporters - to imprison by his first official act as governor his incumbent opponent:

But here's one promise I'll make, and Boss Jim Gettys knows I'll keep it. My first official act as governor of this state will be to appoint a special district attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of Boss Jim W. Gettys.

After these threatening words, an unseen Gettys is sighted on a balcony high above Madison Square Garden, watching Kane on the stage below. Gettys turns and puts on his hat - off to a damaging rendezvous that will ultimately dash Kane's election hopes. The crowd roars its approval as band music plays a rousing number - Kane is heavily favored and expected to win the governor's race. As he leaves triumphantly, Emily sends their son Junior home in the car with the chauffeur - the family is symbolically broken up. With self-possessed dignity, Emily sits in a taxi wrapped in a white fur and melodramatically confronts him with a note she has received and suspicions she has of an affair he is conducting at 185 W. 74th Street (the house Kane has provided for Susan). Kane accompanies Emily by taxi to Susan's apartment. When they arrive, Kane is familiarly greeted by name by the maid at the front door: "Come right in, Mr. Kane."

Emily glances stiffly at Charles and they enter the building and proceed up the stairs at the start of the tense, brilliant, emotionally-effective confrontation scene. Waiting apprehensively at the top of the stairs is Susan, who admits that Gettys forced her to write a letter to Emily to smear and expose Kane's relationship and affair with her:

Charlie, he forced me to send your wife that letter. I didn't want to. He's been saying the most terrible -

Gettys (Ray Collins) appears in the doorway of Susan's place as a menacing, black silhouetted shadow. Trapped like a dog, Kane is incensed by Gettys' tactics and threatens to break his neck right there. Emily calmly cautions Charles to keep his reason:

Charles. Your breaking this man's neck would scarcely explain this note. (She reads the note outloud) 'Serious consequences for Mr. Kane, for yourself and for your son.'... (To Susan) What does this mean, Miss - ?

Susan introduces herself to Emily and admits to writing the letter, but it was only after Gettys threatened her, as the blackmailer explains: "She just sent it because I made her see it wouldn't be smart for her not to send it."

In the remarkably-directed scene in the apartment, in a two-minute unbroken shot with dramatic use of lighting for emphasis and precise blocking and placement of characters, Kane, Emily, Susan, and Gettys discuss the affair and how it will affect the race for governor. Gettys refuses to be called a gentleman by Kane:

I'm not a gentleman. (To Emily) Your husband's only trying to be funny calling me one. I don't even know what a gentleman is. (He steps forward into the light to tell Emily that he has a more honorable character than the unscrupulous Kane himself.) You see, my idea of a gentleman...Well, Mrs. Kane, if I owned a newspaper and I didn't like the way somebody was doing things, some politician say, I'd fight him with everything I had. Only I wouldn't show him in a convict's suit with stripes so his children could see the picture in the paper, or his mother.

Gettys is fighting for both his political life and his own existence. He counter-threatens to make the affair public by exposing Kane's extra-marital relationship with Susan in every newspaper in the state not owned by Kane, blackmailing him with the information to get Kane to withdraw from the race. The scandalous information would tarnish the public image that Kane had carefully nurtured in his moral crusade and campaign. Gettys proposes that Kane explain that his withdrawal is due to illness and threatens to make the headlines look bad if he doesn't withdraw:

Unless Mr. Kane makes up his mind by tomorrow that he's so sick he has to go away for a year or two, Monday morning, every paper in this state, except his, will carry the story I'm going to give them...The story about him and Miss Alexander...We got evidence that'll look bad in the headlines. Do you want me to give you the evidence Mr. Kane? I'd rather Mr. Kane withdrew without having to get the story published.

As a counterpoint to the vengeful rivalry, both Susan and Emily voice their own views:

Susan (in a shrill, selfish voice): What about me? (turning to Kane) Charlie, he said my name'd be dragged through the mud. That everywhere I went from now on...
Emily (in a calm, determined voice): There seems to be only one decision you can make Charles. I'd say it had been made for you.
Kane: You can't tell me the voters of this state...
Emily: I'm not interested in the voters of this state right now. I am interested in our son.

Ultimately, Kane doesn't consider the consequences of his actions on his family and on his professional reputation (or on Susan's). He refuses to give up the race, in effect self-obsessively renouncing his own family and ultimately forfeiting the election. As he steps forward into the light, Kane decides to remain and stay with Susan and face a public scandal rather than return home with Emily. He insists on remaining wholly autonomous, forsaking good sense and reason:

Charles: I'm staying here. I can fight this all alone.
Emily: Charles, if you don't listen to reason, it may be too late.
Charles: Too late. For what? For you and this public thief to take the love of the people of this state away from me?
Susan: (begging) Charlie, you got other things to think about. Your little boy, you don't want him to read about you in the papers.
Charles: There's only one person in the world who decides what I'm going to do, and that's me.
Emily: You decided what you were going to do, Charles, some time ago.

As Emily and Gettys leave and descend the apartment building staircase, Kane chases after and shouts down to them:

Don't worry about me. I'm Charles Foster Kane! I'm no cheap, crooked politician, trying to save himself from the consequences of his crimes. Gettys! I'm going to send you to Sing Sing. Sing Sing Gettys. Sing Sing.

Kane's threats and insults are powerless - his words are silenced by the closing of the front door and the sound of an auto horn.

Outside the door of Susan's house, Mrs. Kane waits for her car ride. Gettys and Mrs. Kane walk off in opposite directions. The live image freezes on the doorway, the camera withdraws, and then the doorway is seen as part of the newspaper photograph of the "love nest" underThe Chronicle's headlines broadcasting: "CANDIDATE KANE CAUGHT IN LOVE NEST WITH 'SINGER'" The picture is captioned: "THE HIGHLY MORAL MR. KANE AND HIS TAME 'SONGBIRD.'" A subheading reads: "Candidate Kane Caught in Love Nest With Singer, Entrapped by Wife as Love Pirate Kane Refuses to Quit Race." The story is told to the media and Kane's political dreams and aspirations are shattered by newspaper accounts of the affair. He loses the race and a possible stepping-stone to the Presidency.

Jedediah Leland, a once-ardent Kane supporter, is offered a Chronicle but responds bitterly, "No thanks." He swings through the saloon doors of a local bar. In the offices of The Inquirer, Bernstein must decide between two alternative headlines for the front page of Kane's own paper: "KANE ELECTED" or "CHARLES FOSTER KANE DEFEATED, FRAUD AT POLLS!" He chooses the latter. A drunken Leland staggers into the confetti-strewn makeshift campaign headquarters of the newspaper offices following the defeat. [To appear realistically drunk for this scene, Cotten remained awake for 24 hours before this scene was shot. At one point in the conversation, he flubs his line and says "dramatic crimiticism" - causing a grinning reaction from Welles.] As the dejected staff leave the office, the melancholy tune A PocoNo is heard. In the background, Kane's campaign poster has the shadows of the venetian blinds forming bars across it.

Kane reflects on his loss (in a scene filmed with camera angles shooting upwards) as Leland confronts and accuses him of being a self-serving egomaniac - patronizing in his political/civic relationships with his readership (and in his personal relationships). Leland is disillusioned and disgusted by Kane's arrogance in assuming that the people would vote for him despite the scandal:

Kane: I set back the sacred cause of reform, is that it? All right, that's the way they want it, the people have made their choice. It's obvious the people prefer Jim Gettys to me.
Leland (as he speaks, only Kane's pants leg can be seen at the left of the frame): You talk about the people as though you owned them. As though they belong to you. Goodness. As long as I can remember, you've talked about giving the people their rights, as if you can make them a present of Liberty, as a reward for services rendered...You remember the working man?
Kane: I'll get drunk too, Jedediah, if it'll do any good.
Leland: Aw, it won't do any good. Besides, you never get drunk. You used to write an awful lot about the workingman...He's turning into something called organized labor. You're not gonna like that one little bit when you find out it means that your workingman expects something is his right, not as your gift! Charlie, when your precious underprivileged really get together, oh boy! That's gonna add up to something bigger than your privileges! Then I don't know what you'll do! Sail away to a desert island probably, and lord it over the monkeys! [imagery of Xanadu and its private zoo]
Kane: I wouldn't worry about it too much, Jed. There'll probably be a few of them there to let me know when I do something wrong.
Leland (sneering): Mmm, you may not always be so lucky...You don't care about anything except you. You just want to persuade people that you love 'em so much that they oughta love you back. Only you want love on your own terms. It's somethin' to be played your way, according to your rules.

Leland asks to be transferred to the Chicago paper to be their drama critic. Kane protests but gives in when Leland offers to resign. Kane doesn't want his friend to leave New York so soon: "I warn you Jedediah, you're not going to like it in Chicago. The wind comes howling in off the lake and gosh only knows if they ever heard of Lobster Newburg." Kane proposes an ironic toast, the most definitive line in the film:

A toast, Jedediah, to love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody ever knows - his own.

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