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Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane on DVD

By Jim Bray

Generally considered as one of, if not the best, movies ever made, Citizen Kane is indeed a tour de force that belongs in the collection of every serious movie fan.

Co-written, directed by and starring the wunderkind Orson Welles, it's the story of a poor little rich kid dragged from his happy home while little more than a toddler, raised by strangers, and who spends the rest of his life trying to find the most elusive of all things: love.

Based on the life of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the story opens with the death of Charles Foster Kane on his gigantic and rambling Xanadu estate in Florida. From there the film unfolds through recollections and flashbacks until its emotional climax in which all is revealed to the few people who still haven't heard the meaning of the term "Rosebud."

The film is basically a search for the meaning of Kane and his life, with Rosebud acting as the wild goose that's chased by a reporter trying to dig below the well known surface of the infamous Mr. Kane. The reporter visits Kane's friends (though perhaps "associates" is a more accurate term) and enemies and his ex-wife. They all offer their own views of the enigmatic Kane, but none can truly answer the core question of who or what the man really was.

Oh, they get fairly close, especially his estranged best friend Jedidiah Leland (Joseph Cotton), but they never get to the heart of the man. And the heart of the man was symbolized by Rosebud, but we don't find out what that is - what it was that made Kane tick and what it was he wanted more than anything - until the final frames when Rosebud is revealed.

Oh, how sorry I feel for all of you who've had the film spoiled for you because you know what Rosebud was. I didn't, the first time I saw Citizen Kane, and its powerful simplicity knocked my socks off.

The cast is spectacular, especially Welles himself, naturally, as Kane. Welles' legendary powerful magnetism is in evidence in his riveting portrayal. The supporting cast, made up mainly of Welles' Mercury Theater compatriots, include Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, and Everett Sloan. Special mention should be made of Agnes Moorehead as Kane's mother; it's a very small part, but she delivers an icily menacing performance that makes you glad she isn't your mom!

Then there's the film making itself. Though this was Welles' first film, and he was only 24 years of age at the time, it set a standard that most films have yet to match. The look, the feel, the direction - the camera angles and shots - all combine into a masterful movie that reminds me of Francis Copolla at his best.

Kane is definitely one of the best, but the best? Maybe. Technically it may be the best, but I personally find Casablanca a more enjoyable movie. It's lighter and more entertaining, but that's like comparing apples to oranges.

The special edition DVD has received loving treatment. The full frame black and white picture looks really good, thought the monaural audio's restoration isn't as good. It's fine, but it definitely shows its age.

Even better, you get enough extras to choke a horse. The two disc set includes the full length PBS documentary "The Battle Over Citizen Kane," a fascinating look into Welles and Hearst (mostly Welles, fortunately) and the collision course they followed when Hearst found out that Welles was planning a feature based on his life.

Other extras in this two disc set include a Welles filmography, two feature length commentaries (mean spirited liberal whacko movie critic Roger Ebert and director/Welles biographer Peter Bogdanovich). There's also a 1941 newsreel of the film's premier, a storyboard gallery, photos, ad campaigns, studio correspondence, and more.

A DVD tour de force.

Citizen Kane, from Warner Home Video
119 min. black and white, full frame (not anamorphic, 16x9 TV compatible) Dolby Digital mono
Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, and Everett Sloan
Produced by Orson Welles
Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles, directed by Orson Welles


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Updated May 13, 2006