Citizen Kane, regarded by many as the greatest movie ever made, was Orson Welles’ first motion picture. He co-wrote the original screenplay, directed the movie and acted in the starring role. The movie was released in 1941 when Welles was twenty-five. We’ve listed some memorable Citizen Kane quotes and added notes:
Charles Foster Kane
“Rosebud . . .”
“Rosebud” is the opening line of Citizen Kane and the final utterance by Charles Foster Kane as he lay dying in his bed. Determined to uncover its meaning, a magazine editor sends an investigative journalist, Thompson, to interview people who’d known Kane well. It’s through their recollections and newsreel footage that we learn about Kane’s life from diverse perspectives. Yet, we never really hear Kane’s side of the story.
At the end of the movie, only the viewers learn that Rosebud was a sleigh from Kane’s childhood. He’d been playing with it on the day was removed from his mother’s care.
“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.”
With this statement, Kane leaves Thatcher in no doubt as to who’s in control now that he’s come into his inheritance. Walter Parks Thatcher had been the trustee of Kane’s vast fortune until Hearst had reached the age of twenty-five. Thatcher clashes with Kane over the running of his newspaper and its anti-capitalist views and later accuses Kane of being a communist.
“It’s also my pleasure to see to it that decent hard-working people in this community aren’t robbed blind by a pack of money-mad pirates, just because they haven’t anybody to look after their interests.”
Thatcher is bewildered by this statement. Kane’s newspaper has been attacking his own commercial interests as much as Thatcher’s. Thatcher had faithfully carried out his duties as Kane’s trustee, but Kane sees Thatcher as the reason he was separated from his mother.
In the following years, as Kane’s media empire grows, we see him becoming increasingly delusional. He seems to believe that by monopolising the media and manipulating the news, only he can protect the interests of “decent hard-working people.”
“Mr Carter, If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough.”
Here, Kane explains his philosophy as a publisher to Herbert Carter, editor of the New York Inquirer. Kane had recently acquired the respected newspaper and Carter fears Kane will turn it into a tawdry tabloid.
“Mr Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.“
In 1929, a cash-strapped Kane finds himself in confrontation with Thatcher once again. Both men have aged visibly, and we learn that Kane has used his vast wealth to acquire treasure at the expense of his media empire which has dire liquidity problems. Kane has been forced to relinquish control to Thatcher.
The quoted statement is directed by Kane to the ever-constant Bernstein. But Thatcher is surprised by it and interjects to ask Kane if he doesn’t consider himself to be a great man. Kane replies, “I think I did pretty well under the circumstances.”
“You provide the prose poems; I’ll provide the war.”
These lines by Kane are the most controversial of the movie. Audiences and critics were quick to notice the similarity between this statement and a quote attributed to (but denied by) William Randolph Hearst: “You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”
The clear consensus was that the character Charles Foster Kane was based on Hearst. The similarities between the Kane and Hearst estates and the circumstances surrounding both men’s mistresses added fuel to the fire. Even so, Welles always insisted that Kane was a composite character based on a number of media barons and business tycoons.
“Boss” Jim Gettys
“I’m not a gentleman. Your husband’s only trying to be funny calling me one. I don’t even know what a gentleman is. 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.“
This is a statement made by Kane’s political rival, “Boss” Jim Gettys to Emily, Kane’s wife.
Kane is running for governor and is convinced that he has the love of the people and will be a shoo-in. Claiming to represent the interests of the poor and exploited, he has been railing against his political rival, “Boss” Jim Gettys, accusing him of corruption. Kane has also published a cartoon of Gettys wearing prison stripes.
Gettys is aware that Kane is having an affair with Susan Alexander and engineers a confrontation between wife and mistress, encouraging Kane to pull out of the election to avoid a scandal. Kane refuses and loses his wife and the election. Kane’s newspapers claim electoral fraud, but his reputation is irreparably damaged.
There are obvious similarities between this scenario and Hearst’s run for Mayor of New York City in 1905. Hearst’s whipping boy had been an influential Tammany Hall figure, “Boss” Charlie Murphy, who supported Hearst’s political opponent. On polling day, there was overwhelming evidence of thuggery and electoral fraud which cost Hearst the election. It seems he’d crossed the wrong man.
“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 document, like the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, and my first report card at school.”
Leland made this comment after a young and idealistic Kane had signed the Declaration of Principles which was to govern Kane’s newly acquired newspaper, The New York Inquirer.
Leland had known Kane since their school days and had early doubts about Kane’s capacity to hold true to such righteous principles.
Welles said that Jedediah Leland was based on Ashton Stevens, a drama critic and great friend of Hearst’s.
“He had a generous mind. I don’t suppose anybody ever had so many opinions. But he never believed in anything except Charlie Kane.”
Leland is a diminished old man in a hospital when he meets Thompson, but he is as sardonic as ever and provides a number of damning opinions about Kane. Leland appears to be urbane and credible. But there is a lingering bitterness beneath his dispassionate demeanour. After all, Kane had fired him after years of friendship.
The whole thing about Susie being an opera singer, that was trying to prove something. You know what the headline was the day before the election? “Candidate Kane found in love nest with quote, singer, unquote.” He was gonna take the quotes off the singer.“
Following his election defeat and the collapse of his marriage, Kane marries Susan Alexander and indeed tries to remove the quotes from the “singer”. In fact, Kane decides to make an opera singer of her. He hired Signor Matisti, a renowned voice coach, to work with Susan, and even though Mastisti and Susan both know that it’s hopeless, Kane insists they continue. He even builds an opera house for Susan’s performance. Following her first performance, she is cruelly mauled by the press for her lack of talent.
“You just don’t know Charlie. He thought that by finishing that notice he could show me he was an honest man. He was always trying to prove something.
Here Leland refers to the negative review he’d been writing about Susan’s opening night performance before he’d passed out drunk. He’d made a difficult choice between his loyalty to Kane and his journalistic integrity. Kane completed the negative review and fired Leland.
“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.“
A recurring theme of the movie is Kane’s need for love despite having none to give. Is this a consequence of his separation from the mother he loved? His deathbed comment, “Rosebud”, and the snow cone that falls from his dead hand provide us with insights. But we never fully understand Kane’s complex and capricious behaviour. Can it be further explained by the inevitable tensions confronting a flawed idealist who becomes a businessman and a politician?
“What do you think he built that opera house for? I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to sing. It was his idea – everything was his idea – except my leaving him.”
When Thompson approaches Susan for an interview, it’s clear she is a drunkard. It’s been more than ten years since she left Kane, and we learn that she’d been bored, lonely and had hated being cooped up in Xanadu, the mansion Kane had built to please her. Moreover, she harbouring a lingering resentment about the humiliation she’d been forced to endure as a consequence of Kane’s determination to make her an opera star.
Kane’s relationship with Susan, who is portrayed as shrill and common, marks the beginning of Kane’s decline. His political aspirations come to nothing. He loses his family and the respect and admiration of the public, and his media empire wanes.
The similarities between Susan Alexander and Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davis are obvious and were intentional. For Hearst, this was the most infuriating aspect of the movie. Marion Davis was an aspiring actress, but nothing like Susan Alexander in reputation or demeanour. She was a popular hostess, warm and charming, and had a genuine and affectionate relationship with Hearst.
Welles later regretted the movie’s insinuations about Marion Davis, saying it was “something of a dirty trick.”
Walter Parks Thatcher
“He was, I repeat, a common adventurer, spoiled, unscrupulous, irresponsible.”
Thompson notices this statement capitalised in Thatcher’s memoirs. Thompson has been granted rare access to Thatcher’s unpublished memoirs at the Thatcher Memorial Library.
“With full awareness of the meaning of my words and the responsibility of what I am about to say, it is my considered belief that Mr Charles Foster Kane, in every essence of his social beliefs and by the dangerous manner in which he has persistently attacked the American traditions of private initiative and opportunity for advancement, is in fact, nothing more or less than a Communist.”
Thatcher reads this statement before a congressional investigative committee and refuses to be questioned about it.
The next scene acts as a counterpoint. It is a newsreel excerpt in which a speaker, addressing a crowd in Union Square, denounces Kane as a fascist and an enemy of the working class.
Then, in yet another newsreel scene, Kane is seen saying: “I am, have been, and will be only one thing — An American.”
It may occur to viewers that Kane and Thatcher each failed to see their own worst natures in the other. Both are viewed by others as tyrants of a sort.
John Houseman, who supervised Herman J. Mankiewicz as he co-wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane, said that Walter Parks Thatcher was loosely based on J.P. Morgan.
“You don’t wanna make any promises, Mr Kane, you don’t wanna keep.”
This is a comment made by Bernstein (Kane’s General Manager) when Kane presents his Declaration of Principles. Bernstein’s duty is to Kane. His loyalty is to the man, not the document. Bernstein differs from Leland who has great affection for Kane but is sceptical that Kane will remain faithful to his principles.
Orson Welles often said that he valued friendship more than principles.
“It’s no trick to make an awful lot of money if all you want is to make a lot of money.“
“Thatcher! He never knew there was anything in the world but money. That kind of fellow you can fool every day in the week – and twice on Sundays!”
Bernstein receives Thompson at his office at The Inquirer. Bernstein is now Chairman of the Board. When Thompson informs him that he’s accessed Thatcher’s papers, Bernstein scoffs at Thatcher’s credibility and calls him a fool. Bernstein responds with the above comments when Thompson mentions how much money Thatcher had made.
Bernstein insists that Thatcher had never understood Kane. He also says that he hadn’t always understood Kane himself, and he’d been there before the beginning and was still there after the end. Still loyal to Kane, Bernstein has comments ready to deflect any criticism.
“Rawlston is my Boss . . . He knows the first Mrs Kane personally.”
Thompson makes this comment when he interviews Leland. Does this raise questions about Ralston’s objectivity when it comes to Kane?
Thompson has a letter from Emily’s solicitors. In part it says:
“She has authorized me to state on previous occasions that she regards their brief marriage as a distasteful episode in her life that she prefers to forget.”
Leyland sighs and tells Tompson that Kane and Emily were married for ten years and had been very much in love in the beginning.
Emily is the niece of a U.S. president and is expected to be the wife of another. She was humiliated by the scandal precipitated by Kane’s refusal to withdraw his candidacy for the governor’s office.
Thompson has joined a team from his magazine at Xanadu to wrap up his investigation. An unidentified woman asks him what he had learned about Kane and if he has figured out what Rosebud means.
Although Bernstein suspected Rosebud may have been a woman, none of the people Thompson interviewed could shed any further light on Kane’s final statement.
Thompson sees Kane’s life as a mass of contradictions from skewed conversations and offers the following conclusion:
“Charles Foster Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn’t get or lost. No, I don’t think it explains anything. I don’t think any word explains a man’s life.”
Later, we see men throwing junk into a furnace. The camera lingers on one item: a child’s sleigh. The paintwork has faded but the name “Rosebud” can be clearly read.
Orson Welles: Mini-Bio
George Orson Welles is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Most famous for the movie Citizen Kane (1941), he is also remembered for his innovative work in radio and theatre.
Born on 6th May 1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Welles’ childhood was extremely unorthodox. He spent his formative years in Peking (now Beijing) China. His father, a man described by Welles as a successful gambler but a poor businessman, had located there to live in grand style with limited resources.
From early childhood, Welles was given an allowance to travel the world, sometimes alone and sometimes with a guide. Aged fifteen, following the death of his father, Welles decided to end his often interrupted formal education to find fame on stage.
Pretending to be much older than his true age, Welles enjoyed success on the stage in Dublin, where he went on to produce and design productions of his own.
By 1934, Welles was working on stage in New York. He supplemented his income by also working as a radio actor. By 1936, he was one of the most highly paid radio actors in the world.
The Mercury Theatre
In 1937, Welles and John Houseman founded the Mercury Theatre in New York City. It was an instant success, lauded for its groundbreaking productions. Even so, Welles’ relationship with Houseman was doomed to end in acrimony.
The War of the Worlds broadcast
In 1938, Welles created The Mercury Theatre of The Air, an hour-long, radio program that aired weekly. On 30th October 1938, Welles’ radio adaption of H.G. Welles’ War of the Worlds, created panic when thousands of listeners believed that they were listening to real-time reports of a Martian invasion. Following the broadcast. Welles gained national notoriety and the attention of Hollywood producers.
George Shaeffer from RKO Studios offered Welles a three-picture deal. Welles would later claim that he had no interest in making motion pictures or moving to Hollywood and had imposed astonishing conditions with the expectation that Shaefer would never agree to them. Yet, agree he did.
On 21st July 1939, Welles signed a contract giving him the full artistic freedom to develop his own stories, cast his own characters and approval of final cuts. No first-time director had been offered such independence. In fact, no director for nearly two decades had been offered such freedom.
For his first film, Welles chose to collaborate with Herman J. Mankiewicz on an original screenplay called American, later renamed Citizen Kane. The movie is widely accepted to be based on the life of William Randolf Hearst. However, Welles always maintained that his protagonist, Charles Foster Kane, was a composite of various public figures, Hearst among them.
Citizen Kane was released to critical acclaim in 1941. But, due to pressure from William Randolph Hearst and his media outlets, it was screened in too few theatres to make a profit. Hearst regarded Citizen Kane as a thinly veiled condemnation of himself.
Despite Hearst’s efforts to make the movie disappear into obscurity, Citizen Kane has been routinely listed as one of the greatest movies ever made.
The Magnificent Ambersons
As a consequence of Citizen Kane’s low box office receipts, RKO renegotiated Welles’ contract so that he would make only one more high-budget movie, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and two low-budget movies, Journey into Fear (1943) and It’s All True (1942-1993). Welles also surrendered post-production control to Shaefer and RKO.
Welles regarded The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), in its original form, as a better movie than Citizen Kane. However, Schaeffer, with post-production control, released a version of the movie that dismayed Welles. The movie did poorly at the box office and, in 1942, George Schaeffer and Welles were both fired by RKO.
The Later Years
The Stranger (1946) was the first film Welles directed after parting with RKO. In the intervening years, Welles had continued to work in radio and, being medically unfit to serve in the armed forces, he supported the war effort through radio productions and charitable initiatives.
Even though The Stranger was a financial success for International Pictures, they backed away from a four-picture deal they had made with Welles and he returned to Broadway.
In the years that followed, Welles often struggled to get movie projects off the ground. Two of his more famous movies during these years were The Lady from Shanghai (1947) which starred Welles’ wife, Rita Hayworth and Othello (1949 – 1951) an innovative screen adaption of Shakespeare’s play.
Filming of Othello was frequently delayed for lack of funds, and Welles was forced to take on acting roles to raise the money necessary to complete the film. His role as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949) was particularly memorable.
In later life, Welles made frequent appearances on TV talk shows where he gained fame with a new audience as a raconteur.
Welles died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California on 10th October 1985.
ABC US. (1970). Orson Welles Interview. The Dick Cavett Show (May 14, 1970). [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qqz2HqeMR4 [Accessed 20 August. 2020].
ABC US. (1970). Orson Welles Interview. The Dick Cavett Show (July 27, 1970). [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NTOSevzp4w [Accessed 20 August. 2020].
BBC TV. (1974). Orson Welles Interview. Parkinson. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dAGcorF1Vo [Accessed 28 August. 2020].
Eyes on Cinema. (1969 – 1972). Orson Welles in conversation with Peter Bogdanovich. Personal Recordings. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dAGcorF1Vo [Accessed 28 August. 2020].
Metromedia Network Syndication. (1985). Orson Welles Interview. The Merv Griffin Show. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NTOSevzp4w [Accessed 20 August. 2020].
Welles, O., Bogdanovich, P. and Rosenbaum, J., 1998. This is Orson Welles. [New York]: Da Capo Press.