The report must be that this long-awaited Orson Welles film is noteworthy in its conception, its execution and, indeed, in its entire approach. But it is noteworthy essentially in a critical sense -- in the sense that here is an endeavor to be admired for the expertness and the newness of its treatment, the superb characteristics of its craftsmanship. On those scores, "Citizen Kane" might well be said to have marked a milestone.
In reverse approach, however, its characters seem unreal. They never elicit sympathy. Probably few will care much what happens to any of them. They left this reviewer cold, harboring the conviction all of them were deliberately created to talk the dialogue assigned for them to say.
This suggests that histrionically the performances are automaton-like and lifeless. Yet, daring the seeming contradiction, this is far removed from the truth. Acting-wise, the cast, composed largely of members of Welles' Mercury Theatre and new to films, does an excellent job, but in terms of technical perfection. Perhaps Welles deliberately fashioned them in this mold. There is no way of knowing that, exactly, as there seems to be no way to divorce the air of the fanciful and the unreal which the performers and the picture itself create.
THE STORY deals with Charles Foster Kane, heir and victim of inherited wealth who seeks to create his own world out of the real world around him and to subject those in it to his will. Through his newspaper and radio empire, and chiefly the former, he attempts this, deludes himself into believing at the outset he is a liberal and self-appointed to lift the burden from the backs of the underprivileged.
He marries a President's niece and drifts away. He marries a singer, builds an opera house for her knowing she is a professional washout but determined, through the power of his vast fortune, to see that his judgement is not impugned and thus, his egotism overridden. Eventually, his business colossus crumbles around him, his second wife leaves him, his friends and hangers-on desert him until he dies in his fabulous, Croesus-like palace surrounded by his crated and uncrated works of art.
Great ingenuity is displayed by Welles in his direction and in his acting. The dramatic device which he employs to unfold his drama is a series of flashbacks unbothered by the continuity of the years. Recurring portions of the film, with different life periods interspersed, double back one on the other in the manner first employed, so far as can be recalled, by Preston Sturges in the writing of "The Power and the Glory" which Jesse L. Lasky made for Fox some years ago.
THE DIRECTION is highly realistic in its effects and patterned in the theatricals which typify Welles' legitimate theatre productions. It is emphasized enormously by the unusual lights and shadows filtering through the very expert camera of Gregg Toland who, along with Welles, earns enthusiastic encomiums for his photography.
There can be little question that "Citizen Kane" will be talked about and that it has a public waiting. What percentage of the average man would know that many approaches resemble much of the actual life story of William Randolph Hearst is questionable, were it not for the publicity centered upon this allegation for weeks now. It may be, and could easily be, that publication of these stories has further excited the potentialities of the market and that a wide throng actually is primed for the chance to see what this film is all about.
It seems to us that "Citizen Kane" will be an assured success in big cities, but that when it gets its teeth into the outer belts the outcome is in much doubt. That the attraction will get, and deserve, wide critical applause appears inevitable.
Inevitable also is the definite conclusion Welles has a contribution to make to production and that the vast promise evidenced by his first picture ought to be nurtured and encouraged for the future.
Red Kann RKO. 119 min. Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins and Erskine Sanford