Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane Summary and Analysis of Chapter 14: Life with Emily - Chapter 20: Negative Review


Thompson's next stop is to the hospital where Jedediah Leland, now wheelchair-bound, resides. In a single medium shot, Leland responds to Thompson's queries. He claims to have been Charles Foster Kane's oldest friend, but admittedly did not know that much about him. "Charlie" had lots of opinions but never believed in anything but himself. Leland has no information about "Rosebud", but instead offers Thompson insight into Kane's marriage to first wife Emily Norton. Leland says that Charlie and Emily did not spend much time together - they only saw each other over breakfast. This signals the transition to a flashback.

The "Life with Emily" flashback is comprised of a montage of scenes, all taking place at Charles and Emily's breakfast table. In only 4 minutes, Welles depicts the rise and fall of their marriage. The first shot is like a tableau, accompanied by pleasant waltz music. Emily, clad in white, pours tea, and the sunlight streams in. Charles joins her with a kiss - and she wishes they could spend more time together. A swish pan brings in the next shot, where Emily is now across the table from Charles, affectionately frustrated at his late hours at the Inquirer. In the next shot, Emily is now dressed in darker colors, and is taking polite offense to Charles printing criticism against her uncle, the President. In the next shot, Emily looks positively like a schoolmarm, complaining about Bernstein sending Junior (their son) strange gifts. By the final shot, they are sitting across the table in silence - Emily reading the Chronicle, while Charles reads the Inquirer. The camera tracks back out to mirror the tableau look of the first shot, and the music becomes appropriately tense.

Back in the hospital, Leland claims that all Kane ever wanted out of life was love, but he never had any to give. He only ever loved himself and his mother. Thompson asks about Kane's second wife, Susan Alexander, whom Kane called "a cross-section of the American public." In the following flashback, Susan Alexander meets Charles Foster Kane on a city street outside a pharmacy - he is covered in mud from a passing carriage, so she offers him some hot water at her home. He wiggles his ears and makes shadow puppets for her so she'll laugh, taking her mind off her toothache. She likes him despite not knowing who he is. He tells her that before they met, he was on his way to his late mother's storage unit, a sentimental journey to rediscover his childhood. Susan shares her dream of being a singer, and plays the piano for a smitten Charles.

This scene dissolves into a small and informal political rally for Charles Foster Kane, who is running for Governor of New York against the incumbent Boss Jim Gettys. Leland announces Kane as "the fighting liberal, the friend of the working man!" Cut to Kane speaking at a much larger rally, reinforcing his desire to expose Gettys's villainy and protect the interests of the poor and disenfranchised. He is shot from a low angle as he stands at the podium, celebrating the unanimous predictions of his victory, while Emily (dripping in diamonds) and Junior sit in the front row, watching him. There is a brief cutaway to a high angle shot of the rally, where a shadowy figure slinks out of frame. After the rally, Kane has a rare moment with his proud son, which ends quickly when Emily sends Junior home. Somber, she asks Charles to accompany her to 185 West 74th Street.

Charles and Emily arrive at the address in question, and Emily's suspicions are confirmed when the woman who answers the door addresses Charles by name. Inside, Susan is frantic, claiming that she was forced to send Emily a letter. The perpetrator emerges from Susan's apartment - Boss Jim Gettys. Gettys is blackmailing Kane, threatening to expose his affair with Susan unless he withdraws from the gubernatorial race. Emily and Susan urge Kane to accept his failure, for the sake of his public image and his son. However, Kane is single-minded and throws both Emily and Gettys out, choosing to stay at Susan's. Gettys tries to point out his obvious hubris, but Kane chases him down the stairs, screaming "I am Charles Foster Kane!" and threatening to have Gettys sent to Sing Sing prison.

The front door of 185 West 74th Street dissolves to a newspaper print of the same door on the front page of the Chronicle, under the headline exposing Charles Foster Kane as an adulterer with a secret "love nest". An angry Leland marches into a dark bar, while Bernstein sadly looks at the two alternate front pages for that day's Inquirer. He discards the version that touts Kane's victory, knowing he has to publish the alternate version that screams, "Fraud at the Polls". Meanwhile, Kane slinks out of his office into the messy remains of his campaign office, and is confronted by a very drunk Leland. Leland accuses Kane of trying to bait the public by offering them freedom as a gift. He cites the rise of organized labor - soon the underprivileged will expect certain rights instead of waiting for Kane to offer them a break. He thinks Kane only wants love on his own terms. Finally, Leland asks to be transferred to Chicago to work as a drama critic, and Kane agrees, however reluctantly.

The next scene begins with a close-up of a newspaper headline announcing Charles Foster Kane's marriage to Susan Alexander, the "Singer". Dissolve to the new couple coming out of City Hall, mobbed by paparazzi and jumping giddily into a carriage. Susan tells a reporter that she will be performing at the Metropolitan Opera and that her new husband is building her an Opera House. Cut to a closeup of Susan belting with all her might, being dressed and coached at the same time. The camera pulls back to show Susan objectively in the context of the stage, overwhelmed by the grandeur and chaos unfolding around her. As she starts to sing, the camera cranes up through the rafters to a pair of stagehands standing high above, holding their noses.

Cut to Charles Foster Kane walking into the Chicago Daily Inquirer's City Room. Bernstein is addressing the staff, who say they haven't gotten the dramatic notice on Alexander's performance from Leland. Kane marches across the dark office and into the back room where Leland sits, but the camera stays outside with Bernstein, who explains to the men around him that Kane and Leland haven't spoken in years. Bernstein hurries inside the back office, where he sees Kane standing over Leland, who is asleep on his typewriter, drunk. Kane, however, only cares about what Leland has written and asks Bernstein to read it aloud. In his notice, Leland calls Susan "a pretty but hopelessly incompetent amateur". Kane rips the sheet of paper out from under his drunk friend's nose and laughs. He decides to finish the review in the same vein that Leland started it. When Leland wakes up, he finds Kane still working on finishing the bad review, and fires Leland on the spot.


Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg wrote, "...Citizen Kane is a depiction of the American Dream gone sour, on a scale commensurate with the dimensions of the dream itself" (109). In this section of the film, Charles Foster Kane reaches his highest high and then falls, publicly. The energy he previously devoted to gaining power and influence soon gives way to his doomed attempt to make his younger wife into an opera star. This turnaround appears in the flashback from Thompson's interview with Jedediah Leland, who had a falling-out with Kane, and therefore, it is fitting that his contribution to the Kane puzzle exposes the great man's downfall.

The breakfast table montage of Charles and Emily has served as a lesson in efficient filmmaking for the past half-century. First of all, Welles depicts the dissolution of a marriage in under 4 minutes, using one set. As Syd Field writes, "'this sequence tells us so much about their relationship - and it's all done in brief shots, using pictures instead of words." (53). Due to budgetary constraints brought about by the war, Welles was forced to reduce the scope of the Citizen Kane screenplay in order for RKO to green-light production, and the breakfast table montage was born from these limitations. Welles even submitted his final draft of the screenplay with a note before the breakfast montage, writing: "The following scenes cover a period of nine years - and played in the same set with only changes in lighting, special effects outside the window, and wardrobe" (Carringer 31).

The breakfast table montage is also one example of Welles (and his editor, Robert Wise) utilizing clever ways to flash forward through many years without making the transitions jarring for the audience. Roger Ebert writes, 'The neatest flash-forward in Kane: Between Thatcher's words 'Merry Christmas' and '... a very Happy New Year,' two decades pass". The development of Kane's gubernatorial campaign is revealed in similar fashion. First, Leland is on an informal stage presenting Charles Foster Kane as a candidate for Governor to a select few voters. The camera moves in close to Leland's face, surrounded by slapdash "KANE FOR GOVERNOR" posters, with a line of laundry hanging above his head. The camera barely stops on Leland's face, as he says, "....who entered on this campaign", and the film cuts to a giant banner of Kane with a photograph of his face. Kane's voice booms out the continuation to Leland's sentence, "...with one purpose only". As Kane speaks, the camera moves down the banner and, finally, captures the resplendent Kane at a podium, speaking to a large audience. The transition is seamless and clean - and manages to carry the story from the beginning of Kane's run for governor to the end without any unnecessary exposition.

Kane's speech during his run for governor is also a great example of how Welles used the studio's budgetary constraints as an opportunity for creativity. There are no crowd scenes in Citizen Kane, Roger Ebert writes, "It only looks like there are". When "Kane... addresses a gigantic indoor rally... Kane and the other actors on stage are real. The audience is a miniature, with flicking lights to suggest movement". (Ebert). Even though the miniature audience was a necessity due to lack of resources, it works to amplify Kane's desire to be loved by the people without having to give them anything in return. He cares so much about how the people's opinion will affect his sphere of power, it works perfectly with his character that the rally attendees are seen as nameless, faceless voices in a crowd.

In addition, Welles only shows Kane's campaign headquarters when they are empty after his scandalous loss, which captures the picture of Kane that Jedediah Leland paints for Thompson during his interview. Kane's bid for political power is literally in tatters on the ground of a large, empty room, and Leland, his oldest friend, confronts him. This is a moment when Kane is forced to face the consequences of his arrogance and his irresponsible indiscretion - and he blames it on the voters instead of taking any responsibility himself. "I'm not interested", Kane says, "the people have made their choice."

In this section of the film, Kane feels his grip on public opinion slipping, and his falling-out with Jedediah Leland embodies his downward slide. Leland cites the growing power of the working man and the influence of "organized labor" as an example of Kane's growing obsolescence. "I don't know what you'll do," Leland muses. "You want love on your own terms." Kane's inability to launch Susan Alexander as an opera star is embarrassing in light of the fact that he was once able to use his influence to start a war. Meanwhile, poor Susan Alexander is merely a pawn in Kane's new venture, which is evident in the visual depiction of her opera debut. Susan is dwarfed by the costumes, the buzzing stagehands, the heavy makeup - she is barely recognizable. The pain and insecurity in her eyes as she sings, though, is real.

Finally, one of the most famous shots in the film represents the final nail in Kane's coffin of public influence - the camera moves up from Susan as she sings to "a catwalk high above the stage, and one stagehand turns to another and eloquently reviews her performance by holding his nose" (Ebert). This shot is another example of Welles's mastery of optical illusions. Susan Alexander on the stage is real, as are the stagehands on the catwalk above her. The seemingly endless stretch of stage the camera flies over in between, however, is a miniature. The illusion of an unbroken camera movement comes from the use of a technique called "invisible wipe", which Roger Ebert defines as "a visual effect that wipes one image off the screen while wiping another into view." Just like Charles Foster Kane, Welles had a gift for using all of his resources to create a larger-than-life effect, the whole greater than the sum of its parts.