For the Joseph Cotten blogathon (hosted by Crystal at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, I chose to write about him in Citizen Kane. Not just because the movie is (or was) considered the greatest film of all time. Mainly, because Joseph Cotten left such an impression on me in the role of Jedediah Leland. Probably because this was the first Joseph Cotten movie I’d ever seen.
been hiding under a rock failed to see this movie, here’s a short synopsis of the plot.
The movie’s opening scene is perfection (and establishes the theme right from the start): it shows a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign on it. We move beyond the fence, like trespassers or voyeurs toward a palatial manor that emerges from the gloom. We dolly in to see a man lying in bed. Extreme close-up on his lip, from which the word “rosebud” is uttered.
He drops a snow globe and dies (or vice versa). It turns out the dead man is a big-time journalist named Charles Foster Kane (played, of course, by the Great Orson Welles).
Even though no one’s in the room when the word is uttered (so—because of a hidden microphone? 🙂 ), the press gets wind of the man’s last word (singular) and goes wild trying to figure out its meaning. What or who is Rosebud? That’s the mystery one reporter (who we follow throughout the film) is tasked with solving.
So, said reporter goes around asking questions and doing research (everything he learns is conveyed visually, of course). His research starts with Kane’s papers, which cover his childhood and his rise to journalistic heights. Then, we get to hear from the people closest to Kane in life. Each of whom has a slightly different take on Kane the Man.
Among those interviewed is Kane’s best friend and harshest critic (theatre-wise and otherwise) Jedediah Leland (played by Joseph Cotten).
Now, everyone who knows film will tell you that Citizen Kane is distinctive and amazing, because of its deep focus photography and disjointed narrative style. These were techniques used WAY ahead of their time. This was decades before films like Memento, Pulp Fiction, or Dunkirk.
However, Joseph Cotten almost steals the show as the cigar-bumming, Southern drawling fellow with whom our intrepid reporter hero must verbally spar.
There are many scenes in this film that will stick forever in my mind. Among my favorites are Dorothy Comingore as Susan Alexander. I particularly like her permanent exit from Kane’s life. And her occasional zingers like, “Well, hurray for the bulldogs.”
Comingore nails the part of Susan, who goes from singing opera at Kane’s insistence to performing in a dump—another washed-up chanteuse.
There are so many great performances in this film. But Joseph Cotten stands out for me as the one individual willing to call bullshit on Kane’s act. Leland is all too happy to work as Kane’s theatre critic, but refuses to be his puppet.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Cotten gets to deliver a few of his own zingers as Leland! 🙂
The scene where Leland is at one of Susan’s performances, cutting out a row of paper dolls and playing with them is both funny and sad.
Deservedly, this film along with The Magnificent Andersons and Journey into Fear (Cotten received a screenplay credit on the latter) vaulted Joseph Cotten into worldwide fame.