Classic Scene: Kane for Governor

Kane for Governor

Citizen Kane (1941)

directed by Orson Welles

The Scene: Having conquered the media landscape Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) has finally taken his increasingly hollow crusade for the everyman into the political arena. Thanks to the name recognition he holds, Kane quickly becomes the fan favorite to become Governor. We see a montage of his delivering speeches to the working class people he always catered to and things get increasingly grander. In this classic moment Kane delivers a grand stump speech to a packed auditorium. With the passion of a man at the height of his ego, the media mogul and aspiring politician rails against the current system run by the lowlife political boss Jim W. Gettys. Stating that he has thus far not made any campaign promises, but now that “every straw vote, every independent poll shows that I’ll be elected”. With great gusto he proceeds to then make two grand promises. The first was the he would do everything in his power to help and protect “the underprivileged, the underpaid, and the underfed” citing a career built on looking out for “decent, ordinary citizens”. His second promise was that he and a specially appointed prosecutor would oversee the arrest and prosecution of Jim W. Gettys. Of course, when you go out of your way to attack someone powerful, no matter the intent, you should be prepared for blowback. This blowback comes in the form of Gettys, who has been watching from the shadows, informing Kane’s wife about the apartment her husband leased for his mistress kicking the hornet’s nest which would cost him the governorship.

The Breakdown: In his genius commentary of this film, the late legendary Roger Ebert stated that Citizen Kane probably contains just as many visual fx shots Star Wars. For proof of this look no further than this iconic moment as a mere soundstage is transformed into a grand arena populated by a massive audience. There is even a gorgeous art deco style to the visuals which adds to the feel. Aside from the technical prowess which was years ahead of its time, this was a foreshadowing of Kane’s oncoming demise and the ultimate loss of his soul. He begins with conviction and a desire to live up to the Declaration of Principles that he and his friends signed at the start of his journey. This is reflected in the small scale early stages of his campaign eventually coming to a head with that iconic image of Charles Foster Kane on a stage backed by a larger-than-life campaign poster exalting his name and image. Along the way we see his longtime friend Jed Leland (Joseph Cotten) lurks and fulfills his role in Charles’ life as the snarky speaker of truth. Ultimately this is the trait which will end up destroying their once strong friendship. Even when the truth of his affair with Susan (Dorothy Comingore) comes to light his monstrous ego will not let him fall gracefully instead he is defiant until the end. Just like his first wife Emily (Ruth Warrick), Susan will find she too is expendable once Charles Kanes is bored with her as he is ultimately the center of his own universe. We see that perfectly illustrated here as the focus of every everything is Kane in front of a giant picture of himself. While he spouts off platitudes about looking out for others it is difficult to take it seriously coming from someone with this level of ego.

Best Bit: To an extra punch to the moment we see an onstage Kane share a brief moment with his son Charles Jr. who is in the stands. The boy joyfully asks his mother “is papa governor yet?” reminding audience that in the midst of the mess that is about to occur there is an innocent party that will be hit in the collateral.