Mondo Kane 9: Rosebud


The final part of our journey through The Second Greatest Movie Ever Made (pah!).

Paul Stewart’s brief flashback is the only one that dovetails into a substantial new scene, picking up his factotum character Raymond with Thompson on the grand staircase at Xanadu and following them into a sequence detailing the inventory of Kane’s vast collection of objet d’art and general junk. (“That’s a lot of money for a dame without a head.”)

“Part of a Scotch castle over there but we haven’t bothered to unwrap it yet.” It’s exciting to think that Xanadu might contain all the sets for all Welles’ future productions. This one would obviously be MACBETH, whose “Scotch castles” always did look somewhat incomplete. The reference to Spanish ceilings could mean MR ARKADIN or DON QUIXOTE…

“I wonder… you put all this stuff together […] What would it spell?” Here, Thompson is hinting towards Borges’ parable, not yet written — “A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.” Interestingly, Borges disparaged KANE as “a labyrinth without a centre” — yet it seems to have inspired this memorable mini-narrative, with its echo of Kafka’s The Parable of the Law, visualized by Welles in THE TRIAL. (Borges’ claim that KANE owed its cleverness to Sturges THE POWER AND THE GLORY is fatuous, whether Welles had seen the earlier film or,as he claimed, not. The brilliance of KANE stems from the application of its audio-visual, formal qualities to that structural idea. William K. Howard’s direction of TPATG does not approach these qualities. Borges is reviewing KANE as if it were a novel.)

Alan Ladd gets a line! I never really notice him here, and I find him a little bland for my taste. But the perky, bespectacled girl reporter character (Louise Currie, who died September 8th this year) should’ve had her own movie series. Thompson as romantic interest? Perhaps not.

When William Alland, who plays Thompson, took over Universal’s sci-fi monster department in the fifties, he ought to have hired Welles. Those movies should look like TOUCH OF EVIL, not the flatly lit and composed, static things they are. I wondered at this, and thought maybe Alland wouldn’t have wanted to hire his own boss because how would he exercise authority over Welles? But then I learned that Alland named names for the blacklist, so he and the pinko Welles would mutually have wanted to keep away from each other, I guess. And thus we were deprived of Orson’s version of THE MOLE PEOPLE.


Welles is using camera flashes — often in the form of inserted white frames — to teleport about his big set. The formal ploy of tying the flashes to the edits is a genuinely experimental technique unheard of in ’40s cinema, yet it doesn’t get mentioned much in discussion of the film’s innovations, possibly because, like the abstract snowglobe opening, it didn’t immediately lead to anything. Whereas low angles, noir lighting, overlapping dialogue, atmospheric echoes, etc, were picked up and run with.

The trek through Kane’s collection allows for lovely echoes of previous moments in the movie, as the jigsaws, statues and the trophy from Inquirer employees get to reappear. This narrative replay, a sort of slight return of the opening newsreel, is picked up again by Welles’ closing credits…


Thompson’s speech, intended as the only moment when he gets to be a real character instead of an audience surrogate (“The embodiment of your desire to see everything,” as Walbrook puts it in LA RONDE) becomes instead a bit of editorializing by Welles and Mankiewicz, both keen to “take the mickey out of” their MacGuffin, Rosebud. By having Thompson claim that Rosebud’s identity wouldn’t have explained Kane, they’re trying to diffuse accusations of what Welles called “dollar-book Freud.” So we can see the sled as the answer to the emptiness in Kane (not in itself, but in the childhood and mother-love he was deprived of) or we can simply see it as a missing piece of a puzzle, still scrambled and incomplete.

“I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.” ~ Thompson. “What does it matter what you say about people?” ~ Tanya.

In the excellent doc The RKO Story, Ed Asner wanders through the studio scene dock, which incredibly still houses props from the 1940s. Maybe that’s why this last scene always feels like the employees packing up at the end of a studio shoot. A great way to end a movie, with the actors leaving the partially deconstructed set. But there’s more —


Slow, funeral glide over the array of boxes — see also TOO MUCH JOHNSON, which has a chase through a maze of stacked crates, likewise taken from a high angle. Amazing the visual continuity in that early work with Welles’ later masterpieces. The end of this movement takes us to the heap of “junk,” most of it recognizable as the stuff from Mrs Kane’s boarding house which her son had put in storage. Interesting arrangement of a china doll embraced by a plush toy chimpanzee in the crate at centre here. Next to it is a picture of the adult Kane, presumably kept by his mother, along with all his toys. There’s an image of Agnes Moorehead with Sonny Bupp (young Kane) too.


“Throw that junk!” orders the unobservant Paul Stewart, uttering the last line of the script. Rosebud seems to be going up in smoke along with several violin cases of unknown provenance.

I think none of us really put a lot of store in what Welles told Barbara Leaming, that “Rosebud” was Hearst’s affectionate term for his mistress Marion Davies’ genitals. As well as being a way of further “taking the mickey” out of the plot gimmick of KANE, this may have been Welles’ rebellion against the movie which had come to define him and must have seemed something of a millstone around his neck. Kind of like drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa. But where did Welles get the Georgia O’Keefe-style flower-vagina connection from? I didn’t think that one needed explanation, but then just as I was finishing this piece I found an answer anyway ~

I was reading Robert L. Carringer’s essay The Scripts of Citizen Kane and I think I have the answer. Carringer’s source is the biography William Randolph Hearst, American.

“Finally, the strongest of all of Kane’s attachments to mother and youth may also have been inspired by Hearst. One of Hearst’s childhood friends was a neighbor, Katherine Soule´, called “Pussy” by her playmates. She and Hearst often played together in the Hearst walled garden as Phebe Hearst tended her flowers. Miss Soule´ recalled to Mrs. Older: Willie Hearst was conscious of all beauty. When his mother bought new French dishes he pointed out the rose buds to Pussy. One day his head appeared at the top of the fence and excitedly he called, “Pussy, come and see the ‘La France’!” Pussy had never heard of a La France, and so she hastily climbed the ladder to see this new exciting object. “Why,” she exclaimed, “It’s just a rose!”

EXACTLY. It’s just a rose, Orson.

Magnificent Bernard Herrmann music and effects shot as Rosebud comes out the chimney as a death-like black cloud. And Welles repeats a few of his opening shots to pull us out beyond the No Trespassing sign. Welles loved signs.


The end credits are lovely — MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS improves on them, though. But by bringing his cast on for curtain calls like this, Welles gives the film’s last line to George Coulouris, and who can begrudge him? Note also that it’s a different line reading from the one earlier in the movie.

“I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.”

27 Responses to “Mondo Kane 9: Rosebud”

  1. So glad you noted the REAL last line. Kane is a series of inventories, and it end credits are the final one.

  2. The fact that Kane’s personal tragedy is his being deprived of a mother’s love is both sentimental and (thanks to Agnes’ Moorehead’s stunning intonation of “I’ve got his trunk all packed. I’ve had it packed for a week now.”) passing profound. She loved him and he loved her back. Because she was taken away from him he was unable to extend love anyone else — even though his life was littered with people who loved him (Susan in many ways above all)
    All he could do was BIY THINGS.

    We see Kane die at the beginning of the film, but his REAL death is at its end when the sled burns. Herrmann guns it to the floor musically at this moment — Wagner on steroids. The shot of the smoke of the burning sled coming out of the chimney once again underscore the fact that we’ve been looking at a horror film.

  3. I call that shot “the Triumph of Death,” after Breughel.

  4. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, David E. As you’ve mentioned before , the horror film overtones are unmistakable. Davod C. When was Alan Ladd not bland? Robin Wood once described him as “having the sex appeal of a dead goldfish.”

  5. Heh. Harsh. I think Ladd benefited from playing darker characters like in This Gun for Hire. And his inability to strike sparks even with such a combustible co-star as Veronica Lake may have inspired Melville’s adaptation of the character as a quasi-autistic roboman in Le Samourai.

  6. And few thins are quite as sparky as Alain Delon.

  7. “The final part of our journey through The Second Greatest Movie Ever Made (pah!).”

    Meaning that The Greatest Movie Ever Made is next?

  8. I really must sit down to that one. Have seen little Chereau. Maybe I should start with Persecution for the Late Movies Blogathon?

  9. “Persecution” is one of the Chereau’s I haven’t seen as yet. I’d start with “Flesh of the Orchid” then move on to —

  10. Orchid and Margot are practically the same story, aren’t they? Those are the main two I’ve seen.

  11. Roger Ryan Says:

    Regarding William Alland’s 50s sci-fi productions at Universal, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE features a title card only at the beginning (superimposed over the crashing spaceship) with the rest of the credits reserved for the end of the film – I suspect Alland was taking his cue here from KANE since most films during this period (1953) were still front-loading the credits.

  12. Good point. There’s a weird JackArnold confluence there since Arnold’s direction of Welles in Man in the Shadows led directly to OW getting the gig of Touch of Evil.

  13. If, perchance, you were a reader of Castle Of Frankenstein magazine–Calvin Beck was of course a huge Welles fan, any why not?—I do a Facebook page devoted to the original CoF, called Drawbridge Of The Castle. Thanks, Jim Thompson

  14. Being in the UK, alas I’ve never seen a copy of CoF, though I’m aware of its importance. Have you invited Joe Dante to your page?

  15. In my book Hearst Over Hollywood (Columbia University Press), I put forward another theory on the origin of Rosebud. One of William Randolph Hearst’s closest childhood friends was the future portrait artist Orrin Peck. Peck was particularly close to Hearst’s mother Phoebe Hearst and she would later support Peck’s artistic career. Phoebe was frequently disappointed by her son’s lifestyle and career as a yellow journalist. According to one close relative of Hearst, Phoebe treated Peck like the son she wished William was. The younger Hearst was aware of this sense of loss in his relationship with his mother. Peck’s nickname for Phoebe was Rosebud.

  16. When he dictated Kane’s dying word, Rita Alexander asked who Rosebud was. “It isn’t a who, it’s an it,” Herman said. “What is a rosebud?” Alexander amended. “It’s a sled,” Herman explained.

    Herman recycled memories of his childhood grief for his lost bicycle to create Charlie Kane’s yearning for his sled, but he named the sled for one of his few successful bets, Old Rosebud, a horse that won the 1914 Kentucky Derby.

    None of them loved the Rosebud device, but they liked Welles’s idea of a quotation from Samuel Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” even less. They considered Rosebud a somewhat embarrassing piece of “dimestore psychology,” but they needed it for the plot. Ultimately, Herman interwove it so skillfully that “Rosebud” became the film’s most famous line. One persistent story of its origins is that Rosebud was Hearst’s nickname for Marion Davies’s genitals. Given Herman’s penchant for self-destruction, it is certainly plausible. But Herman explained years ago that he had based the sled motif, meant to symbolize Kane’s loss of family, childhood, and love, on recollections of his own childhood anguish when his bicycle was stolen.

    And he had named the sled after Old Rosebud, a 1914 Kentucky Derby winner he successfully bet on during his first year at Columbia. He even planted a hint in the smoky projection room scene. As the journalists speculate about “Rosebud’s” meaning, one man says, “A race horse he bet on once, probably—” Another responds, “Yeah—that didn’t come in.” Rawlston (the editor) asks, “But what was the race?”

    Stern, Sydney Ladensohn. The Brothers Mankiewicz (Hollywood Legends Series) (p. 168). University Press of Mississippi. Kindle Edition.

  17. Thanks!

    “The problem of the bicycle!”

    Welles told Barbara Leaming the clitoris fable, I think, and she’s about the only one who ever believed it. He was a good deadpanner, was Orson.

    Both Welles and Mank at different times denied authorship of Rosebud, but it strikes me as a perfectly sound device. “We took the mickey out of it every way we could,” said Welles, asked about Thompson’s assertion that Rosebud wouldn’t explain everything, and that’s important too. It works as a clue that might or might not mean anything.

  18. Karen Harris Says:

    Rosebud was a nickname for Willie’s mother, Phebe. It was used as a greeting, in person and in writing, primarily by Orrin Peck whom also referred to Ph(o)ebe as his ‘other mother’. William was very, very jealous of Orrin and threw a life long fit. Orson got back at Willie for the way Orrin P (and every other friend of Phoebe’s ) was treated by WRH (Willie) after her death- Karen H, (historian, former guide)

  19. Louis Pizzitola Says:

    Karen, I suspect you gathered this information from my book Hearst Over Hollywood, as when it was written 20 years ago, the Rosebud connection to Phoebe Hearst had not appeared in print before. Anyway since my book is still in print I hope others will find it and enjoy the many other discoveries inside the covers.

  20. Tony Williams Says:

    I have this book and thoroughly appreciate it.

  21. Thanks Karen for the information, Louis for dropping by toprovide the source, and Tony for the recommendation!

  22. Louis Pizzitola Says:

    A couple of other discoveries I made related to Hearst and Kane might be of interest. The origin of the name Charles Foster Kane possibly derived from a real Charles F Kane who died during the writing of the screenplays. The real Kane was found dead on the floor of a hotel bathroom and so was movie character Kane in an early screenplay. Also, a film about Hearst, based on a play, that was made in 1919 – that Hearst was able to have destroyed before its released providing another layer to the way the media mogul operated and what he thought he could get away with.

  23. Amazing, thanks!

    CF Kane’s newspaper appearance reminds me of Chinatown… “Check the obituaries… you’ll find ONE OF THOSE NAMES.”

  24. Louis Pizzitola Says:

    I should have pointed out on the subject of where the name Charles Kane originated, that the Charles F. Kane who was found dead on a hotel bathroom floor (reported in detail in a prominent newspaper obituary) was no unknown figure. He was a NY detective closely associated with Tammany boss Charles Murphy – who as Kane fans will know is likely the model for Lane’s rival Boss Gettys. It would not be surprising if Mankiewicz as an old newspaperman had read the obit, possibly even knew Detective Kane.

  25. Thanks! Maybe the use of the name is a conscious or unconscious way of implying that Kane and Gettys are not that different.

  26. Louis J Pizzitola Says:

    Quite possibly. Another related factoid, Hearst’s wife Millicent or Millie had a cousin who was a high ranking detective in NYC. My research also found strong evidence that Millie’s mother (Hearst’s mother-in-law) ran a Tammany connected brothel and that Millie and her sister may have been prostitutes. A few authors of books on Citizen Kane have pointed out that an early if not first scene filmed by Welles takes place in a brothel. Naturally there was no way that could remain in the final film, though elements of it are in the party scene with the dancing girls. Speaking of names, is it a coincidence that Hearst’s wife MILLIE’s name sounds like EMILY? Who knows.

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