Citizen Kane is a biopic that loosely details the life of William Randolph Hearst. The film is comprised of a series of flashbacks, as a reporter searches to find the meaning behind Kane’s last word, “rosebud”. The flashbacks begins with Kane being sent away by his family to live with a banker after the family comes into a good sum of money. Kane grows and comes to control a chain of newspapers, including The Inquirer, which give him a huge influence on the public, and also unsuccessfully campaigns for governor. He marries Emily Norton, with whom his marriage eventually falls apart. He begins an affair with Susan Alexander, and eventually marries her. Kane forces her to learn to sing, but after her suicide attempt, he changes his mind. Susan eventually leaves Kane, and Kane has a breakdown. In the final scene, it is clear that “rosebud” was the sled from Kane’s childhood, a representation of the loss of his innocence and the only time he was happy.
Welles may have intended Citizen Kane as a critique of the “American Dream”, implying that money doesn’t buy happiness. The film begins with Kane’s death, and the utterance of his last word, “Rosebud”. It is later revealed that Rosebud was the sled from his childhood. It is commonly believed that last words have a great deal of significance, and being that his last word reflected his childhood, it is implied that he feels that he lost those times of innocence. Even though he was materialistically successful in life, his childhood was the most significant and happiest part of his life. The viewer sees the degradation of two of Kane’s marriages due to boredom and overwhelming pressure, respectively. Kane’s marriage to Susan best exemplifies his misunderstanding of happiness – she tells him that he buys her all kinds things, but never does anything for her, or with her in mind. She is insinuating that his money doesn’t contribute to the success (or lack thereof) of their marriage. Because Kane was raised by a banker, whose philosophy of life entailed material possession as a means to happiness, he experiences difficulties with human connection and self-actualization.
The Maltese Falcon is a 1931 Film Noir about a few corrupt men that are in search of an expensive statue. The film begins when Ruth Wonderly comes into the office of Spade and Archer, two detectives, requesting that they track down a man known as Thursby. After Archer begins following this man, both he and Thursby are killed. Spade is suspected by the local police. Over the course of the story, Spade is introduced to several characters, such as Cairo and Gutman, who are all connected to Wonderly and the murder of his partner. It eventually becomes clear that Wonderly’s intentions to track down Thursby were motivated by the search for the falcon. Spade figures out that she killed his partner, and that Gutman’s hitman killed Archer. Spade eventually turns over Wonderly to the police and honors his obligation to bring his partner’s killer to justice.
In The Maltese Falcon, masculinity is defined by rugged toughness, crookedness, misogyny, and mistrust of others, but also by the retaining of a code of honor. Sam Spade is portrayed as a “hard-boiled” detective, a theme common to Film Noir. He has an affair with his partner’s wife, whom he treats rather poorly, which attests to his crookedness, misogyny, and his insensitivity, making a statement about what it meant to be a “tough guy” in that day and age. Spade also never carries a gun. He says he “doesn’t like them”, but this element may be an example of his toughness, as we see when he knocks out Cairo with one punch. Although Spade seems crooked, he retains his code of honor by remaining committed to finding his partner’s killer, as he recognizes that it is his duty to do so.
The Awful Truth is about the falling-apart and renewal of the marriage between the two main characters, Jerry and Lucy. The events leading up to the divorce begin when Jerry comes home to find that his wife, Lucy, is not home. In an earlier scene, Jerry talks to one of his friends at a fitness club about how he told Lucy he was going to Florida, but instead went somewhere else. When Lucy arrives, she is accompanied by an effeminate music instructor, Armand, who she spent the night with after his “car broke down”. Mutual suspicions lead to a heated discussion in which Lucy decides within minutes that she wants a divorce. Throughout the film, Jerry and Lucy date different characters, including Barbara and Dan, respectively, with whom their relationships fail, or are sabotaged, in the case of Jerry and Barbara. The film ends with Jerry admitting he made a mistake, and the relationship is mended.
In The Awful Truth, irony and screwball humor are used to satirize the institution of marriage. The film begins with Jerry speaking to a friend, when he says, “What wives don’t know won’t hurt them”. This could be viewed as a criticism of the supposed fidelity that marriage emphasizes. When Lucy calls her lawyer, he begins to speak about how a marriage is cherished more the longer it lasts. Ironically, in the background, as the lawyer’s wife tells him that his dinner is getting cold, he shoots her cold and insensitive remarks, like “Shut up!”. This could be a criticism of the hypocrisy of those that are supposed to defend the institution of marriage. It is possible that the suddenness of their divorce could be intended not as a criticism of marriage, but of divorce itself. Perhaps the director intended to emphasize the fact that many couples seek divorce as opposed to trying to work out their problems and continue the marriage.
42nd Street is about the making of a musical during the Great Depression. The effects of the Depression are evident throughout the film, as the director, Marsh, is directing the musical to reattain his fortune that he lost on Wall Street. Many of the characters throughout the film also show signs of financial trouble, such as when Pat Denning could barely afford to take Dorothy to a restaurant. As the film progresses, Marsh holds brutal rehearsals, where the actors are worked to exhaustion. We see the complex social relationship between many of the characters while rehearsal is not in session. We see Dorothy dating Pat Denning behind Abner’s, her “sugar-daddy”, back. Pat is also interested in another woman on set. There is much sexual imagery and many innuendos were made over the course of the film, which may reflect the reality of being an actress in that time. The film’s climax involves Dorothy fracturing her ankle, allowing Peggy Sawyer to take her place. After hours of private rehearsal, the show is presented, and it is successful.
42nd Street exemplifies the impact that a lack of wealth can have on a population, leading them to do things that others may view as “extreme” or “desperate”. As I mentioned before, the film is rich with sexual metaphors. Dorothy’s dependence on Abner’s money is emphasized by the undertones conveyed that she is, in some way, performing sexual favors for him. Marsh’s behavior is another example of this kind of desperation to reattain a fortune. Marsh is told that he is a very sick man, and that his body will not stand the stress induced by directing. He chooses to ignore this warning, because he cannot afford to wait. He also keeps the actors at the studio for extended periods of time, working them harder and harder as the show approaches. When Dorothy fractures her ankle, he desperately spends 5 hours teaching Peggy her parts, because the musical is that important to his success.
Definitely some similarities.