After 50 years at the top of Sight & Sound‘s list of all-time greatest films, Citizen Kane has dropped to #2 behind Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Just for fun I ask, which is the better screenplay?
When the WGA voted in 2005, they ranked Kane #4 on their list of 101 Greatest Screenplays, and Vertigo didn’t make the cut.
What do you think?
My favorite scene from Vertigo (read the entire script):
EXT. THE REDWOODS - (DAY) Madeleine and Scottie near the massive trunk of a tree. Beyond them, the small stream, bridged by a wide flattened redwood log. MADELEINE How old? SCOTTIE Oh... some, two thousand years, or more. MADELEINE The oldest living things? Scottie nods and watches her, wondering, as she looks about thoughtfully. SCOTTIE You've never been here before. She shakes her head, lost in thought as she lets her gaze wander among the trees. SCOTTIE What are you thinking? MADELEINE (Searching) Of all the people who have been born... and have died... while the trees went on living. SCOTTIE (Agreeing) Their true name is Sequoia Sempervirens: always green, ever- living. MADELEINE (Flatly) I don't like them. SCOTTIE Why? MADELEINE (Simply) Knowing I have to die... She looks up at him with a shy, embarrassed smile. Then, seeing the wandering look in his eyes, she brightens quickly. MADELEINE But I like the stream! It's a lovely stream! She leaves him and moves quickly out onto the bridge and loans on the railing to watch the water rippling below. And then, as he approaches her, she turns and looks at him, wide- eyed. MADELEINE But it makes no sound! Listen! She listens intensely for a long moment, and looks at him anxiously. MADELEINE Do you hear anything? SCOTTIE (Shaking his head) Only silence. It's always like this. MADELEINE (Wondering) And no birds sing. SCOTTIE No birds live here. MADELEINE No. She turns away with gentle, somber, self-contained wonder, and they cross back to the path in silence, and wander on along the path in silence. We watch them move away in the distance, disappear behind a tree, then come into view again, and now there comes into view the cross-section of a redwood tree that is on exhibit, with certain of its rings marked to show what it has lived through, and they approach it. SCOTTIE Would you like a drink of water? MADELEINE No, thank you. Scottie moves to the small upright drinking fountain as Madeleine approaches the tree section and stands before it and studies it. Scottie gets a drink of water, then comes up behind Madeleine and stands, and she is seemingly unaware of his presence. Their backs are to the CAMERA. INSERT OF RINGS on the tree, marked with dates, beginning, near the center with the date 909 A.D. and ending with 1930 - tree cut down. EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - CLOSE SHOT We see the two profiles: Madeleine staring at the tree, Scottie staring at Madeleine. She raises one gloved hand and almost idly begins to trace a finger up along the white line that is marked: 1776 DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. And as the hand moves a little to the left, Madeleine begins to speak, almost vacantly, oblivious of all but this piece of tree, and herself. MADELEINE Somewhere in here I was born... and here I died and it was only a moment for you... you took no notice... SCOTTIE (Almost sharply) Madeleine! She turns her head to him, only now aware of his presence, and stares at him without expression. Then slowly she turns and walks away, and the CAMERA, PANNING HER SLIGHTLY, brings the head and shoulders of Scottie into the foreground, and he watches her, wondering anxiously, trying to put things together in his mind. Madeleine walks on until she disappears behind one of the distant redwoods. EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT Scottie moves over, watching her. EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - LONG SHOT The CAMERA MOVES OVER as though it is Scottie looking. It MOVES far enough to reveal that Madeleine is no longer there. She seems to have disappeared. EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT Scottie comes forward, the CAMERA PANNING him, to get a better view of where Madeleine went. EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - SEMI-LONG SHOT The CAMERA in Scottie's position, moving around, shows that there is no sign of Madeleine whatsoever. EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT The CAMERA DOLLIES Scottie down toward the trees. EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - SEMI-LONG SHOT CAMERA is now among the trees where Madeleine was last seen. As it TRAVELS across them, it finally brings her into view. She's leaning against a tree with her head bent back. EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - CLOSEUP Scottie comes to a stop as he sees her. EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - CLOSEUP Madeleine leaning against the tree. Her eyes are closed and she is breathing heavily. In the background we see Scottie approaching her. As he comes up to her, the CAMERA EASES BACK and MOVES AROUND until it faces her and Scottie. SCOTTIE (Gently) Madeleine... She opens her eyes slowly, and looks at him, recognizing him, and yet not quite, as though she were slightly hypnotized. Scottie speaks gently. SCOTTIE Where are you now? MADELEINE (Softly, distantly) Here with you. SCOTTIE Where? MADELEINE The tall trees... SCOTTIE Have you been here before? MADELEINE Yes... SCOTTIE When? She shakes her head. SCOTTIE Where were you born? MADELEINE Long ago... SCOTTIE Where? She shakes her head. SCOTTIE When? Her head continues to move back and forth, gently denying. His voice is more positive, now, more urgently demanding. SCOTTIE Tell me. The head moves more rapidly, now, as though denying some inner compulsion. SCOTTIE Madeleine! Tell me! The rapidly moving head stops short, and her eyes open wide, and she cries out: MADELEINE No!... No! SCOTTIE (Low and urgent) Tell me what it is. Where do you go? What takes you away? MADELEINE No, don't ask me! They are both speaking quickly, now, the words cascading without pause. SCOTTIE When you jumped in the bay, you didn't know where you were. You guessed but you didn't know. MADELEINE I didn't jump, I fell! You told me I fell! SCOTTIE Why did you jump? MADELEINE No! SCOTTIE What was it inside that told you to jump? She is fighting it strongly, yet pathetically. MADELEINE No, I can't tell you! SCOTTIE What?! MADELEINE (Strongly) No! Please! Please, please, please, please, don't ask me! And her head drops, and she sags, and Scottie stands quietly watching her, knowing he can push it no further. MADELEINE (Softly, tired) Take me away from here? SCOTTIE Home? MADELEINE ...somewhere in the light. He takes her arm. She looks up at him with a tired smile. MADELEINE And promise you won't ask me again. Please promise me that. He looks down at her somberly, promising and refusing nothing. They start walking, holding together, and the two figures become small in the distance, moving away through the tall trees.
And my favorite scene from Citizen Kane (read the entire script):
INT. KANE'S OFFICE - NIGHT - The bottle is finished. The door in the Sanctrum opens. Reilly and the others leave. REILLY (as they go) Goodnight, Mr. Kane. Kane stands in the door, waiting for Leland. Leland gets up and moves toward the office - goes in, sits down across from Kane at the desk. An uncomfortable pause. Then Kane smiles ingratiatingly. Leland tries to cope with this. LELAND First of all - (he can't go on) KANE (not cruelly - genuinely kind) What's wrong, Brad? LELAND I'm drunk. KANE I'll get you some coffee. He rises and goes to the door. LELAND First of all, I will not write a good review of a play because somebody paid a thousand dollars for an advertisement in the "Enquirer." KANE (gently - opening the door) That's just a little promotion scheme. Nobody expects you - (calling) Mike, will you try and get Mr. Leland some coffee? MIKE'S VOICE Sure thing, Mr. Kane. Kane turns back to Leland. Leland doesn't look up at him. LELAND Charlie, it's just no go. We can't agree anymore. I wish you'd let me go to Chicago. KANE Why, Brad? LELAND I want to be transferred to the new paper. You've been saying yourself you wish you had somebody to - (he is heartsick, inarticulate) That's not what I wanted to talk about. Kane goes around behind the desk and sits down. KANE I'll tell you what I'll do, Brad - I'll get drunk, too - maybe that'll help. LELAND No, that won't help. Besides, you never get drunk. I wanted to talk about you and Emily. Kane looks at Leland sharply before he speaks. KANE (quietly) All right. LELAND (without looking at him) She's going to leave you - KANE I don't think so, Brad. We've just had word that the President is out of danger. (ruefully) It seems I didn't kill him after all. LELAND (takes his eye) She was going to leave you anyway - Kane takes this in. LELAND Emily's going south next week with the child. As far as anybody's to know, it's a holiday. When they get back - KANE (sharply) Brad, you are drunk. LELAND Sure I am. She wants full custody of the child no matter what happens. If you won't agree to that, she'll apply for a divorce regardless of the President's wishes. I can't tell her she's wrong, because she isn't wrong - KANE Why is she leaving me? LELAND (it's very hard for him to say all this) She hasn't any friends left sine you started this oil business, and she never sees you. KANE Do you think the "Enquirer" shouldn't have campaigned against the oil leases? LELAND (hesitating) You might have made the whole thing less personal! No answer from Kane. LELAND It isn't just that the President was her uncle - everyone she knows, all the people she's been brought up with, everything she's ever been taught to believe is important - Still no answer from Kane. LELAND There's no reason why this - this savage personal note - KANE The personal note is all there is to it. It's all there ever is to it. It's all there every is to anything! Stupidity in our government, complacency and self- satisfaction and unwillingness to believe that anything done by a certain class of people can be wrong - you can't fight those things impersonally. They're not impersonal crimes against people. They're being done by actual persons - with actual names and positions and - the right of the American people to own their own country is not an academic issue, Brad, that you debate - and then the judges retire to return a verdict and the winners give a dinner for the losers. LELAND You almost convince me. (rising) I'm just drunk enough to tell you the truth. I have to be a little drunk for that because I'm a coward. You know that. That's why you keep me around. (smiles) You only associate with your inferiors, Charlie. I guess that's why you ran away from Emily. Because you can't stand the company of your equals. You don't like to admit they exist - the other big people in your world are dead. I told you that. Kane looks at Leland, but Leland can't be stopped now. He speaks very quietly - no poison in his voice - no personal indignation - as though he were explaining the nature of a disease. LELAND You talk about the people of the United States as though they belonged to you. When you find out they don't think they are, you'll lose interest. You talk about giving them their rights as though you could make a present of liberty. Remember the working man? You used to defend him quite a good deal. Well, he's turning into something called organized labor and you don't like that at all. And listen, when your precious underprivileged really get together - that's going to add up to something bigger than - than your privilege and then I don't know what you'll do - sail away to a desert island, probably, and lord it over the monkeys. KANE Are you finished? LELAND Yes. (looking down) Now, will you let me go to Chicago? KANE (with a little smile) You're not going to like it in Chicago. They wind comes howling in from the lake. And there's practically no opera season at all - and the Lord only knows whether they've ever heard of Lobster Newburg - LELAND That's all right. (he won't be charmed out of his duty) What are you going to do about Emily? KANE (his face hardning a little) Nothing - if she dosen't love me - Leland has risen. He speaks as he turns away, starting towards the door. LELAND You want love on your own terms, don't you, Charlie - (he stops - his back turned to Kane) Love according to your own rules. And if anything goes wrong and you're hurt - then the game stops, and you've got to be soothed and nursed, no matter what else is happening - and no matter who else is hurt! KANE It's simpler than that, Brad. A society girl can't stand the gaff, that's all. Other things are important to her - social position, what they're saying on the front porches at Southampton, is it going to be embarrassing to meet somebody or the other at dinner - Leland has turned, taking his eye again. Now Kane stops and smiles. KANE She can leave me. As a matter of fact, I've already left her. Don't worry, Brad - I'll live. LELAND I know you will. KANE (with all his charm) Hey, Brad! I've been analyzed an awful lot tonight - let's have another brandy. Leland shakes his head. Kane lifts his glass. KANE To love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody knows ... his own.