Citizen Kane" is known for creating many new filmmaking techniques, and has been hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. "Roaring Twenties" is known as one of the best gangster films ever made and director Walsh is often heralded for his dramatic, memorable gun scenes, where the action is extremely fast, the camera stays with the action, and it is so fast and furious that the audience is literally drawn into the film. The depth-of-field or focus of both films comes into play in the overall success of the films, in that in "Citizen Kane," they show the grandeur of Kane's mansion, and the violence of the gunplay in the gangsters' world. Dutch-angled scenes in "Twenties" indicate the very canted world of the 20s gangsters, and even though Eddie becomes successful, it is clear he is a world away from the opulence, excess, and power of the mighty Charles Foster Kane.
Also of supreme importance in Kane is the opulence of the set, the hair, make-up and costuming, to indicate Kane's immense wealth and power. Eddie becomes successful, but never to the point of over the top opulence, and the Great Depression affects both men, but Eddie can never recover. The difference between the two men, even at their most powerful, is all about money, and that is evident when Kane builds an entire theater to showcase his wife, while Eddie opens a speakeasy to showcase Jean's budding career. The sets, hair, make-up and costuming all show the two different levels of success of these men, and add dramatically to the overall impact of the films.
There is another thing in common these two characters share. They both "fall" for the wrong women, and die alone in the end. Eddie always holds a place in his heart for Jean, and tries to promote her career, even though she never loves him the way he loves her, and ignores the fact that Panama adores him. Kane falls for the singer Susan, builds her an opera house, where she fails miserably and leaves him. Their weakness, it seems, is beautiful women with little talent, and they both suffer because of it, and they both end up alone as a result. The real tragedy of these films is not that they lose their fortunes, it is the fact that they die alone, and neither of their lives seem to matter at all, despite all their success and glory, no matter how fleeting it was. As Panama says at the end of "Roaring Twenties," "He used to be a big shot" (Walsh), and that pretty much says it all about the lives of these two men.
Flashback is extremely important in "Kane," in fact, the entire story is told in a set of flashbacks - unusual at the time, but extremely valid to the success of the film. One writer notes how the flashbacks can set the stage for and entire life if done properly, as they are in "Kane." He writes, "The Thatcher flashback covers, in three scenes, the whole span of Kane's career, from the first meeting in the snow, to Thatcher's rage at Kane's campaigns against capitalist corruption, to the stock-market crash and Kane's bankruptcy" (Naremore 228). "Twenties" opens with a series of newsreel flashbacks that take the viewer back in time to 1919, the opening of the film, but the use of flashbacks is not a real method in Walsh's work, while it is pivotal in "Kane."
In conclusion, both of these early films are classic looks at the same time in history, and they tell relatively the same story of a hero who rises to the top and then topples. They are both filled with some of the finest actors Hollywood had to offer, and written with a compelling dramatic style. They are memorable, however, because they use cinematic techniques such as lighting, camera angles, and even documentary styles to portray the lives of two men at least loosely based on real people.
Naremore, James, ed. Orson Welles's Citizen Kane: A Casebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Villarejo, Amy. Film Studies: The Basics. New York, Routledge, 2007.