Speaking of "Random Banter about some Rare Things," last night at "The 4th Noir City Film Festival" in San Francisco, I saw a film on the big screen for perhaps the first time since I was a small child; never had seen it in a theater again; only seen it since in a chopped up version or two, on late night TV: CRIME WITHOUT PASSION (1934).
You all have probably discussed this film many times, but bearing in mind that it was written and directed by Ben Hecht (who brought Herman J. Mankiewicz to Hollywood) and Charles McArthur (friend of Welles, as was McArthur's wife, Helen Hayes), I was immediately struck by several startling conincidences.
CRIME WITHOUT PASSION, one of the first independent American sound films, shot in the East to avoid interference from Adolph Zucker of Paramount, opens with a spectacular montage (courtesy of Hollywood Specialist Slavko Vorkopitch) which shows, among other things, images of a large eye, the barrel of a gun, a falling body, muttered words (unfortunately they had trouble cranking up the sound at the start) and, oh yes, three half-dressed female furies laughing at the folly of various New York adulterers!
[Talk about getting your audience's attention, as Welles did in CITIZEN KANE.]
Then, a few minutes later, sardonic Criminal Defense Attorney Lee Gentry (Claude Rains), perched in the window of his office advising his secretary to fob off anxious clients in his ante room, looks down on people in the street, far below, and compares them to ants. Whereas, of course, a genius like himself can save the life of any one of them he chooses -- that is if one of those poor suckers gets in in trouble, and Gentry takes his case.
[Remind anyone of Welles' repeated use of the image as an indication of the fascist mind?]
Now Gentry has several attractive women on his string. One he has been besotted by, but wants to dump for a socially better connected girl, is a dancer named Carmen Brown. You might half-way expect Miss Brown, given simple stereotypes of the time, to be a black woman. [Surely, Adolph Zucker would not.] But she is played by Margo (later married to Eddie Albert), one of relatively few Latina Hollywood stars of the late 1930's. (Lupe Valez, Dolores Del Rio, Carmen Miranda, and Rita Hayworth come to mind.) Miss Brown listens to a personal Mariachi, dances to a Ramon Raqello-type orchestra in her night club (which has an illuminated glass sign which glistens in the rain). She is quite sympathetic but has a mishap on which the plot turns.
[Such a cad, impeccably played by Rains, would seem up the alley of Charles Foster Kane and/or Orson Welles. Carmen Brown's co-star at the club, incidentally, is a baby-faced gal, who dresses on stage in a little girl's dress, long white stockings, and buckle shoes. Fannie Brice happens to be an extra in a later lobby scene, as is Helen Hayes; it's the kind of thing Welles later had friends and associates do. Writers Hecht and McArthur have tiny cameos, too, as leaders of a grand jury investigating Attorney Gentry's ethics, much in the way Welles put Writer Mankiewicz and Cinematographer Gregg Toland into CITIZEN KANE as inquiring reporters.]
Finally, most obscure possibly, looking up CRIME WITHOUT PASSION on the IMDb today, I came across the career listing for one Frank Tours. Tours is credited with the music for the film. [Most effective in the several montage sequences.] Now, Tours had a very spotty record, often working uncredited in maybe a dozen pictures, such as THE EMPEROR JONES (1933) and Hecht/McArthur's second effort, THE SCOUNDREL (1935, with Noel Coward in the title part), but more interestingly for us perhaps, he is noted as the "uncredited" provider of the music for the "Newsreel Sequence" in CITIZEN KANE, and "incidental music" (also uncredited) for JOURNEY INTO FEAR.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, do we have makings of a prima facie case for an authentic influence on CITIZEN KANE?
I leave it for you to decide.