(Orson Welles, USA, 1941) 122 minutes


Director: Orson Welles
Producer: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Herman J Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Photography: Gregg Toland
Editor: Robert Wise, Mark Robson
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane)
Joseph Cotten (Jedediah Leland)
Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander)
Everett Sloane (Mr Bernstein)
Ray Collins (James W Gettys)
Agnes Moorehead (Kane's mother)

Reviews and notes

Press magnate Kane dies in his west-coast palace of Xanadu, murmuring the word 'Rosebud'. A reporter of a news magazine like The March of Time is charged with discovering the significance of the word; and, in interviewing several people closely connected with Kane, discovers that the magnate's public-spirited image by no means corresponds with the private view that these different people have of him.

The similarity between Kane and the news-paper publisher William Randolph Hearst caused a considerable scandal and led to a delay in the film's release. The Hearst papers launched a crusade against the film which ranged from demands that it be banned to an absolute refusal to mention or advertise it. It was finally press-shown only after RKO had been threatened by Welles with a law-suit. The Hearst papers ignored it but the rest of the press was enthusiastic if puzzled. In New York (where it won the Film Critics' Award) and the larger towns the film did fair business: in the smaller towns it flopped. Some exhibitors, indeed, paid for the film in a block of RKO bookings and preferred not to screen it. At the end of the year it won two critical awards and an Oscar for the best original screenplay of 1941. Welles's difficulties with RKO had begun while the film was in the making, and its comparative commercial failure spelt the end of his artistic freedom in Hollywood.

The film's influence on Hollywood was nevertheless profound. The most obvious and immediate was in the construction of the script. The earlier precedent for a series of recollections out of chronological order, in William K. Howard's The Power and the Glory (1933), had passed largely unnoticed; but Mankiewicz and Welles effectively released scriptwriters thenceforth from the convention of strict chronology. Welles's use of wide-angle and deep-focus lenses, made possible through the work of his cameraman Gregg Toland, pointed the way to the development of action within a single frame. This same effect had been achieved by Renoir in his films throughout the thirties; but Welles's handling of movement and composition within the frame was essentially formal. The formal element was seized on and hardened in Hollywood into increasing rigidity, which was broken only by the impact of Italian post-war neo-realism. CITIZEN KANE also made innovations in the use of sound which Welles sought to carry further in his later films.

Apart from its resounding influence, the film claims an enduring place in world cinema by its sheer exuberance, and in particular that of Welles's own performance. It repeatedly appears highly placed in polls of the best films ever made.
-The Oxford Companion to Film, edited by Liz-Anne Bawden,

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