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Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film, directed by and starring Orson Welles. The film, which was Welles' first feature film, was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories: it won for Best Original Screenplay by Herman Mankiewicz and Welles. It was released by RKO Pictures.

The story is a roman à clef that criticizes the life and legacy of William Randolph Hearst, an American newspaper magnate, and Welles' own life. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. The film traces the life and career of Charles Foster Kane, a man whose career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is revealed through the research of a newspaper reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate's dying word: "Rosebud."

There is a semi-official consensus in film circles that Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made, which has led Roger Ebert to quip that: ‘So it's settled: "Citizen Kane" is the official greatest film of all time.’ It topped both the AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies list and the 10th Anniversary Update, as well as all of the Sight & Sound polls of the 10 greatest films for nearly half a century.


Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), the enormously wealthy media magnate, has lost his power and been abandoned by his loved ones, and has been living alone in his vast palatial estate Xanadu for the last years of his life, with a "No trespassing" sign on the gate. He dies in a bed holding a snow globe, and utters "Rosebud..." before his death.

Kane's death then becomes sensational news around the world. Reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) tries to find out about Kane's private life and, in particular, to discover the meaning behind his last word. The reporter interviews the great man's friends and associates, and Kane's story unfolds as a series of flashbacks. Thompson approaches Kane's second wife, Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), now an alcoholic who runs her own club, but she refuses to tell him anything. Thompson then goes to the private archive of Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris), a deceased banker who served as Kane's guardian during his childhood. It is through Thatcher's written memoirs that Thompson learns about Kane's childhood. Thompson then interviews Kane's personal business manager Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), best friend Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), Susan for a second time, and Kane's butler Raymond (Paul Stewart).

In several flashbacks, it is told that Kane's childhood was spent in poverty (his parents ran a boarding house), then changed when the "world's third largest gold mine" was discovered on an apparently worthless property his mother had acquired (the title deeds left to her by a lodger unable to pay his bill). He is forced to leave his beloved mother (Agnes Moorehead) when she sends him away to live with Thatcher, to be both educated and protected from his abusive father. After gaining full control over his possessions at the age of 25, Kane enters the newspaper business with sensationalized yellow journalism. He takes control of the newspaper, the New York Inquirer, and hires all the best journalists (he hires them away from the Chronicle, the main rival of the Inquirer). His attempted rise to power is documented, including his manipulation of public opinion for the Spanish American War of 1898; his first marriage to Emily Monroe Norton (Ruth Warrick), a President's niece; and his campaign for the office of governor of New York Statemarker in which Kane creates alternative newspaper headlines depending on whether he wins.

Kane's life gradually goes downhill. The relationship between him and his wife disintegrates over the years. A "love nest" scandal with Susan Alexander ends both his first marriage and his political aspirations. Kane marries his mistress, but as a result of his domineering personality, he forces Susan into an operatic career for which she has no talent or ambition, destroys his relationships and pushes away his loved ones. Kane spends his last years building his vast estate and lives alone after Susan leaves him, interacting only with his staff.

Thompson is unable to solve the mystery and concludes that "Rosebud" will forever remain an enigma. He theorizes that "Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted, and then lost it: Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost". In the ending of the film, it is revealed to the audience that Rosebud was the name of the sled from Kane's childhood, from the time before he was taken from his parents and gained his wealth. The sled, thought to be junk, is destroyed by Xanadu's departing staff in a basement furnace. The film ends as it began, with a view of the "No Trespassing" sign posted on the fence of Xanadu.

Credited cast

Theatrical release poster
Actor Role
Orson Welles Charles Foster Kane
William Alland Jerry Thompson
Georgia Backus Bertha Anderson
Fortunio Bonanova Signor Matiste
Sonny Bupp Charles Foster Kane III
Ray Collins Jim W. Gettys
Dorothy Comingore Susan Alexander Kane
Joseph Cotten Jedediah Leland
George Coulouris Walter Parks Thatcher
Agnes Moorehead Mary Kane
Erskine Sanford Herbert Carter
Gus Schilling The Headwaiter
Harry Shannon Kane's Father
Everett Sloane Mr. Bernstein
Paul Stewart Raymond
Buddy Swan Young Charles Foster Kane
Ruth Warrick Emily Monroe Norton Kane
Philip Van Zandt Mr. Rawlston



Mankiewicz as co-writer
Richard Carringer, author of The Making of Citizen Kane (1996), described the early stages of the screenplay:
"Welles's first step toward the realization of Citizen Kane was to seek the assistance of a screenwriting professional. Fortunately, help was near at hand. . . . When Welles moved to Hollywood, it happened that a veteran screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz, was recuperating from an automobile accident and between jobs. . . Mankiewicz was an expatriate from Broadway who had been writing for films for almost fifteen years."

However, according to film author Harlan Lebo, he was also "one of Hollywood's most notorious personalities." Mankiewicz was the older brother of producer-director Joseph Mankiewicz and was a former writer for The New Yorker and the New York Times and had moved to Hollywood in 1926. By the time Welles contacted him he had "established himself as a brilliant wit, a writer of extraordinary talent, [and] a warm friend to many of the screen world's brightest artists ... [he] produced dialogue of the highest caliber." Yet Mankiewicz's behavior, according to Welles's close friend and associate John Houseman, was also a "public and private scandal. A neurotic drinker and compulsive gambler..." Houseman adds, however, that he was also one of the most intelligent, informed, witty, humane and charming men I have ever known." Despite those apparent contradictions in his personality, Welles "recognized the writer's abilities and trusted him to produce," wrote Lebo. Orson Welles himself later commented, "Nobody was more miserable, more bitter, and funnier than Mank—a perfect monument to self-destruction. But when the bitterness wasn't focused straight at you -- he was the best company in the world."

Ideas and collaboration
According to film historian Clinton Heylin, "the idea of Citizen Kane was the original conception of Orson Welles, who in early 1940 first discussed the idea with John Houseman, who then suggested that both he and Welles leave for Los Angeles and discuss the idea with scriptwriter Herman Mankiewicz. He adds that Mankiewicz "probably believed that Welles had little experience as an original scriptwriter. . .[and] may even have felt that John Citizen USA, Welles's working title, was a project he could make his own."

Still incapacitated with a broken leg, Mankiewicz was happy to work with Welles, and an "alliance" formed, noted Houseman. This combination of a "brash new director, a nervous studio, and an erratic genius" gave birth to Citizen Kane, in what Houseman called, "an absurd venture."

Houseman recalled that Mankiewicz, during his convalescence, had "revived a long-simmering idea of creating a film biography in which a man's life would be brought to the screen after his death through the memories and opinions of the people who knew him best." And Welles himself, writes Lebo, also had ideas "that meshed well with this concept and had considered a newspaper publisher the best subject for the story:

"I'd been nursing an old notion—the idea of telling the same thing several times—and showing exactly the same thing from wholly different views," Welles said. "Mank liked it, so we started searching for the man it was going to be about ... some big American figure ... Howard Hughes was the first idea. But we got pretty quickly to the press lords."

Welles then assigned Mankiewicz, writes Lebo, "to work on an original screenplay—not an adaptation as his first two projects would have been." Welles next traveled to New York and desperately "pleaded and persuaded Houseman to return to Los Angeles to manage Mankiewicz and his writing schedule."

Hearst as story model
For some time, Mankiewicz wanted to write a screenplay about a public figure – perhaps a gangster – whose story would be told by the people that knew him. He had already written an unperformed play The Tree Will Grow about John Dillinger. Orson Welles liked the idea of multiple viewpoints but was not interested in playing Dillinger. Mankiewicz and Welles talked about picking someone else to use as a model. They eventually hit on the idea of using William Randolph Hearst as their central character.

But film critic and author Pauline Kael discovered that Mankiewicz "was already caught up in the idea of a movie about Hearst" when he was still working at the New York Times, in 1925. She learned from his babysitter, Marion Fisher, that she once typed as "he dictated a screenplay, organized in flashbacks. She recalls that he had barely started on the dictation, which went on for several weeks, when she remarked that it seemed to be about William Randolph Hearst, and he said, 'You're a smart girl.' "

In Hollywood, Mankiewicz had frequented Hearst's parties until his alcoholism got him barred. And Hearst was also a person known to Welles. "Once that was decided," wrote author Don Kilbourne, "Mankiewicz, Welles, and John Houseman, a cofounder of the Mercury Theatre, rented a place in the desert, and the task of creating Citizen Kane began." In later years, Houseman gave Mankiewicz "total" credit for "the creation of Citizen Kane's script" and credited Welles with "the visual presentation of the picture."

Mankiewicz was put under contract by Mercury Productions and was to receive no credit for his work as he was hired as a script doctor. According to his contract with RKO, Welles would be given sole screenplay credit, and had already written a rough script consisting of 300 pages of dialogue with occasional stage directions under the title of John Citizen, USA.

Debate over authorship

One of the long standing debates of Citizen Kane has been the proper accreditation of the authorship of the screenplay, which the opening credits attribute to both Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles. Mankiewicz biographer Richard Meryman notes that the dispute had various causes, including the way the movie was promoted. For instance, when RKO opened the movie on Broadway on May 1, 1941, followed by showings at theaters in other large cities, the publicity programs that were printed included photographs of Welles as "the one-man band, directing, acting, and writing." In a letter to his father afterward, Mankiewicz wrote, "I'm particularly furious at the incredibly insolent description of how Orson wrote his masterpiece. The fact is that there isn't one single line in the picture that wasn't in writing -- writing from and by me -- before ever a camera turned." And film historian Otto Friedrich said it made Mankiewicz "unhappy to hear Welles quoted in Louella Parsons's column, before the question of screen credits was officially settled, as saying, 'So I wrote Citizen Kane.'

According to film critic Pauline Kael, Rita Alexander, who was hired to be Mankiewic's personal secretary, stated that she "took the dictation from Mankiewicz from the first paragraph to the last ... and later did the final rewriting and the cuts, and handled the script at the studio until after the film was shot. ...[and said] Welles didn't write (or dictate) one line of the shooting script of Citizen Kane. She added that "Welles himself came to dinner once or twice...[and] she didn't meet him until after Mankiewicz had finished dictating the long first draft."

As a result, Mankiewicz went to the Screen Writers Guild and declared that he was the original author. Welles later claimed that he planned on a joint credit all along, but Mankiewicz claimed that Welles offered him a bonus of ten thousand dollars if he would let Welles take full credit." According to Pauline Kael, "he had ample proof of his authorship, and when he took his evidence to the Screen Writers Guild ... Welles was forced to split the credit and take second place in the listing."

Kael argues that Mankiewicz was the true author of the screenplay and therefore responsible for much of what made the movie great. This angered many critics of the day, most notably critic-turned-filmmaker (and close friend of Welles) Peter Bogdanovich, who rebutted many of Kael's claims in an article for Esquire titled The Kane Mutiny.

By the time the movie was released, however, Mankiewicz's contribution to the film was generally known, according to Kael. The Hollywood Reporter wrote the credit as "Written by Herman Mankiewicz;" Burns Mantle, in his newspaper column, referred to Mankiewicz having written it; and Ben Hecht wrote, "This movie was not written by Orson Welles. It is the work of Herman J. Mankiewicz." Kael notes that "Under the present rules of the Guild, Welles's name would probably not have appeared." She also came to an ironic conclusion:

"And so it was by an awful fluke of justice that when Academy Awards night came, and Welles should have got the awards he deserved as director and actor, the award he got (the only Academy Award he has ever got) was as co-author of the Best Original Screenplay."

According to film biographer David Thomson, however, "No one can now deny Herman Mankiewicz credit for the germ, shape, and pointed language of the screenplay..."Film historian Robert L. Carringer, after weighing both sides of the argument, including sworn testimony from Mercury assistant Richard Baer, could only conclude, "We will probably never know for sure, but in any case Welles had at last found a subject with the right combination of monumentality, timeliness, and audacity." Harlan Lebo agrees, and adds, "of far greater relevance is reaffirming the importance of the efforts that both men contributed to the creation of Hollywood's greatest motion picture."


William Randolph Hearst

The principal source for the story of Citizen Kane was the life of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and the film is seen by critics as a fictionalized, unrelentingly hostile parody of Hearst. According to film historian Don Kilbourne, "much of the information for Citizen Kane came from already-published material about Hearst... [and] some of Kane's speeches are almost verbatim copies of Hearst's. When Welles denied that the film was about the still-influential publisher, he did not convince many people."

Welles himself insisted that there were also differences between the men. In 1968, he told Peter Bogdanovich, "You know, the real story of Hearst is quite different from Kane's. And Hearst himself—-as a man, I mean—-was very different." Hearst's biographer, David Nasaw, finds the film's depiction of Hearst unfair:
Welles' Kane is a cartoon-like caricature of a man who is hollowed out on the inside, forlorn, defeated, solitary because he cannot command the total obedience, loyalty, devotion, and love of those around him.
Hearst, to the contrary, never regarded himself as a failure, never recognized defeat, never stopped loving Marion [Davies] or his wife.
He did not, at the end of his life, run away from the world to entomb himself in a vast, gloomy art-choked hermitage.

Susan Alexander

Movie tycoon Jules Brulatour's second and third wives, Dorothy Gibson and Hope Hampton, both fleeting stars of the silent screen who later had marginal careers in opera, are believed to have provided inspiration for the Susan Alexander character.

Orson Welles also claimed that business tycoon Harold Fowler McCormick's lavish promotion of his second wife, Ganna Walska, was a direct influence on the screenplay. McCormick spent thousands of dollars on voice lessons for her and even arranged for Walska to take the lead in a production of Zaza at the Chicago Opera in 1920. Like the Susan Alexander character, she had a terrible voice, pleasing only to McCormick. But unlike Alexander, Walska got into an argument with director Pietro Cimini during dress rehearsal and stormed out of the production before she appeared. Roger Ebert, in his DVD commentary on Citizen Kane, also suggests that the Alexander character was based on Walska, and had very little to do with Marion Davies. The film's composer Bernard Herrmann also suggests that Kane is based on McCormick but also in great part on Welles himself.

Other sources say the Alexander role — and the disastrous opera singing — is a composite of Hampton, Davies, Walska, and the story of Samuel Insull, who built the Chicago Civic Opera Housemarker in 1929 for his daughter, who hoped to become famous and sing at the Metropolitan Opera but never did.

Samuel Insull

Citizen Kane is in part based on the life of Samuel Insull and his wife Gladys. Playwright Herman J. Mankiewicz based Susan Alexander’s catastrophic operatic debut in Citizen Kane on Gladys Wallis Insull’s New York role as Lady Teazle in a charity revival of The School for Scandal. The review of Susan Alexander's debut in Kane echoes Mankiewicz's actual 1925 review of Gladys Insull. His 1925 review began: "As Lady Teazle, Mrs. Insull is as pretty as she is diminutive; with a clear smile and dainty gestures. There is a charming grace in her bearing that makes for excellent deportment. But Lady Teazle seems much too innocent to lend credit to her part in the play."

Welles as Kane

Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane
There are autobiographical elements to the film. Orson Welles lost his mother when he was only nine years old and his father when he was 15. After this, he became the ward of Chicago's Dr. Maurice Bernstein—and Bernstein is the last name of the only major character in Citizen Kane who receives a completely positive portrayal.

The documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane points out the great irony that Welles's own life story resembled that of Kane far more than Hearst's: an overreaching wunderkind who ended up mournful and lonely in his old age. Citizen Kane's editor Robert Wise summarized: "Well, I thought often afterwards, only in recent years when I saw the film again two or three years ago when they had the fiftieth anniversary, and I suddenly thought to myself, well, Orson was doing an autobiographical film and didn't realize it, because it's rather much the same, you know. You start here, and you have a big rise and tremendous prominence and fame and success and whatnot, and then tail off and tail off and tail off. And at least the arc of the two lives were very much the same..."

Peter Bogdanovich, who was friends with Welles in his later years, disagreed with this on his own commentary on the Citizen Kane DVD, saying that Kane was nothing like Welles. Kane, he said, "had none of the qualities of an artist, Orson had all the qualities of an artist." Bogdanovich also noted that Welles was never bitter "about all the bad things that happened to him," and was a man who enjoyed life in his final years.

In addition, critics have reassessed Welles’ career after his death, saying that he wasn’t a failed Hollywood filmmaker, but a successful independent filmmaker.

Charles F. Murphy

The character of political boss Jim Gettys is based on Charles F. Murphy, a political leader in New York Citymarker's infamous Tammany Hall political machine, who was an enemy of Hearst. In one scene Gettys admonishes Kane for printing a cartoon showing him in prison stripes. This is based on the fact that Murphy, who was a horse-cart driver and owned several bars, was depicted in a 1903 Hearst cartoon wearing striped prison clothes. A caption, referring to the restaurant Murphy frequented, said: "Look out, Murphy. It’s a short lock-step from Delmonico’smarker to Sing Singmarker."


According to Welles author David Thomson, “Rosebud is the greatest secret in cinema...”

Orson Welles, explaining the idea behind the word "Rosebud," said, "It's a gimmick, really, and rather dollar-book Freud." The symbolic sled 'Rosebud' used in the film was bought for $60,500 by film director Steven Spielberg in 1982, at the time the highest price paid for a piece of film memorabilia. Spielberg commented, "Rosebud will go over my typewriter to remind me that quality in movies comes first." According to Peter Bogdanovich, Welles' reaction to Spielberg's purchase of the sled was "I thought we burned it..."

According to Louis Pizzitola, author of Hearst Over Hollywood, "Rosebud" was a nickname that Orrin Peck, a friend of William Randolph Hearst, gave to his mother, Phoebe Hearst. It was said that Phoebe was as close, or even closer, to Orrin than she was to her own son, lending a bitter-sweet element to the word's use in a film about a boy being separated from his mother's love.

In 1989, essayist Gore Vidal cited contemporary rumors that "Rosebud" was a nickname Hearst used for his mistress Marion Davies; a reference to her clitoris, a claim repeated as fact in the 1996 documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane and again in the 1999 dramatic film RKO 281. A resultant joke noted, with heavy innuendo, that Hearst and/or Kane died "with 'Rosebud' on his lips."


During production, Citizen Kane was referred to as RKO 281. Filming took place between June 29, 1940 and October 23, 1940 in what is now Stage 19 on the Paramount lot in Hollywoodmarker. Welles prevented studio executives of RKO from visiting the set. He understood their desire to control projects and he knew they were expecting him to do an exciting film that would correspond to his The War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Welles' RKO contract had given him complete control over the production of the film when he signed on with the studio, something that he never again was allowed to exercise when making motion pictures.

Filmmaking innovations


A deep focus shot: everything, including the hat in the foreground and the boy (young Kane) in the distance, is in sharp focus.
scholars and historians view Citizen Kane as Welles' attempt to create a new style of filmmaking by studying various forms of movie making, and combining them all into one. The most innovative technical aspect of Citizen Kane is the extended use of deep focus. In nearly every scene in the film, the foreground, background and everything in between are all in sharp focus. This was done by renowned cinematographer Gregg Toland through his experimentation with lenses and lighting. Specifically, Toland often used telephoto lenses to shoot close-up scenes. Any time deep focus was impossible — for example in the scene when Kane finishes a bad review of Alexander's opera while at the same time firing the person who started the review — Toland used an optical printer to make the whole screen appear in focus (visually layering one piece of film onto another). However, some apparently deep-focus shots were the result of in-camera effects, as in the famous example of the scene where Kane breaks into Susan Alexander's room after her suicide attempt. In the background, Kane and another man break into the room, while simultaneously the medicine bottle and a glass with a spoon in it are in closeup in the foreground. The shot was an in-camera matte shot. The foreground was shot first, with the background dark. Then the background was lit, the foreground darkened, the film rewound, and the scene re-shot with the background action.

Another unorthodox method used in the film was the way low-angle shots were used to display a point of view facing upwards, thus allowing ceilings to be shown in the background of several scenes. Since movies were primarily filmed on sound stages and not on location during the era of the Hollywoodmarker studio system, it was impossible to film at an angle that showed ceilings because the stages had none. In some instances, Welles' crew used muslin draped above the set to produce the illusion of a regular room with a ceiling, while the boom microphones were hidden above the cloth.

Time compression

One of the story-telling techniques introduced in this film was using an episodic sequence on the same set while the characters changed costume and make-up between cuts so that the scene following each cut would look as if it took place in the same location, but at a time long after the previous cut. In this way, Welles chronicled the breakdown of Kane's first marriage, which took years of story time, in a matter of minutes.

Special effects

Welles also pioneered several visual effects in order to cheaply shoot things like crowd scenes and large interior spaces. For example, the scene where the camera in the opera house rises dramatically to the rafters to show the workmen showing a lack of appreciation for the second Mrs. Kane's performance was shot by a camera booming upwards over the performance scene, then a curtain wipe to a miniature of the upper regions of the house, and then another curtain wipe matching it again with the scene of the workmen. Other scenes effectively employed miniatures to make the film look much more expensive than it truly was, such as various shots of Xanadu. A loud, full-screen closeup of a typewriter typing a single word ("weak"), magnifies the review for the Chicago Inquirer.


The film broke new ground with its use of special effects makeup, created by makeup artist Maurice Seiderman, believably aging the cast many decades over the course of the story.


Welles brought his experience with sound from radio along to filmmaking, producing a layered and complex soundtrack. In one scene, the elderly Kane strikes Susan in a tent on the beach, and the two characters silently glower at each other while a woman at the nearby party can be heard hysterically laughing in the background, her giddiness in grotesque counterpoint to the misery of Susan and Kane. Elsewhere, Welles skillfully employed reverberation to create a mood, such as the chilly echo of the monumental Thatcher library, where the reporter is confronted by an intimidating, officious librarian.

In addition to expanding on the potential of sound as a creator of moods and emotions, Welles pioneered a new aural technique, known as the "lightning-mix". Welles used this technique to link complex montage sequences via a series of related sounds or phrases. In offering a continuous sound track, Welles was able to join what would otherwise be extremely rough cuts together into a smooth narrative. For example, the audience witnesses Kane grow from a child into a young man in just two shots. As Kane's guardian hands him his sled, Kane begrudgingly wishes him a "Merry Christmas". Suddenly we are taken to a shot of his guardian fifteen years later, only to have the phrase completed for us: "and a Happy New Year". In this case, the continuity of the soundtrack, not the image, is what makes for a seamless narrative structure.

Welles also carried over techniques from radio not yet popular in the movies (though they would become staples). Using a number of voices, each saying a sentence or sometimes merely a fragment of a sentence, and splicing the dialogue together in quick succession, the result gave the impression of a whole town talking — and, equally important, what the town was talking about. Welles also favored the overlapping of dialogue, considering it more realistic than the stage and movie tradition of characters not stepping on each other's sentences. He also pioneered the technique of putting the audio ahead of the visual in scene transitions (a J-cut); as a scene would come to a close, the audio would transition to the next scene before the visuals did.


In common with using personnel he had previously worked with in the Mercury Theatre, Welles recruited his close friend Bernard Herrmann to score Citizen Kane. Herrmann was a longtime collaborator with Welles, providing music for almost all his radio broadcasts including The Fall of the City (1937) and the War of the Worlds (1938) broadcast. The film was Herrmann's first motion picture score and would be nominated for an Academy Award for Original Music Score but would lose out to his own score for the film All That Money Can Buy.

Herrmann's score for Citizen Kane was a watershed in film soundtrack composition and proved as influential as any of the film's other innovations and established him as an important voice in film soundtrack composition. The score eschewed the typical Hollywood practice of scoring a film with virtually non-stop music. Instead Herrmann used what he later described as '"radio scoring", musical cues which typically lasted between five and fifteen seconds to bridge the action or suggest a different emotional response.

Herrmann realized that musicians slated to play his music were hired for individual unique sessions; there was no need to write for existing ensembles. This meant that he was free to score for unusual combinations of instruments, even instruments that are not commonly heard. In the opening sequence, for example, the tour of Kane's estate Xanadu, Herrmann introduces a recurring leitmotiv played by low woodwinds, including a quartet of bass flutes. Much of the music used in the newsreel was taken from other sources; examples include the News on the March music which was taken from RKO's music library, Belgian March by Anthony Collins, and accompanies the newsreel titles; and an excerpt from Alfred Newman's score for Gunga Din which is used as the background for the exploration of Xanadu. In the final sequence of the film, which shows the destruction of Rosebud in the fireplace of Kane’s castle, Welles choreographed the scene while he had Herrmann’s cue playing on the set.

For the famous operatic sequence which exposed Kane's protege Susan Alexander for the amateur she was, Herrmann composed a quasi-romantic scene, Aria from Salammbô. There did exist two treatments of this work by Gustave Flaubert's 1862 novel, including an opera by Ernest Reyer and an incomplete treatment by Modeste Mussorgsky. However, Herrmann made no reference to existing music. Herrmann put the aria in a key that would force the singer to strain to reach the high notes, culminating in a high D, well outside the range of Susan Alexander. Herrmann said he wanted to convey the impression of a terrified girl floundering in the quicksand of a powerful orchestra. On the soundtrack it was soprano Jean Forward who actually sang the vocal part for actress Dorothy Comingore.

In 1972 Herrmann said "I was fortunate to start my career with a film like Citizen Kane, it's been a downhill run ever since!". Shortly before his death in 1985, Welles told director Henry Jaglom that that the score was fifty per cent responsible for the film’s artistic success.

However, Herrmann was vocal in his criticism of Pauline Kael's claim not only on her position that it was Mankiewicz, not Welles, who made the main thrust of the film but also in her assumptions about the use of music in the film without consulting him:

Pauline Kael has written in The Citizen Kane Book (1971), that the production wanted to use Massenet’s "Thais" but could not afford the fee. "But Miss Kael never wrote or approached me to ask about the music. We could easily have afforded the fee. The point is that its lovely little strings would not have served the emotional purpose of the film."

Opera lovers are frequently amused by the parody of vocal coaching that appears in a singing lesson given to Susan Alexander by Signor Matiste. The character attempts to sing the famous cavatina "Una voce poco fa" from Il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini, but the lesson is interrupted when Alexander sings a high note flat.

An uncredited Nat King Cole is believed to provide the music in two key scenes in the film. He can be heard playing piano, but not singing, This Can't Be Love, (actually sung by Alton Redd), in the scene where Susan fights with Kane. Welles heard him playing at a bar and created the scene around the song. Later he can be heard playing in the scene where Thompson questions a down at heel Susan in the nightclub she works, however Bernard Herrmann denied any knowledge of this to musicologist David Meeker.


NY City premiere, May 1, 1941

In a 1941 review, Jorge Luis Borges called Citizen Kane a "metaphysical detective story," in that "... [its] subject (both psychological and allegorical) is the investigation of a man's inner self, through the works he has wrought, the words he has spoken, the many lives he has ruined..." Borges noted that "Overwhelmingly, endlessly, Orson Welles shows fragments of the life of the man, Charles Foster Kane, and invites us to combine them and reconstruct him." As well, "Forms of multiplicity and incongruity abound in the film: the first scenes record the treasures amassed by Kane; in one of the last, a poor woman, luxuriant and suffering, plays with an enormous jigsaw puzzle on the floor of a palace that is also a museum." Borges points out, "At the end we realize that the fragments are not governed by a secret unity: the detested Charles Foster Kane is a simulacrum, a chaos of appearances."

Despite numerous positive reviews from critics at the time, the film was not a box office success, just making back enough to cover the budget, but not enough to make a profit.

Due to the Second World War, Citizen Kane was little seen and virtually forgotten until its release in Europe in 1946, where it gained considerable acclaim, particularly from French film critics such as André Bazin. In the United States, it was neglected and forgotten until its revival on television in the mid-1950s, and its critical fortunes have been significantly transformed since then. Critics worldwide began listing it among the best films ever made. The Sight & Sound Top Ten list, revised every ten years, began in 1952 and first listed Citizen Kane in 1962.

Hearst's response

Hearing about the film enraged Hearst so much that he banned any discussion of it in any of his publications. Louie B Mayer, presumably at Hearst's request, offered RKO Pictures $800,000 to destroy all prints of the film and burn the negative. Although it is often said that Hearst was upset because the film was about him, one alternative theory is that Hearst was more upset about the portrayal of Marion Davies (as singer Susan Alexander) than himself in the film. Welles and Hearst were both very similar in that they both were ambitious, willing to bend the rules, and do whatever it took to shock and be the best. The feud became so big that it destroyed both men's careers.

When RKO rejected Hearst's offer to suppress the film, Hearst banned every newspaper and station in his media conglomerate from reviewing — or even mentioning — the movie. He also had many movie theaters ban it, and many didn't show it through fear of being socially exposed by his massive newspaper empire. The documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane lays the blame for Citizen Kane's relative failure squarely at the feet of Hearst. Even though it did decent business at the box-office and went on to be the sixth highest grossing film in its year of release, this fell short of its creators' expectations but was still acceptable to its backers. In The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, David Nasaw points out that Hearst's actions were not the only reason Kane failed, however: the innovations Welles made with narrative, as well as the dark message at the heart of the film (that the pursuit of success is ultimately futile) meant that a popular audience could not appreciate its merits (Nasaw, 572-573).

In a pair of Arena documentaries about Welles' career produced and broadcast domestically by the BBC in 1982, Welles claimed that during opening week, a policeman approached him one night and told him: "Do not go to your hotel room tonight; Hearst has set up an undressed, underage girl to leap into your arms when you enter and a photographer to take pictures of you. Hearst is planning to publish it in all of his papers". Welles thanked the man and stayed out all night. However, it is not confirmed whether this was true. Welles also described his only meeting with William Randolph Hearst: in an elevator in a building in San Franciscomarker, where the film was being premiered. Welles offered Hearst some free tickets but the tycoon declined to answer; Welles later stated that Charles Foster Kane would probably have accepted the offer.

Although Hearst's efforts to suppress it damaged the film's success, they backfired in the long run, since almost every reference of Hearst's life and career made today typically includes a reference to the film's parallel to it. The irony of Hearst's efforts is that the film is now inexorably connected to him. This connection was reinforced by the publication in 1961 of W. A. Swanberg's extensive biography titled Citizen Hearst.

Awards and honors

Academy Awards – 1941

Citizen Kane was the 16th film to get more than six Academy Awards nominations.

Of the 23 (13 would have been eligible for Citizen Kane) competitive awards which given at the time, Citizen Kane had 9 nominations. The Academy did not award Citizen Kane Best Actress for Dorothy Comingore, Best Supporting Actor for Joseph Cotten and Everett Sloane, Best Supporting Actress for Agnes Moorehead and Best Special Effects for Vernon L. Walker.

It was the Winner of 1 Academy Award.
Award Result Winner
Outstanding Motion Picture RKO Pictures (Orson Welles, Producer)

Winner was How Green Was My Valley (Darryl F. Zanuck, Producer)
Best Director Orson Welles

Winner was John Ford - How Green Was My Valley
Best Actor Orson Welles

Winner was Gary Cooper - Sergeant York
Best Writing Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz
Best Art Direction Perry Ferguson

Van Nest Polglase

A. Roland Fields

Darrell Silvera

Winner was Richard Day, Nathan H. Juran Thomas Little - How Green Was My Valley
Best Cinematography Gregg Toland

Winner was Arthur Charles Miller - How Green Was My Valley
Best Film Editing Robert Wise

Winner was William Holmes - Sergeant York
Best Music Bernard Herrmann

Winner was Bernard Herrmann - The Devil and Daniel Webster
Best Sound Recording John O. Aalberg

Winner was Jack Whitney - That Hamilton Woman

Boos were heard almost every time Citizen Kane was referred to during the Oscars ceremony that year. Most of Hollywood did not want the film to see the light of day considering the threats that William Randolph Hearst had made if it did.

In December 2007, Welles' Oscar for best original screenplay came up for auction at Sotheby's in New Yorkmarker, but failed to reach its estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. The Oscar which was believed to have been lost by Welles was rediscovered in 1994 and is owned by the Dax Foundation, a Los Angeles based charity. At the same sale Welles' personal copy of the last revised draft of Citizen Kane before the shooting script did sell for $97,000.


The National Board of Review gave 1941 "Best Acting" awards to Orson Welles and George Coulouris, and the film itself "Best Picture." That same year, the New York Times named it one of the Ten Best Films of the year, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for "Best Picture" also went to Citizen Kane.


In 1989, the United States Library of Congressmarker deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Beginning in 1962, and every ten years since, it has been voted the best film ever made by the Sight and Sound poll of film critics and directors. The film has also ranked number one in the following film "best of" lists: Editorial Jaguar, FIAF Centenary List, France Critics Top 10, Cahiers du cinéma 100 films pour une cinémathèque idéale, Kinovedcheskie Russia Top 10, Romanian Critics Top 10, Time Out Magazine Greatest Films, and Village Voice 100 Greatest Films. Roger Ebert called Citizen Kane the greatest movie ever made.[454]

American Film Institute recognition


Despite its status, Citizen Kane is not entirely without its critics. Boston Universitymarker film scholar Ray Carney, although noting its technical achievements, criticized what he saw as the film's lack of emotional depth, shallow characterization and empty metaphors. Listing it among the most overrated works within the film community, he accused the film of being "an all-American triumph of style over substance... indistinguishable from the opera production within it: attempting to conceal the banality of its performances by wrapping them in a thousand layers of acoustic and visual processing". Of its director, he went on to state, "Welles is Kane — in a sense he couldn't have intended — substituting razzle-dazzle for truth and hoping no one notices the sleight of hand". He also criticized critics and scholars for allowing themselves to be pandered to, stating "critics obviously enjoy being told what to think or they'd never sit still for the hammy acting, cartoon characterizations, tendentious photography, editorializing blockings, and absurdly grandiose (and annoyingly insistent) metaphors....When will film studies grow up? Even Jedediah Leland, the opera reviewer in the film, knew better than to be taken in by Salammbo's empty reverberations." The Swedishmarker director Ingmar Bergman once stated his dislike for the movie, calling it "a total bore" and claiming that the "performances are worthless". He went on to call Orson Welles an "infinitely overrated filmmaker".

Similarly, James Agate wrote, "I thought the photography quite good, but nothing to write to Moscow about, the acting middling, and the whole thing a little dull...Mr. Welles's high-brow direction is of that super-clever order which prevents you from seeing what that which is being directed is all about."


The original camera negative of Citizen Kane was destroyed in a New Jersey film laboratory fire in the 1970s. Subsequent prints were ultimately derived from a nitrate fine grain positive made in the 1940s.

Modern techniques were used to produce a pristine print for a 50th Anniversary theatrical revival reissue in 1991 (released by Paramount Pictures). The 2003 Britishmarker DVD edition is taken from an interpositive held by the British Film Institute. The current US DVD version (released by Warner Home Video) is taken from another digital restoration, supervised by Turner's company. The transfer to Region 1 DVD has been criticised by some film experts for being too bright. Also, in the scene in Bernstein's office (chapter 10) rain falling outside the window has been digitally erased, probably because it was thought to be excessive film grain. These alterations are not present in the UK Region 2, which is also considered to be more accurate in terms of contrast and brightness.

In 2003, Orson Welles' daughter Beatrice sued Turner Entertainment and RKO Pictures, claiming that the Welles estate is the legal copyright holder of the film. Her attorney said that Orson Welles had left RKO with an exit deal terminating his contracts with the studio, meaning that Welles still had an interest in the film and his previous contract giving the studio the copyright of the film was null and void. Beatrice Welles also claimed that, if the courts did not uphold her claim of copyright, RKO nevertheless owed the estate 20% of the profits, from a previous contract which has not been lived up to.

On May 30, 2007, the appeals panel agreed that Beatrice Welles could proceed with the lawsuit against Turner Entertainment, the opinion partially overturns the 2004 decision by a lower court judge who had found in favor of Turner Entertainment on the issue of video rights.

In the 1980s, this film became the catalyst in the controversy over the colorization of black and white films. When Ted Turner told members of the press that he was considering colorizing Citizen Kane, his comments led to an immediate public outcry. Welles supposedly told friends that he intended to "keep Ted Turner and his goddamned Crayolas away from my movie." The uproar was for naught, as Turner Pictures had never actually announced that this was an upcoming planned project. Turner later claimed that this was a joke designed to needle colorization critics, and that he had never had any intention of colorizing the film. Turner could not have colorized the film had he wanted to. Welles' original contract prevented any alteration to the film without his, and eventually his estate's, express consent.

Popular culture references

Rosebud , the fourth episode of Season 5, parodies Citizen Kane with Montgomery Burns in the role of Charles Foster Kane.

Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz saw Citizen Kane 40 times and included it in the 12/9/73 Sunday Peanuts comic strip. Linus is watching the movie for the first time and his sister Lucy ruins the surprise ending by revealing that "Rosebud" was Kane's sled.

On Family Guy Season 3, Episode 13, Peter Griffin says: "It (Rosebud) was his sled. It was his sled from when he was a kid. There, I just saved you two long boobless hours".

Multitudinous IMDB movie connections for Citizen Kane:

See also




  • Bogdanovich, Peter and Welles, Orson This Is Orson Welles, HarperPerennial 1992, ISBN 0-06-092439-X
  • Callow, Simon. Orson Welles : Hello Americans London: Johnathon Cape, 2006. ISBN 0-224-038-532.
  • Carringer, Robert L. The Making of Citizen Kane. University of California Press, 1985. ISBN 0-520-05876-3.
  • Gottesman, Ronald, ed. Focus on Citizen Kane. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
  • Heylin, Clinton. Despite the System: Orson Welles Versus the Hollywood Studios, Chicago Review Press, 2005.
  • Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst.New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

External links

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