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Citizen Kane

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Citizen Kane
Poster showing two women in the bottom left of the picture looking up towards a man in a white suit in the top right of the picture.
Theatrical poster
Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by Orson Welles
Written by
  • Herman J. Mankiewicz
  • Orson Welles
  • Orson Welles
  • Joseph Cotten
  • Dorothy Comingore
  • Everett Sloane
  • Ray Collins
  • George Coulouris
  • Agnes Moorehead
  • Paul Stewart
  • Ruth Warrick
  • Erskine Sanford
  • William Alland
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Gregg Toland
Editing by Robert Wise
Studio Mercury Theatre
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release date(s)
  • May 1, 1941 (1941-05-01)
Running time 119 minutes
Language English
Budget $839,727
Box office $1,585,634 (United States)

Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film, directed by and starring Orson Welles. The film is often considered the greatest of all time and is particularly praised for its innovative cinematography, music and narrative structure. Citizen Kane was Welles' first feature film. The film was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories; it won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) by Herman Mankiewicz and Welles. It was released by RKO Pictures.

The story is a film à clef that examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, a character based upon the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and Welles' own life. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. Kane's 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 newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate's dying word: "Rosebud."

After his success in the theatre with his Mercury Players and his controversial 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, Welles was courted by Hollywood. He signed a contract with RKO Pictures in 1939. Unusual for an untried director, he was given the freedom to develop his own story and use his own cast and crew, and was given final cut privilege. Following two abortive attempts to get a project off the ground, he developed the screenplay of Citizen Kane with Herman Mankiewicz. Principal photography took place in 1940 and the film received its American release in 1941.

A critical success, Citizen Kane failed to recoup its costs at the box-office. The film faded from view soon after but its reputation was restored, initially by French critics and more widely after its American revival in 1956. There is a semi-official consensus among film critics that Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made, which has led Roger Ebert to quip: "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), an enormously wealthy media proprietor, 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 while holding a snow globe and utters "Rosebud..."; the globe slips from his lifeless hand and smashes. Kane's death then becomes sensational news around the world. Newsreel 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 and adolescence. 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) at Xanadu.

Flashbacks reveal that Kane's childhood was spent in poverty (his parents ran a boarding house), until the "world's third largest gold mine" was discovered on an apparently worthless property his mother had acquired. He is forced to leave his mother ( Agnes Moorehead) when she sends him away to live with Thatcher, to be educated. 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. His attempted rise to power is documented, including his manipulation of public opinion for the Spanish American War; his first marriage to Emily Monroe Norton ( Ruth Warrick), a President's niece; and his campaign for the office of governor of New York State, for which alternative newspaper headlines are created depending on the result.

Kane's marriage disintegrates over the years, and he begins an affair with Susan Alexander. Both his wife and his opponent discover the affair, simultaneously ending his marriage and his political career. Kane marries his mistress, and forces her into an operatic career for which she has no talent or ambition. She attempts suicide, and eventually, after a span of time spent in boredom and isolation in Xanadu, leaves him.

Kane spends his last years building his vast estate and lives alone, interacting only with his staff. The butler recounts that Kane had said "Rosebud" after Susan left him, right after seeing a snow globe.

At Xanadu, Kane's belongings are being catalogued, most of which are practically worthless. During this time, Thompson finds that he 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 - an allusion to the only time in his life when he was truly happy. The sled, thought to be junk, is burned and destroyed by Xanadu's departing staff in a basement furnace.

Cast and characters

Major characters

  • Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane: the titular Citizen Kane of the movie, a wealthy, megalomanianical newspaper publisher whose life is the subject of the movie.
  • William Alland as Jerry Thompson: the reporter in charge of finding out the meaning of Kane's last word, "Rosebud". Thompson is seen only in shadow or with his back turned to the camera.
  • Ray Collins as Jim W. Gettys: Kane's political rival and the incumbent governor of New York. Kane appears to be the frontrunner in the campaign, but Gettys exposes Kane's relationship with Susan Alexander which leads to his defeat.
  • Dorothy Comingore as Susan Alexander Kane: Kane's mistress, who later becomes his second wife.
  • Joseph Cotten as Jedediah Leland: Kane's best friend and the first reporter on Kane's paper. Leland continues to work for Kane as his empire grows, although they grow apart over the years. Kane fires Leland after he writes a bad review of Susan Alexander Kane's operatic debut.
  • George Coulouris as Walter Parks Thatcher: a miserly banker who becomes Kane's legal guardian.
  • Agnes Moorehead as Mary Kane: Kane's mother.
  • Harry Shannon as Jim Kane: Kane's father.
  • Everett Sloane as Mr. Bernstein: Kane's friend and employee who remains loyal to him to the end. According to RKO records, Sloane was paid $2400 for shaving his head.
  • Ruth Warrick as Emily Monroe Norton Kane: Kane's first wife and the niece of the President. She leaves him after discovering his affair with Susan Alexander. She dies in a car accident along with their only child, a son, a few years later.
  • Paul Stewart as Raymond: Kane's cynical butler who assists him in his later years. Stewart had discovered Welles when he was a radio producer.

Minor characters

  • Georgia Backus as Bertha Anderson.
  • Fortunio Bonanova as Signor Matiste.
  • Sonny Bupp as Charles Foster Kane III: Kane's son who later dies in a car accident with his mother. Bupp was the last surviving cast member of Citizen Kane when he died in 2007.
  • Buddy Swan as Young Charles Foster Kane.
  • Erskine Sanford as Herbert Carter.
  • Gus Schilling as The Headwaiter.
  • Philip Van Zandt as Mr. Rawlston.

The film's end credits read "Most of the principal actors are new to motion pictures. The Mercury Theatre is proud to introduce them." Welles along with his partner John Houseman had assembled them into a group known as the Mercury Players to perform his productions in the Mercury Theatre in 1937. After accepting his Hollywood contract in 1939, Welles worked between Los Angeles and New York where the Mercury Theatre continued their weekly radio broadcasts for The Campbell Playhouse. Welles had wanted all the Mercury Players to debut in his first film, but the cancellation of The Heart of Darkness project in December 1939 created a financial crisis for the group and some of the actors worked elsewhere. This caused friction between Welles and Houseman, and their partnership ended.

RKO executives were dismayed that so many of the major roles went to unknowns, but Welles's contract left them with no say in the matter. The film features debuts from William Alland, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, Ruth Warrick and Welles himself. An uncredited Alan Ladd appears as one of the newspaper reporters.



Orson Welles' notoriety following The War of the Worlds broadcast earned him Hollywood's interest, and RKO studio head George J. Schaefer's unusual contract. Welles made a deal with Schaefer on July 21, 1939 to produce, direct, write, and act in two feature films. The studio had to approve the story and the budget if it exceeded $500,000. Welles was allowed to develop the story without interference, cast his own actors and crew members, and have the privilege of final cut – unheard of at the time for a first-time director. He had spent the first five months of his RKO contract trying to get several projects going with no success. The Hollywood Reporter said, "They are laying bets over on the RKO lot that the Orson Welles deal will end up without Orson ever doing a picture there." First, Welles tried to adapt Heart of Darkness, but there was concern over the idea to depict it entirely with point of view shots. Welles considered adapting Cecil Day-Lewis' novel The Smiler With The Knife, but realized that to challenge himself with a new medium, he had to write an original story.

Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz was recuperating from a car accident and in-between jobs. He had originally been hired by Welles to work on The Campbell Playhouse radio program and was available to work on the screenplay for Welles' film. The writer had only received two screenplay credits between 1935 and his work on Citizen Kane and needed the job. There is dispute amongst historians regarding whose idea it was to use William Randolph Hearst as the basis for Charles Foster Kane. Welles claimed it was his idea while film critic Pauline Kael (in her essay "Raising Kane") and Welles' former business partner John Houseman claim that it was Mankiewicz's idea. For some time, Mankiewicz had wanted to write a screenplay about a public figure – perhaps a gangster – whose story would be told by the people that knew him.

Mankiewicz had already written an unperformed play entitled, The Tree Will Grow about John Dillinger. Welles liked the idea of multiple viewpoints but was not interested in playing Dillinger. Mankiewicz and Welles talked about picking someone else to use a model. They hit on the idea of using Hearst as their central character. Mankiewicz had frequented Hearst's parties until his alcoholism got him barred. The writer resented this and became obsessed with Hearst and Marion Davies. Hearst had great influence and the power to retaliate within Hollywood so Welles had Mankiewicz work on the script outside of the city. Because of the writer's drinking problem, Houseman went along to provide assistance and make sure that he stayed focused. Welles also sought inspiration from Howard Hughes and Samuel Insull (who built an opera house for his girlfriend). Although Mankiewicz and Houseman got on well with Welles, they incorporated some of his traits into Kane, such as his temper.

During production, Citizen Kane was referred to as RKO 281. Most of the filming took place between June 29, 1940 and October 23, 1940 in what is now Stage 19 on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. There was some location filming with Balboa Park in San Diego, San Diego Zoo and Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York representing Kane's San Simeon estate. 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. According to an RKO cost sheet from May 1942, the film cost $839,727 compared to an estimated budget of $723,800.

Pre-release controversy

Welles ran a closed set, limited access to rushes and managed the publicity of Kane to make sure that its influence from Hearst's life was a secret. Publicity materials stated the film's inspiration was Faust. RKO hoped to release the film in mid-February 1941. Writers for national magazines had early deadlines and so a rough cut was previewed for a select few on January 3, 1941. Friday magazine ran an article drawing point-by-point comparisons between Kane and Hearst and documented how Welles had led on Louella Parsons, Hollywood correspondent for Hearst papers, and made a fool of her in public. Reportedly, she was furious and demanded an immediate preview of the film. James Stewart, who was present at the screening, said that she walked out of the film. Soon after, Parsons called George Schaefer and threatened RKO with a lawsuit if they released Kane. The next day, the front page headline in Daily Variety read, "HEARST BANS RKO FROM PAPERS." In two weeks, the ban was lifted for everything except Kane."

The Hollywood Reporter ran a front-page story on January 13 that Hearst papers were about to run a series of editorials attacking Hollywood's practice of hiring refugees and immigrants for jobs that could be done by Americans. The goal was to put pressure on the other studios in order to force RKO to shelve Kane. Soon afterwards, Schaefer was approached by Nicholas Scheck, head of MGM's parent company, with an offer on the behalf of Louis B. Mayer and other Hollywood executives to reimburse RKO if it would destroy the film. Once RKO's legal team reassured Schaefer, the studio announced on January 21 that Kane would be released as scheduled and with one of the largest promotional campaigns in the studio's history. Schaefer brought Welles to New York City for a private screening of the film with the New York corporate heads of the studios and their lawyers. There was no objection to its release provided that certain changes, including the removal or softening of specific references that might offend Hearst, were made. Welles agreed and Wise was brought in to cut the film's running time from two hours, two minutes and 40 seconds to one hour, 59 minutes and 16 seconds. This cut of Kane satisfied the corporate lawyers.



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 behaviour, according to Welles's close friend and associate John Houseman, was also a "public and private scandal. A neurotic and homophobic 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." Orson Welles said that his preparation before making Citizen Kane was to watch John Ford's Stagecoach forty times.

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

According to film critic and author Pauline Kael, 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 family's 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." This "place in the desert" was on the historic Verde ranch on the Mojave River in Victorville. 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

Three men sit in chairs outside a house, a bald man in his forties is sitting in the centre next to a table between the two younger men. The man on the right has his feet on the table and is holding a screenplay. the older man is having his brow wiped by a nurse who is standing over him.
Welles visiting Mankiewicz (centre, as nurse wipes his brow) in the California desert during his writing of Citizen Kane. John Houseman (right) is holding screenplay pages.

One of the long standing debates of Citizen Kane has been the proper accreditation of the authorship of the screenplay, which the 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." 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 Mankiewicz'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." However Welles had his own secretary, Katherine Trosper, who typed up Welles' suggestions and corrections, which were incorporated into the final script; Kael did not interview Trosper before producing her article.

Nevertheless, 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, and Robert L. Carringer, who did likewise in an article for the Winter 1978 edition of Critical Enquiry, referring to early script drafts with Welles' incorporated handwritten contributions. Charles Lederer, a screenwriter and a source for Kael's article, insisted that the credit never came to the Writer's Guild for arbitration.

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 noted in 1971 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 critic David Thomson, however, "No one can now deny Herman Mankiewicz credit for the germ, shape, and pointed language of the screenplay, but no one who has seen the film as often as it deserves to be seen would dream that Welles is not its only begetter." Carringer considered that at least three scenes were solely Welles' work and, after weighing both sides of the argument, including sworn testimony from Mercury assistant Richard Baer, concluded, "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."

French New Wave filmmaker and auteur Jean-Luc Godard said on the topic of Orson Welles, "Everyone will always owe him everything."

Filmmaking innovations


Film 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 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 — an optical printer was used 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 Hollywood 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 and even dug a trench into the floor to allow the low-angle shot to be used in the scene where Kane meets Leland after his election loss.

Toland had approached Welles in 1940 to work on Citizen Kane. Welles' reputation for experimentation in the theatre appealed to Toland and he found a sympathetic partner to "test and prove several ideas generally being accepted as radical in Hollywood".

Storytelling techniques

Citizen Kane eschews the traditional linear, chronological narrative and tells Kane's story entirely in flashback using different points of view, many of them from Kane's aged and forgetful associates, the cinematic equivalent of the unreliable narrator in literature. Welles also dispenses with the idea of a single storyteller and uses multiple narrators to recount Kane's life. The use of multiple narrators was unheard of in Hollywood movies. Each narrator recounts a different part of Kane's life, with each story partly overlapping. The film depicts Kane as an enigma, a complicated man who, in the end, leaves viewers with more questions than answers as to his character, such as the newsreel footage where he is attacked for being both a communist and a fascist. The technique of using flashbacks had been used in earlier films such as Wuthering Heights in 1939 and The Power and the Glory in 1933 but no film was so immersed in this technique as Citizen Kane. The use of the reporter Thompson acts as a surrogate for the audience, questioning Kane's associates and piecing together his life.

One of the narrative voices is the News on the March segment. Its stilted dialogue and portentous voiceover is a parody of The March of Time newsreel series which itself references an earlier newsreel which showed the 85-year old arms czar Sir Basil Zaharoff getting wheeled to his train. Welles had earlier provided voiceovers for the March of Time radio show. Citizen Kane makes extensive use of stock footage to create the newsreel.

One of the story-telling techniques used in Citizen Kane was the use of montage to collapse time and space. 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 the breakfast montage, Welles chronicles the breakdown of Kane's first marriage in 5 vignettes, which takes 16 years of story time and condenses it into two minutes of screen time.

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 craning 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 non-union make up artist Maurice Seiderman created the make-up for the film. RKO wanted the young Kane to look handsome and dashing, and Seiderman transformed the already-overweight Welles, beginning with his nose, which Welles always disliked. Welles was as made up as a young man as he was an old man, and could barely move. For the old Kane, Seiberman created a red plastic compound which he applied to Welles, allowing the wrinkles to move naturally. Kane's mustache was made of several hair tufts. Transforming Welles into the old Kane required six to seven hours, meaning he had to start at two in the morning to begin filming at nine, meaning he held conferences in the make-up chair, and would also work a total of 16 hours a day. Even breaking a leg during filming could not stop him from directing around-the-clock, and he quickly returned to acting, using a steel leg bracer.


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 Best Original 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, establishing 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 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 that it was Mankiewicz, not Welles, who made the main thrust of the film, and also 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. Unconfirmed reports suggest he can also 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.


Release and contemporary responses

Citizen Kane was supposed to open at Radio City Music Hall but did not because Parsons told Nelson Rockefeller that if the film was screened, Hearst's American Weekly magazine would run a negative article about his grandfather. Other exhibitors feared retaliation and refused to handle the film. Schaefer lined up a few theaters but Welles grew impatient and threatened RKO with a lawsuit. Hearst papers refused to accept advertising for the film. Kane opened at the RKO Palace on Broadway in New York on May 1, 1941, in Chicago on May 6, and in Los Angeles on May 8. Kane did well in cities and larger towns but fared poorly in more remote areas. RKO still had problems getting exhibitors to show the film. For example, one chain controlling more than 500 theaters got Welles' film as part of a package but refused to play it, reportedly out of fear of Hearst. The film lost $150,000 during its initial run.

The reviews for the film were overwhelmingly positive, although some reviewers were challenged by Welles' break with Hollywood traditions. Kate Cameron, in her review for the New York Daily-News, said that Kane was "one of the most interesting and technically superior films that has ever come out of a Hollywood studio". In his review for the New World Telegram, William Boehnel said that the film was "staggering and belongs at once among the greatest screen achievements". Otis Ferguson, in his review for The New Republic, said that Kane was "the boldest free-hand stroke in major screen production since Griffith and Bitzer were running wild to unshackle the camera". John O'Hara, in Newsweek, called it "the best picture he'd ever seen" and Bosley Crowther writing in The New York Times wrote that "it comes close to being the most sensational film ever made in Hollywood".

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."


14th Academy Awards (Oscars) – 1941

Citizen Kane, with 9 nominations, was the 16th film to get more than six Academy Awards nominations. It was nominated for:

  • Outstanding Motion Picture – RKO Radio Pictures ( Orson Welles, Producer)
  • Best Director – Orson Welles
  • Best Actor – Orson Welles
  • Best Writing (Original Screenplay) – Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz
  • Best Art Direction (Black-and-White) – Perry Ferguson, Van Nest Polglase, A. Roland Fields, Darrell Silvera
  • Best Film Editing – Robert Wise
  • Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) – Gregg Toland
  • Best Music (Score of a Dramatic Picture) – Bernard Herrmann
  • Best Sound Recording – John O. Aalberg

It was widely thought the film would win most of the awards it was nominated for, but it only won the Best Writing (Original Screenplay) Oscar.

Film editor Robert Wise recalled each time Citizen Kane's name was called out as a nominee, the crowd booed. 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. According to Variety, block voting against Welles by screen extras denied him Best Picture and Actor awards. British film critic Barry Norman attributed this to Hearst's wrath.

In December 2007, Welles' Oscar for best original screenplay came up for auction at Sotheby's in New York, 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.

Other awards

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.

Hearst's response

Hearing about the film enraged Hearst so much that he banned any advertising, reviewing or mentioning of it in his papers, and had his journalists libel Welles. Following lobbying from Hearst, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Louis B Mayer, acting on behalf of the whole film industry, made an offer to RKO Pictures of $805,000 to destroy all prints of the film and burn the negative. Welles used Hearst's opposition to Citizen Kane as a pretext for previewing the movie in several opinion-making screenings in Los Angeles, lobbying for its artistic worth against the hostile campaign that Hearst was waging.

When George Schaefer of 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 did not 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.

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 how he accidentally bumped into Hearst in an elevator at the Fairmont Hotel when Kane was opening in San Francisco. Welles' father had been friends with Hearst, so Welles tried to comfortably ask if Hearst would see the film. Hearst ignored him. "As he was getting off at his floor, I said 'Charles Foster Kane would have accepted.' No reply", recalled the director. "And Kane would have you know. That was his style."

Although Hearst's efforts to suppress it damaged the film's success, they backfired in the long run, since almost every reference to 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, Citizen Hearst.

Subsequent re-evaluation and recognition

By 1942 Citizen Kane had run its course theatrically and, apart from a few showings at big city arthouse cinemas, it largely vanished from America until 1956. In that period, Kane's and Welles' reputation fell among American critics. In 1949 critic Richard Griffith in his overview of cinema, The Film Till Now, dismissed Kane as "tinpot if not crackpot Freud."

Due to World War II, Citizen Kane was little seen in Europe. It was not until 1946 that it was shown in France, where it gained considerable acclaim, particularly from film critics such as André Bazin and from Cahiers du cinema writers, including future film directors François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. In his 1950 essay "The Evolution of Cinema", Bazin placed Citizen Kane centre stage as a work which ushered in a new period in cinema.

In the United States, it was neglected and forgotten until its revival on television in the mid-1950s. Three key events in 1956 led to its re-evaluation in the United States. RKO was one of the first studios to sell its library to television and early that year Citizen Kane started to appear on television. Around the same time the film was rereleased theatrically to coincide with Welles return to the New York stage where he played King Lear. That year American film critic Andrew Sarris wrote "Citizen Kane: The American Baroque" for Film Culture and described it as "the great American film," further enhancing the film's status. During the Expo 58, a poll of over 100 film historians named The Battleship Potemkin the greatest film ever made, while Kane was part of the top ten. When a group of young film directors cast their vote for their top six, they were booed at the announcement for not including the film. In the decades since, its critical status as one of the greatest films ever made has grown with numerous essays and books on it including influential books like Peter Cowie's The Cinema of Orson Welles, Ronald Gottesman's Focus on Citizen Kane, a collection of significant reviews and background pieces, and most notably Kael's essay, "Raising Kane", which promoted the value of the film to a much wider audience than it had reached before. Despite its criticism of Welles it further popularized the notion of Citizen Kane as the great American film. The rise of art house and film society circuits also aided in the film's rediscovery.

The British magazine Sight & Sound has produced a Top Ten list surveying film critics every decade since 1952 and is regarded as one of the most respected barometers of critical taste. Citizen Kane was a runner up to the top 10 in its 1952 poll but was voted as the greatest film ever made in its 1962 poll and it has retained the top spot in every subsequent poll.

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.

In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The film currently has a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

American Film Institute recognition

  • 1998 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - #1
  • 2005 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:
    • "Rosebud" #17
  • 2007 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - #1


Despite its status as a revered classic, Citizen Kane is not entirely without its critics. Boston University 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." The Swedish 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 British 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 criticized 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 favour 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. About two weeks before his death, and almost a year before Turner acquired the rights to the MGM catalog, Welles had asked filmaker Henry Jaglom, "Please do this for me. Don't let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons." The uproar was for nothing, as 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. Turner later claimed that this was a joke intended to needle colorization critics, and that he had never had any intention of colorizing the film.


Despite the critical success of Citizen Kane it nevertheless marked a decline in Welles' fortune. In the book Whatever Happened to Orson Welles?, Joseph McBride argues that the problems in making Citizen Kane caused lasting damage to his career. The damage started with RKO violating their contract with him by taking his next film The Magnificent Ambersons away from him and adding a happy ending against his will. Hollywood's treatment of Welles and his work ultimately led to his self imposed exile in Europe for much of the rest of his career where he found a more sympathetic audience.

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.

Film critic Kim Newman believed the film's influence was visible in the film noir that followed, as well as the 1942 Hepburn-Tracy film Keeper of the Flame. Film directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Ridley Scott, Francis Ford Coppola, Bryan Singer, Stephen Frears, Brian De Palma, John Frankenheimer, Tommy Wiseau, the Coen brothers, Sergio Leone and Luc Besson are all fans of Citizen Kane and it influenced their work.

In 1982 Spielberg spent $60,500 to buy the Rosebud sled, and paid homage to the film in the final shot of the government warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg commented, "Rosebud will go over my typewriter to remind me that quality in movies comes first."

The film's structure influenced the biographical films Lawrence of Arabia and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters – which begin with the subject's death and show their life in flashbacks – as well as Welles' thriller Mr. Arkadin.

In popular culture


  • Possibly the first parody of Citizen Kane came in the 1941 Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson film Hellzapoppin', where a character finds a sled on a film set and remarks "I thought they burned that thing."


  • Charles Foster Kane was an influence on the character of Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons, particularly in the episodes " Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish" (where he runs for governor) and " Rosebud" (as he searches for his lost teddy bear).
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