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Named the greatest of all films in poll after critics’ poll for the past half-century, Kane might by now seem suitable for viewing not through the glass of the movie projector but under glass, in the museum of outmoded innovations. So, cynics say, Welles had the camera lowered and photographed the ceilings over his actors’ heads… so, the impresario of CBS’ Mercury Theatre On the Air hijacked radio techniques and put them on film… so, he shot scenes nearly in the dark, to save the cost of dressing a set. So what? This crypto-biography of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst worked, fabulously, thanks to the insider’s knowledge and narrative savvy of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, to cinematographer Gregg Toland’s openness to experiment (he virtually created the film-noir style with this film) and, of course, to the boy-genius vigor the 25-year-old Welles brought to his first Hollywood enterprise. The kid who had never made a movie ignored the rules, and remade movies. We don’t need to replace Citizen Kane with another all-time great film—its expansive, epic vitality remains fresh—but we sure could use another Welles.

A cinematic piece de resistance, Citizen Kane opens the pandora's box to the way Hollywood does the art of film-making

Citizen Kane was supposed to open at Radio City Music Hall but did not because Louella Parsons, Hollywood reporter working for Hearst’s paper 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.

Citizen Kane premieres in Broadway New York, May 1, 1941

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.

Citizen Kane, with 9 nominations, was the 16th film to get more than six Oscar Nominations. It was nominated for: Outstanding Motion Pictures, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Music Scoring and Best Sound Recording.

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

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, bloc voting against Welles by screen extras denied him Best Picture and Actor awards. British film critics Barry Norman attributed this to Hearst’s wrath.

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 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.

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 Critic Circle for “Best Picture” also went to Citizen Kane.

Directed By: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead.

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