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Controversy has long swirled around the authorship of the screenplay for RKO's Citizen Kane (1941), which brought Oscars to Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles. As the film was being prepared for release, Welles attempted to claim sole credit and acknowledged the contributions of Mankiewicz only after being forced to do so by the Writers Guild. Critic Pauline Kael, in her 1971 The Citizen Kane Book, revived the debate with her carefully detailed argument that it was Mankiewicz who was primarily responsible for the screenplay, from inception of the idea through the shooting script. And just what was the extent of the uncredited contribution of frequent Welles associate John Houseman? Whatever the balance of the collaboration, this much is known: When Mankiewicz and Welles began work on the script, it was titled American, and its central figure was an even more thinly veiled caricature of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst than appears in the completed film.
Welles' imaginative storytelling style as a director was reinforced by magnificent performances, beginning with his own in the title role, and groundbreaking techniques in photography, editing and sound. But when the film's highly guarded subject matter was at last revealed at previews in February 1941, Hearst reacted with outrage, forcing repeated postponements of Citizen Kane's premiere with threats of libel and refusing to have the film mentioned in any of his newspapers. The movie finally opened on May 1, 1941, to brilliant notices. However, pressure from Hearst and his friends in the film industry kept it out of many theaters, and it proved too sophisticated for small-town audiences. The film closed its first run with a loss of some $150,000. It was only after World War II, when it resurfaced in Europe and then on American television, that Citizen Kane took its rightful place as a cinematic masterpiece.
Citizen Kane won Oscar nominations in eight other categories: Best Picture, Actor (Welles), Director (Welles), Black and White Cinematography, Interior Decoration, Sound Recording, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture and Film Editing. In what now seems an irony, since the film is considered by many the greatest ever made, the screenplay award was its only Oscar;and some audience members at that year's Academy Awards ceremonies, allegedly influenced by Hearst columnist Louella Parsons, booed the announcement of that victory.
Producer/Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Herman J. Mankiwiecz, Orson Welles, John Houseman (uncredited)
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase, Perry Ferguson (associate)
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Costume Design: Edward Stevenson
Editing: Robert Wise
Original Music: Bernard Herrmann
Principal Cast: Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane), Joseph Cotton (Jedediah Leland), Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Mary Kane), Ruth Warrick (Emily Norton Kane), Ray Collins (Boss James "Jim" W. Gettys), Herbert Carter (Everett Sloane)
BW-120m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
By Roger Fristoe