When a young Orson Welles set out to write his first feature film, Citizen Kane, he couldn’t have anticipated that it would one day be regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time. Welles not only co-wrote the screenplay of Citizen Kane, but also produced, directed, and starred in the film, which in 1941 was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning the award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay). Welles himself was nominated for four of those Academy Awards, becoming the first person in history to receive simultaneous nominations in four categories.
Citizen Kane, released on September 5, 1941, follows the life of Welles’s character Charles Foster Kane: a character loosely based off of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, as well as Chicago business magnates Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick. William Randolph Hearst, founder of the country’s largest newspaper and media company Hearst Communications, was extremely put off by Welles’s power-hungry characterization of Hearst in main character Kane and unflattering depiction of Hearst’s wife in the character of Susan Alexander Kane. Hearst prohibited the mention of the film in his newspapers and used more nefarious methods in an attempt to suppress the film, including intimidation, blackmail and FBI investigations. The controversy surrounding the film was so profound that it became the subject of a 1996 Oscar-nominated documentary: The Battle Over Citizen Kane. HBO revisited the story in a cable-TV film produced in 1999 called RKO 281 – the title referencing the project numbering for the film prior to it being titled.
One explanation for Citizen Kane’s critical success lies in its innovative cinematography and narrative structure. The majority of this mystery drama is narrated through flashbacks, storying a reporter’s findings surrounding the mysterious circumstances of main character Charles Foster Kane’s death. Despite the film’s overwhelming critical success, it didn’t see strong financial success, failing to recoup its $800,000 budget in ticket revenue; this was due, in part, to efforts by William Randolph Hearst to suppress coverage of the film and limit its distribution. The film faded from public view until 1956, when renowned film critics in the US and abroad spurred the film’s revival.
At Mercury One, we are proud to have in our possession an artifact from the making of this bold and remarkably innovative film. Below is an image of a Citizen Kane manuscript.
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