Welles was an acknowledged child genius when he joined the Mercury Theatre group and on Halloween 1938 created panic in New York with his legendary War Of The Worlds broadcast, that treated the story as a news broadcast as if the Martians were actually landing, New Yorkers fled their homes in terror.
With the thoughts of this, well if he can do that on the radio, what can he do in cinema? RKO signed him to the biggest toy train set any child has ever had, a contract that allowed to do basically anything he wanted.
He originally started work on an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Hearts Of Darkness” (eventually sort of filmed by Francis Ford Coppola as “Apocalypse Now”), but after the model shots didn’t seemed to work, began work on a script with Herman J Mankiewicz on a project originally titled “American”, based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, press baron. He was actor, producer, co-writer and director.
With the help of DP (director of photography ) Gregg Toland, who had just finished work on “The Grapes Of Wrath” and “The Long Voyage Home” for John Ford, he created a deep focus affect throughout the film, where everyone is in focus. Due to his background in theatre he put ceilings in all the sets and shot through the floor (ceilings had been seen in film before, but not to such an affect).
Welles used a cast of unknowns (including for the first music score from Bernard Herrmann) to achieve his tale of reporter Thompson sent out to find out the meaning of Charles Foster Kane’s last word “Rosebud”. “Maybe it was a girl, there was a lot of them back in the early days” “One day back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, on it was a girl waiting to get off, a white dress she had on, she was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second, she didn’t see me at all, but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since when I haven’t thought of that girl” – it is full of choice moments like this.
Dilys Powell (of The Times) said “It is more fun than any other movie masterpiece and that is why is has been my favourite film of all time since the day it was released”.
On first release, it was hailed as a classic, but flopped and RKO scared chopped 51 minutes off Welles’ next film “The Magnificent Ambersons” and reshot a new ending whilst he was away in Rio shooting a documentary “It’s All True” (which was never released), he never forgave Hollywood and spent years wandering around Europe and the rest of the world taking bit parts to try and make money to direct movies, this is the only film he made where he had final say on it.
As David Thomson say’s in his book “Have You Seen?”, once a film disappeared after first release, it became incredibly difficult to see, remember no VCR, no DVD and certainly no internet! You had to rely on film clubs to get films in and “Citizen Kane” disappeared until the late 50s, so this explains it’s absence from the first “Sight & Sound” best ten in 1952, you can’t choice a film you have never seen. He says that he gets frustrated when people choose “Cinema Paradiso” as their all time favourite foreign language film, but if they have only seen one foreign language film, this is what they are going to choose. “Citizen Kane’s” re-appearance in the late 50s caught a new wave a critics and directors who were seeing it for the first time and it has topped the Sight & Sound best ten list every time since 1962, will it top the list again next year? Who can tell!
I saw the film just before its 50th birthday for the first time, it has now just turned 70 which makes me feel incredibly old!
US Premiere 01/05/1941 (New York City)
US Release 05/09/1941
UK Release 24/01/1942
DF Viewing 24/09/1991