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  • Carrie Specht

Citizen Kane Premiered Today in 1941


May 1, 1941 Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles and starring himself, Joseph Cotten and Dorothy Corningore, premiered at the Palace Theater in New York City. It was the film heard across the world. Although there were many who tried to silence it, the film considered the greatest ever made for more than fifty years, has reigned supreme among scholars and cinema students alike ever since.

Orson Welles was what many consider a "wunderkind", or Wonder kid. He was just twenty-six years old when he became the toast of the New York theater scene and was promptly invited to Hollywood to translate his magic to the silver screen. Full of bravado and youthful passion, Welles chose to tell the tale of a fictional character based all too closely on a real life tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. A man who was larger than life himself and didn't take kindly to the characterization of him and his personal life on display for all to see. Hearst did his best to destroy the reputation of Welles and the success of the movie.

After production wrapped, Hearst forbade any advertisement of the film in any of his newspapers--or indeed any other RKO movies--and offered to buy the negative from studio head George Schaefer in order to destroy it. Fortunately, Welles had already previewed the film to influential industry figures to rave reviews, so it was granted a limited theatrical release. Critics from non-Hearst newspapers fell over themselves praising the film. The film itself was not reviewed in any Hearst newspaper until the mid-1970s, when the film critic for Hearst's "Los Angeles Herald-Examiner", Ray Loynd, finally reviewed it.

Despite all the publicity (good and bad), the film was a box-office flop and was quickly consigned to the RKO vaults. At 1941's Academy Awards the film was booed every time one of its nine nominations was announced. It was only re-released to the public in the mid-'50s. While Hearst managed to succeeded at the time to discredit the film, time has out lasted the influence of the era's greatest newspaper man to allow cinephiles to judge Citizen Kane for themselves. And the verdict is overwhelmingly positive, many considering it the greatest film ever made.

Although nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Art Direction and Best Score, Citizen Kane received only one win for Best Screenplay, an honor shared by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz. And even that award was highly contested at the time with many insiders suggesting Welles had nothing to do with the actual writing.

Regardless of the rumors of the past, one only need watch the film for themselves to determine the true merit of Citizen Kane. Whether or not it's the greatest film ever made, or second best or fiftieth, the fact remains that Orson Welles and his many collaborators created a film that will be remembered for a long time to come.

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