Citizen Kane is a 1941 American mystery drama film by Orson Welles , its producer, co-author, director and star. The picture was Welles's first feature film . Nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories, it won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles. Considered by many critics, filmmakers, and fans to be the greatest film of all time , Citizen Kane was voted as such in five consecutive Sight & Sound polls of critics, until it was displaced by Vertigo in the 2012 poll. It topped the American Film Institute 's 100 Years ... 100 Movies list in 1998, as well as AFI's 2007 update . Citizen Kane is particularly praised for its cinematography, music, and narrative structure, which were innovative for its time.
The quasi-biographical film examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane , played by Welles, a character based in part upon the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst , Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick , and aspects of Welles's own life. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. Kane's career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks , the story is told through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate's dying word: "Rosebud."
After the Broadway successes of Welles's Mercury Theatre and the controversial 1938 radio broadcast " The War of the Worlds " on The Mercury Theatre on the Air , Welles was courted by Hollywood. He signed a contract with RKO Pictures in 1939. Unusual for an untried director, he was given the freedom to develop his own story, to use his own cast and crew, and to have final cut privilege . Following two abortive attempts to get a project off the ground, he wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane , collaborating on the effort with Herman Mankiewicz. Principal photography took place in 1940 and the film received its American release in 1941.
While a critical success, Citizen Kane failed to recoup its costs at the box office. The film faded from view after its release but was subsequently returned to the public's attention when it was praised by such French critics as André Bazin and given an American revival in 1956. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc on September 13, 2011, for a special 70th anniversary edition.
In a mansion in Xanadu , a vast palatial estate in Florida, the elderly Charles Foster Kane is on his deathbed. Holding a snow globe , he utters a word, "Rosebud", and dies; the globe slips from his hand and smashes on the floor. A newsreel obituary tells the life story of Kane, an enormously wealthy newspaper publisher. Kane's death becomes sensational news around the world, and the newsreel's producer tasks reporter Jerry Thompson with discovering the meaning of "Rosebud".
Thompson sets out to interview Kane's friends and associates. He approaches Kane's second wife, Susan Alexander Kane, now an alcoholic who runs her own nightclub, but she refuses to talk to him. Thompson goes to the private archive of the late banker Walter Parks Thatcher. Through Thatcher's written memoirs, Thompson learns that Kane's childhood began in poverty in Colorado.
In 1871, after a gold mine was discovered on her property, Kane's mother Mary Kane sends Charles away to live with Thatcher so that he would be properly educated. While Thatcher and Charles's parents discuss arrangements inside, the young Kane plays happily with a sled in the snow outside his parents' boarding-house and protests being sent to live with Thatcher.
Years later, after gaining full control over his trust fund at the age of 25, Kane enters the newspaper business and embarks on a career of yellow journalism . He takes control of the New York Inquirer and starts publishing scandalous articles that attack Thatcher's business interests. After the stock market crash in 1929, Kane is forced to sell controlling interest of his newspaper empire to Thatcher.
Back in the present, Thompson interviews Kane's personal business manager, Mr. Bernstein. Bernstein recalls how Kane hired the best journalists available to build the Inquirer ' s circulation. Kane rose to power by successfully manipulating public opinion regarding the Spanish–American War and marrying Emily Norton, the niece of a President of the United States.
Thompson interviews Kane's estranged best friend, Jedediah Leland, in a retirement home . Leland recalls how Kane's marriage to Emily disintegrates more and more over the years, and he begins an affair with amateur singer Susan Alexander while he is running for Governor of New York . Both his wife and his political opponent discover the affair and the public scandal ends his political career. Kane marries Susan and forces her into a humiliating operatic career for which she has neither the talent nor the ambition.
Back in the present, Susan now consents to an interview with Thompson, and recalls her failed opera career. Kane finally allows her to abandon her singing career after she attempts suicide. After years spent dominated by Kane and living in isolation at Xanadu, Susan leaves Kane. Kane's butler Raymond recounts that, after Susan leaves him, Kane begins violently destroying the contents of her bedroom. He suddenly calms down when he sees a snow globe and says, "Rosebud."
Back at Xanadu, Kane's belongings are being cataloged or discarded. Thompson concludes that he is unable to solve the mystery and that the meaning of Kane's last word will forever remain an enigma. As the film ends, the camera reveals that "Rosebud" is the trade name of the sled on which the eight-year-old Kane was playing on the day that he was taken from his home in Colorado. Thought to be junk by Xanadu's staff, the sled is burned in a furnace.
The beginning of the film's ending credits state that "Most of the principal actors in Citizen Kane are new to motion pictures. The Mercury Theatre is proud to introduce them." The cast is listed in the following order:
- Joseph Cotten as Jedediah Leland , Kane's best friend and a reporter for The Inquirer . Cotten also appears (hidden in darkness) in the News on the March screening room. 
- Dorothy Comingore as Susan Alexander Kane , Kane's mistress and second wife. 
- Agnes Moorehead as Mary Kane, Kane's mother. 
- Ruth Warrick as Emily Monroe Norton Kane, Kane's first wife. 
- Ray Collins as Jim W. Gettys , Kane's political rival and the incumbent governor of New York. 
- Erskine Sanford as Herbert Carter, editor of The Inquirer . Sanford also appears (hidden in darkness) in the News on the March screening room. 
- Everett Sloane as Mr. Bernstein, Kane's friend and employee at The Inquirer . 
- William Alland as Jerry Thompson, a reporter for News on the March . Alland also voices the narrator of the News on the March newsreel. 
- Paul Stewart as Raymond, Kane's butler. 
- George Coulouris as Walter Parks Thatcher, a banker who becomes Kane's legal guardian. 
- Fortunio Bonanova as Signor Matiste, vocal coach of Susan Alexander Kane. 
- Gus Schilling as John, headwaiter at the El Rancho nightclub. Schilling also appears (hidden in darkness) in the News on the March screening room. 
- Philip Van Zandt as Mr. Rawlston, News on the March producer. 
- Georgia Backus as Bertha Anderson, attendant at the library of Walter Parks Thatcher. 
- Harry Shannon as Jim Kane, Kane's father. 
- Sonny Bupp as Charles Foster Kane III, Kane's son. 
- Buddy Swan as Charles Foster Kane , age eight. 
- Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper publisher. 
Additionally, Charles Bennett appears as the entertainer at the head of the chorus line in the Inquirer party sequence, :40–41 and cinematographer Gregg Toland makes a cameo appearance as an interviewer depicted in part of the News on the March newsreel.
Hollywood had shown interest in Welles as early as 1936.  :40 He turned down three scripts sent to him by Warner Bros. In 1937, he declined offers from David O. Selznick , who asked him to head his film company's story department, and William Wyler , who wanted him for a supporting role in Wuthering Heights . "Although the possibility of making huge amounts of money in Hollywood greatly attracted him," wrote biographer Frank Brady, "he was still totally, hopelessly, insanely in love with the theater, and it is there that he had every intention of remaining to make his mark." :118–119, 130
Following " The War of the Worlds " broadcast of his CBS radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air , Welles was lured to Hollywood with a remarkable contract. :1–2, 153 RKO Pictures studio head George J. Schaefer wanted to work with Welles after the notorious broadcast, believing that Welles had a gift for attracting mass attention. :170 RKO was also uncharacteristically profitable and was entering into a series of independent production contracts that would add more artistically prestigious films to its roster. :1–2, 153 Throughout the spring and early summer of 1939, Schaefer constantly tried to lure the reluctant Welles to Hollywood. :170 Welles was in financial trouble after failure of his plays Five Kings and The Green Goddess . At first he simply wanted to spend three months in Hollywood and earn enough money to pay his debts and fund his next theatrical season. :170 Welles first arrived on July 20, 1939 :168 and on his first tour, he called the movie studio "the greatest electric train set a boy ever had". :174
Welles signed his contract with RKO on August 21. This legendary contract stipulated that Welles would act in, direct, produce and write two films. Mercury would get $100,000 for the first film by January 1, 1940, plus 20% of profits after RKO recouped $500,000, and $125,000 for a second film by January 1, 1941, plus 20% of profits after RKO recouped $500,000. The most controversial aspect of the contract was granting Welles complete artistic control of the two films so long as RKO approved both project's stories :169 and so long as the budget did not exceed $500,000. :1–2, 153 RKO executives would not be allowed to see any footage until Welles chose to show it to them, and no cuts could be made to either film without Welles’s approval. :169 Welles was allowed to develop the story without interference, select his own cast and crew, and have the right of final cut . Granting final cut privilege was unprecedented for a studio since it placed artistic considerations over financial investment. The contract was deeply resented in the film industry, and the Hollywood press took every opportunity to mock RKO and Welles. Schaefer remained a great supporter :1–2, 153 and saw the unprecedented contract as good publicity. :170 Film scholar Robert L. Carringer wrote: "The simple fact seems to be that Schaefer believed Welles was going to pull off something really big almost as much as Welles did himself." :1–2, 153
Welles spent the first five months of his RKO contract trying to get his first project going, without success. "They are laying bets over on the RKO lot that the Orson Welles deal will end up without Orson ever doing a picture there," wrote The Hollywood Reporter . :15 It was agreed that Welles would film Heart of Darkness , previously adapted for The Mercury Theatre on the Air , which would be presented entirely through a first-person camera . After elaborate pre-production and a day of test shooting with a hand-held camera—unheard of at the time—the project never reached production because Welles was unable to trim $50,000 from its budget. :30–31 Schaefer told Welles that the $500,000 budget could not be exceeded; revenue was declining sharply in Europe by the fall of 1939. :215–216
He then started work on the idea that became Citizen Kane . Knowing the script would take time to prepare, Welles suggested to RKO that while that was being done—"so the year wouldn't be lost"—he make a humorous political thriller. Welles proposed The Smiler with a Knife , from a novel by Cecil Day-Lewis . :33–34 When that project stalled in December 1939, Welles began brainstorming other story ideas with screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz , who had been writing Mercury radio scripts. "Arguing, inventing, discarding, these two powerful, headstrong, dazzlingly articulate personalities thrashed toward Kane ", wrote biographer Richard Meryman . :245–246
One of the long-standing controversies about Citizen Kane has been the authorship of the screenplay. :237 Welles conceived the project with screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who was writing radio plays for Welles's CBS Radio series, The Campbell Playhouse . :16 Mankiewicz based the original outline on the life of William Randolph Hearst , whom he knew socially and came to hate after he was exiled from Hearst's circle. :231
In February 1940 Welles supplied Mankiewicz with 300 pages of notes and put him under contract to write the first draft screenplay under the supervision of John Houseman , Welles's former partner in the Mercury Theatre . Welles later explained, "I left him on his own finally, because we'd started to waste too much time haggling. So, after mutual agreements on storyline and character, Mank went off with Houseman and did his version, while I stayed in Hollywood and wrote mine." :54 Taking these drafts, Welles drastically condensed and rearranged them, then added scenes of his own. The industry accused Welles of underplaying Mankiewicz's contribution to the script, but Welles countered the attacks by saying, "At the end, naturally, I was the one making the picture, after all—who had to make the decisions. I used what I wanted of Mank's and, rightly or wrongly, kept what I liked of my own." :54
The terms of the contract stated that Mankiewicz was to receive no credit for his work, as he was hired as a script doctor . :487 Before he signed the contract Mankiewicz was particularly advised by his agents that all credit for his work belonged to Welles and the Mercury Theatre, the "author and creator". :236–237 As the film neared release, however, Mankiewicz began threatening Welles to get credit for the film—including threats to place full-page ads in trade papers and to get his friend Ben Hecht to write an exposé for The Saturday Evening Post . Mankiewicz also threatened to go to the Screen Writers Guild and claim full credit for writing the entire script by himself. :204
After lodging a protest with the Screen Writers Guild, Mankiewicz withdrew it, then vacillated. The question was resolved in January 1941 when the studio, RKO Pictures , awarded Mankiewicz credit. The guild credit form listed Welles first, Mankiewicz second. Welles's assistant Richard Wilson said that the person who circled Mankiewicz's name in pencil, then drew an arrow that put it in first place, was Welles. The official credit reads, "Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles". :264–265 Mankiewicz's rancor toward Welles grew over the remaining 12 years of his life.  :498
Questions over the authorship of the Citizen Kane screenplay were revived in 1971 by influential film critic Pauline Kael , whose controversial 50,000-word essay " Raising Kane " was commissioned as an introduction to the shooting script in The Citizen Kane Book , :494 published in October 1971. The book-length essay first appeared in February 1971, in two consecutive issues of The New Yorker magazine. :494  In the ensuing controversy Welles was defended by colleagues, critics, biographers and scholars, but his reputation was damaged by its charges.  :394 The essay was later discredited and Kael's own scholarship was called into question.   
Any question of authorship was resolved with Carringer's 1978 essay, "The Scripts of Citizen Kane". Carringer studied the collection of script records—"almost a day-to-day record of the history of the scripting"—that was then still intact at RKO. He reviewed all seven drafts and concluded that "the full evidence reveals that Welles's contribution to the Citizen Kane script was not only substantial but definitive." :80