By Lyle Henretty Daily Arts Writer
“Citizen Kane” will invariably be mentioned in every argument centered around the theme “greatest movie of all time.” In intelligent circles, it will always win. That said, of the nine Academy Award nominations Orson Welles’ 1941 film (his first) received, it took home only one. The script by Welles and Herman Mankiewicz took home the gold, but it was more a affirmation of Hollywood vet Mankiewicz (who had his first script published in 1926) than it was for upstart Welles.
The nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Welles), Best Director (Welles), Best Cinematography (Greg Toland), Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Music and Best Sound all went to mostly forgotten films that were neither as important or interesting as “Kane.”
Charles Foster Kane is taken from his childhood home (and his sled – man, that’s a cool sled) to take his fortune from the uptight-but-kind Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane). He quickly works his way up through study and planning and becoming a powerful newspaper man before his 30th birthday. His fall from grace involves booze, broads and more broads.
The film begins with the death of Kane, followed by a newsreel showing his entire public life. After learning of Kane the public man, a reporter is determined to found out the truth of the private one. What follows are three stories that piece together the man’s life, slightly over-lapping, slightly contradicting. Only in the film’s opening do you see the real Kane without the gloss of flashback, clutching his snowglobe until he clutches his chest.
While the film broke new ground with both technical achievement and storytelling (not to mention make-up and method acting), the behind-the-scenes story was as scandalous and torrid as an “E! True Hollywood Story,” just with smarter, more talented people.
Welles was at the top of his game, voicing everything from “The Shadow” to “old chinese man #3.” He had just pulled off the most infamous stunt in radio history by broadcasting his rendition of H.G. Welles “The War of the Worlds.” Due to a more popular show on the other station, most of America tuned in a little late, and mass panic ensued. People actually thought there was an alien invasion, and Welles, who raggedly apologized the next morning, always had a twinkle in his eye.
Soon a wonderboy with a stellar “complete control” deal with RKO, the cocky director felt that he could do anything he wanted in the name of art. Twenty-five year old Welles decided to make his first feature about wealthy newspaperman William Randolph Hearst, in the person of wealthy newspaperman Charles Foster Kane. He shamelessly stole Hearst’s life and fictionalized it. Welles reportedly went so far as to use Hearst’s pet-name for his wife’s nether-regions to create the film’s most famous whisper: Rosebud.
In 1941, Hearst was the most important mogul in the world, and he completely controlled media. He refused to allow reviews of “Kane” to appear in any of his newspapers, and film critics were running scared.
It wasn’t until years later that Welles received the proper credit for his film, and by then he had degenerated well into the land of the has-beens. Between his role in “Casino Royale” and his bellow lending creedance to Unicron in “Transformers: The Movie.” After Kane made him infamous, a few bad decisions and studio interference ruined “The Magnificent Ambersons” and “The Third Man,” and Kane went from hero to hasbeen before he turned thirty.