This month marks the 75th anniversary of the release of Citizen Kane. Well, if you want to get very specific about it, it’s the anniversary of the film’s premiere at the Palace Theatre in New York. It was widely released that September. Citizen Kane tops several “best of” lists, including the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time and the BBC’s 100 Greatest American Films. It was also among the first 25 films selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
But there was a chance that we would have never seen this film. The film angered a number of powerful and influential people, including media mogul and inspiration for the film, William Randolph Hearst, and film columnist Louella Parsons. Hearst put pressure on RKO, the production studio, refusing to allow advertising for any RKO films in Hearst papers and threatening to sue. When that didn’t work, he put pressure on other studio heads with negative press in exchange for those studios to put pressure on RKO. They even offered to purchase the film with the understanding that they would destroy the negative and all prints. Certain theaters wouldn’t show the movie. Hearst and Parsons printed any and all stories about Orson Welles. And no one caved. Hip hip hooray! To read more on this story, check out Harlan Lebo’s Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey or watch the American Experience documentary, the Battle Over Citizen Kane.
Yes, there is a lot of hype around this film and it turns some people off. Is it really as great as everyone says? Well, I love it. There are scenes in Citizen Kane that are works of art. It is almost unbelievable that they were conceived and executed so perfectly. If I was a director at the time, the film would have either made me want to quit or force me to be a better filmmaker. And, Orson Welles knows how to tell a story. So a good story, well-filmed and well-acted–you really can’t ask for anything more from a movie.
So Happy Birthday Citizen Kane! I am so glad we can celebrate, especially knowing that for $805,000 ($13 million today), the other studios would have been happy to take the film off RKO’s hands for it to suffer the same fate as Rosebud.