Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film, directed by and starring Orson Welles. The film is often considered the greatest of all time and is particularly praised for its innovative cinematography, music and narrative structure. Citizen Kane was Welles’ first feature film. The film was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories; it won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) by Herman Mankiewicz and Welles.
The story is a roman à clef (a story about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction) that examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, a character based upon the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and Welles’ 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 revealed through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate’s dying word: “Rosebud.”
After his success in the theatre with the independent theatre company called the Mercury Players and his controversial 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, 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 and use his own cast and crew, and was given final cut privilege. Following two abortive attempts to get a project off the ground, he developed the screenplay of Citizen Kane with Herman Mankiewicz. Principal photography took place in 1940 and the film received its American release in 1941.
A critical success, Kane failed to recoup its costs at the box-office. The film faded from view soon after but its reputation was restored, initially by French critics and more widely after its American revival in 1956. There is a semi-official consensus among film critics that Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made, which has led Roger Ebert to quip: “So it’s settled: Citizen Kane is the official greatest film of all time.” It topped both the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list and the 10th Anniversary Update, as well as all of the Sight & Sound polls of the 10 greatest films for nearly half a century.