Citizen Kane Reaction

Citizen Kane not only went on to status a classic, essentially the pinnacle of American filmmaking, but it was also very well received upon its release. Here’s a sampling of the remarks of various newspaper and magazine film reviews:

Orson Welles removes his
Citizen Kane make up 1940
John O’Hara, Newsweek: “your faithful bystander reports that he has just seen a picture which he thinks must be the best picture he ever saw.”
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times: “Far and away the most surprising and cinematically exciting motion picture to be seen here in many a moon.”:
Howard Barnes, The New York Herald Tribune: “The motion picture stretched its muscles at the Palace Theater last night, to remind one that it is a sleeping giant of the arts.”
Life: “Few movies have ever come from Hollywood with such powerful narrative, such original technique, such exciting photography.”
Cecilia Ager, PM: “Seeing it, it’s as if you never really saw a movie before.”
William Boehnel, The New York World Telegram: “What matters is that Citizen Kane is a cinema masterpiece--that here is a film so full of drama, pathos, humor, drive, variety and courage and originality in its treatment that it is staggering and belongs at once among the great screen achievements.”
Some of the negative press came from The Los Angeles Times, The New York Sun, and Ed Sullivan.

Over the years, generations of people have watched the movie, partly from an imperative to see the work of art that has garnered so much praise and that has carried so much importance. At the time, however, it didn’t do terribly well at the box office. Outside of New York, big cities reported losses on the film. It lost 18 thousand in its first nine weeks.

Some theater chains didn’t carry it, due to threats made by William Randolph Hearst. The advance publicity for the film alerted the newspaper mogul that the character of Kane resembled him. He mounted a pitched battle to decry the film, threatening to release harmful information about Welles. In fact, he did accuse the filmmaker of being a communist, something that led to many questions from the press as well as to an investigator showing up on set to talk to Welles. Hearst had invested in many films, which meant many members of the Hollywood community had very little choice but to stay loyal to him, which meant they came out in opposition to Welles.

Herman Mankiewicz, Welles’s screenwriting partner, also helped stir ill will in Hollywood by creating a controversy from his petty claims about his role in writing the script. He and Kane had co-written it, and while this seems completely baseless, Mankiewicz, months before the film’s release, became infected with the fear that he would be cut out of the credits for his co-writing. He thus began huffing mightily, sending out rumors of full page ads to protest, and claiming to have written the film itself.
At the Oscar ceremony, the crowd actually booed Welles and the film when it was mentioned as a nominee. Like his friend Charlie Chaplin, Welles had become a controversial figure, a Hollywood pariah.

But the coming decades would see the film aging well, the comments of later critics affording as much praise as those of the ones who saw its premier. It would become a textbook for filmmakers and required viewing in classes on American film and culture.


  1. Citizen Kane Shooting Was 75 Years Old Last Year In 2015.


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