The camera looks up at Charles Foster Kane and his best friend Jedediah Leland and down at weaker characters like Susan Alexander Kane. This was a technique that Orson Welles borrowed from John Ford who had used it two years previously on Stagecoach. Welles privately watched Stagecoach about 40 times while making this film.
During the scenes where Kane first buys his newspaper and delivers the line about going bankrupt in 60 years, Orson Welles appears to be dressed as himself at his actual age. Welles has indicated in interviews that he was even more made up playing a young man than he was playing Kane as an old one; "temporary" facelifts and hair styling as well as camera tricks make him look much more beautiful than he actually was. Welles said that he spent years living down how far he'd come down from his "youthful looks," when in fact he never really looked that good.
The opera in which Suzan Alexander Kane stars was, originally, to have been based upon, and titled, Thaïs, after the novel by Anatole France - a choice which would have been highly significant: the novel is the bitingly satirical story of a beautiful (and successful) Alexandrian courtesan who is converted to holiness and sainthood by a fanatical monk (who eventually dies without having achieved the salvation he had sought for himself by having denied himself sensual love). For unspecified reasons, the opera was eventually changed to be based on the novel Salammbô (by Gustave Flaubert), which is a much more straightforward sword-and-sandals story of a princess, barbarians and that sort of thing. Ultimately, though, all verbal references to the opera by title were deleted in the completed film, and the name 'Salammbo' appears only within texts on various editions of the Inquirer. However, it seems likely that, during some stages of filming, references to a 'Thaïs' title were still expected to appear during certain scenes, as Bernstein's line that he 'still can't pronounce [the opera's] name' seem more likely to refer to such a word as that than to 'Salammbo'.
Despite all the publicity, the film was a box office flop and was quickly consigned to the RKO vaults. At 1941's Academy Awards the film was booed every time one of its nine nominations was announced. It was only re-released for the public in the mid-1950s.
For the new footage in the opening newsreel to look suitably grainy, editor Robert Wise came up with the idea of physically dragging the footage across a stone floor and running across a cheesecloth filled with sand. These efforts went unappreciated in some quarters: one cinema distributor contacted RKO to complain about the film stock being of inferior quality and demanded a replacement print.
Much of the Inquirer's bad review of Susan Alexander's opera debut (bylined "Jed Leland" but, in the film, largely written by Kane himself) can be read in the DVD release at 01:32:42, with use of freeze-frame and zoom. It reads: "Miss Susan Alexander, a pretty but hopelessly incompetent amateur, last night opened the new Chicago Opera House in a performance of 'Salammbo.'" "Her singing, happily, is no concern of this department. Of her acting, it is absolutely impossible to say anything except that it represents, in the opinion of this reviewer, a new low. The performance, as a whole, was weak and incomprehensible." "While it is true that a wealth of training has been expended on the voice of Miss Alexander, the result has been pathetitc [sic] in the extreme, inasmuch as she lacks tonal purity, volume and the nuances of enunciation so important for the grand opera diva. "LACKS STAGE PRESENCE "Another grave fault in her performance was lack of stage pres- ... " (The rest of the column cannot be seen.)
George Coulouris, who played Kane's legal guardian, posed for two hours for a papier-maché statue of himself. He later petitioned the Screen Actors' Guild for payment for those two hours and won his case.
Orson Welles chipped his anklebone halfway through production and had to direct for 2 weeks from a wheelchair. When he was called upon to stand up onscreen, he wore metal braces. The injury occurred in the scene where Kane chases Gettys down the stairs and Welles tripped.
Orson Welles always claimed that this picture was not the biography of one specific individual, but a composite of characters from that era in America. Though universally recognized as based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, there were also elements in the story that applied to the life of Chicago utilities magnate Samuel Insull (1859-1938).
The film showcased a technique called "universal focus." To get the image of Kane and the poster picture during the speech sequence, short lenses were used. At the same time, the key light (the main lights) were gradually increased to get both images sharp and clear.
William Randolph Hearst was infuriated by this movie, obviously based on his life. According to an essay written for the New York Review of Books by Gore Vidal "Rosebud" was Hearst's name for long-time mistress Marion Davies' clitoris. But screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz insisted that he took the name from a bicycle he owned as a child.
In the 1970s, film critic Pauline Kael wrote an essay called "Raising Kane". In it, she credited co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz for writing the entire script for this film, while alleging that Orson Welles "didn't write one line of the shooting script." However, this conclusion has very little factual basis, and was largely based on hearsay. The shooting script was actually based on two scripts (written separately by Welles and Mankiewicz) that Welles combined into one for the final version.
In 1971, shortly after Pauline Kael's infamous "Raising Kane" essay first appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire printed the "Kane Mutiny", an essay apparently by Peter Bogdanovich that disputed most of Kael's claims. However, the essay was actually written by Orson Welles.
In the scene where Jedediah confronts Kane, Joseph Cotten had stayed awake for 24 hours before the shoot so as to finish in order to start a play in New York. He makes an error and says "dramatic crimiticism," a flub that Cotten inadvertently made in rehearsals that Welles decided to use.
During the opening shots of Xanadu, the single light coming from the window of Kane's mansion stays in basically the same position of the frame even though the angles of the house change every few seconds.
The scene with Charles Bennett and the "chorus girls" was supposed to have taken place in a brothel, but the Hays Office would not allow it. That didn't bother Orson Welles too much, as he knew the brothel setting would draw their attention away from other elements of the script he knew they would object to, which was why he had introduced it in the first place.
The credited cast was entirely from the Mercury Theatre troupe, which Orson Welles founded when he was 21 years old. The Mercury Theatre did radio dramatizations of such works as "Les Miserables", "A Tale of Two Cities", "Treasure Island", "The 39 Steps", "Abraham Lincoln", "The Count of Monte Cristo' and, most famously, "The War of the Worlds".
The character Jedediah Leland is based on celebrated newspaper columnist Ashton Stevens, drama critic for the San Francisco Examiner and later of the Chicago Herald-American, noted interviewer to the stars and man-about-town. His brother, actor Landers Stevens, appears uncredited in the film as an investigator. Ashton was the uncle of director George Stevens, Landers' son.
For the opening shot of the "El Rancho" sequence where the camera appears to move through a gap in the neon sign, a collapsible sign had to be built that could be split in two to allow the camera to pass through.
The piece of music that Susan is repeatedly shown singing is "Una voce poco fa" from "Il barbiere di Siviglia" by Gioachino Rossini. The character in the opera who sings it, Rosina, sings in this piece about the voice of an admirer she has just heard and how she plans to escape with him from her jealous and overbearing guardian.
Susan's singing voice was provided by a professional opera singer who, under Orson Welles' direction, sang outside of her vocal range. She agreed to having her voice used this way on the condition that her identity never be revealed, fearing it would harm her career. She was Jean Forward of the San Francisco Opera.
It is widely believed that Ted Turner had plans to colorize the film, but that wide public outcry led to his decision not to. The rumor came from a tongue-in-cheek comment from Turner that he would colorize the film in order to bait critics of the process. In actuality, Orson Welles had the rights to the film, and Turner couldn't have colorized the film even if he had wanted to. Nonetheless, the controversy over the potential alteration of this film was one of the catalysts that eventually led to the film industry requirement that all future video and TV releases of films that have been altered in any way - including the standard conversion from widescreen to "pan and scan" - must carry a disclaimer indicating the film has been "modified from its original version." It is also widely believed that when he heard about it, Welles supposedly roared, "Tell Ted Turner to keep his crayons away from my movie!" However, being that he owned the rights to the film, it is highly unlikely that he ever made any such statement.
When Kane's mother, father and Thatcher walk from the living room into the kitchen, they sit down at a table. For a second, you can see Thatcher's hat jiggle a few inches and then be still again. This is mainly because the camera had to move through the table to do the shot. When the camera went into the kitchen, the table split in two, and then reassembled itself just in time for Agnes Moorehead to sit down in the chair.
Dispute still rages over ownership of the original idea for the script, with many claiming that it was the brainchild of co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz. In his school days, Orson Welles wrote a play titled "Marching Song." Though never produced, it was the exploration of a public figure through the testimonies of the people in his life. Mankiewicz certainly wrote the first draft of the screenplay, which took him about six weeks.
During filming Orson Welles received a warning that William Randolph Hearst had arranged for a naked woman to jump into his arms when he entered his hotel room, and there was also a photographer in the room to take a picture that would be used to discredit him. Welles spent the night elsewhere, and it is unknown if the warning was true.
Principal photography which began in late June 1940, finished just a few days over schedule on October 23. The movie was ready for release in February 1941. The controversy surrounding the film delayed its opening until 1 May 1941.
The character of Mr. Bernstein was named after Orson Welles's guardian Dr. Maurice Bernstein, a Kenosha (WI) surgeon who became close to the Welles after having treated Orson Welles' grandmother in her final illness.
Orson Welles' deal with RKO gave him unprecedented freedom for a first-time director. He was to write, produce, direct and act in two pictures for the company, with complete autonomy in the hiring of actors, technicians and final cut. Studio boss George Schaefer had to greenlight the project and could veto any request for extra finance over the modest $500,000 budget (which eventually would be exceeded by $200,000), but no one other than Welles was allowed to view the rushes.
After production wrapped, William Randolph Hearst forbade any advertisement of the film in any of his newspapers - or indeed any other RKO movies - and offered to buy the negative from studio head George Schaefer with a view to destroying it. Fortunately Orson Welles had already previewed the film to influential industry figures to rave reviews, so it was granted a limited theatrical release. Critics from non-Hearst newspapers fell over themselves praising the film. The film itself was not reviewed in any Hearst newspaper until the mid-1970s, when the film critic for the "Los Angeles Herald-Examiner" finally reviewed it.
The lengthy scene where the older Jedediah Leland is interviewed at the old folks' home was Joseph Cotten's very first scene in front of a Hollywood camera. Orson Welles' broken ankle had forced the rescheduling of this scene, which originally was supposed to be shot towards the end of the film, so Cotten hadn't gotten around to learning his lines yet. Consequently he was supposed to do the scene from cue cards but because his old-age make-up included contact lenses dipped in milk and a wig that wouldn't stay on (hence the sun visor) Cotten took a couple of hours out to learn the lines properly.
When asked by friends how Kane's last words would be known when he died alone, Orson Welles reportedly stared for a long time before saying, "Don't you ever tell anyone of this." See also the Goofs entry.
To keep studio execs off his back, Orson Welles claimed the cast and crew were "in rehearsal" during the first few days of shooting, when in fact they were actually shooting the film. It took a number of days before the studio caught on.
In the scene where Bernstein enters the Inquirer amidst a pile of boxes and luggage, some of the boxes are labeled "891" and "LOT 891." Unit 891 was the WPA theater company Orson Welles directed for (and starred with) before shooting this picture.
Orson Welles thought it an advantage that Dorothy Comingore (Susan) was pregnant when shooting began. It would reassure the studio brass that he intended to finish on schedule. Welles hid her advancing condition by shooting her behind tables or by obscuring her body in flowing dressing gowns.
For this movie Orson Welles, along with cinematographer Gregg Toland, pioneered "deep focus", a technique that keeps every object in the foreground, center and background in simultaneous focus. This brought a sense of depth to the two-dimensional world of movies.
The scene outside Ma Kane's boarding house reportedly drove Orson Welles crazy. The director always resented that, although it was set in a snowy field, the breath of the actors was not visible because the scene was actually filmed on a sound stage.
At the beginning of "News on the March" the several shots of buildings with Spanish Architecture were filmed at San Diego's Balboa Park. The statues "El Cid" and "Youthful Diana" were also located in Balboa Park. Both statues are by Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973). "El Cid" is still standing. "Youthful Diana" is not currently visible but is owned by the San Diego Museum of Art. The large birdcage in the newsreel is one of two located at the San Diego Zoo.
On the night the movie opened in San Francisco, Welles found himself alone with William Randolph Hearst in an elevator at the city's Fairmont Hotel. Aware that his father and Hearst were friends, Welles extended an invitation to the magnate to attend the premiere of Citizen Kane. Hearst disregarded the offer and as Hearst was about to exit the elevator at his floor, Welles remarked, "Charles Foster Kane would have accepted."
Carole Lombard was offered the lead role in a proposed melodrama, "Smiler with a Knife," to be directed by a newcomer at RKO named Orson Welles. She turned it down, opting to return to screwball comedy in Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Welles refused to make Smiler without her. After briefly considering Lucille Ball for the lead role, he began work on Citizen Kane.
Apparently, holding less of a grudge than anyone might think, William Randolph Hearst's son said in 1985 that he had enjoyed the film and that Welles could visit his grandfather's San Simeon estate anytime he pleased - "on my tab," a noble feat as Welles died that year.
The "newsreel" that opens the film is a perfect skewering of Henry Luce's 'Time Magazine' style of prose as used in 1940. 'Time' obituaries often began, "Death, as it must to all men, came last week to . . ." 'The New Yorker' published a parody in 1936, before "Kane": "Certainly to be taken with seriousness is Luce at thirty-eight, his fellowman already informed up to his ears, the shadow of his enterprises long across the land, his future plans impossible to imagine, staggering to contemplate. Where it will all end, knows God!"
Although Marion Davies is frequently held up as the model for Susan Alexander Kane, the character was more likely to have been influenced by opera-singer-turned-film-actress Hope Hampton and opera-singer-turned-botanical-garden-founder Madama Ganna Walska.
Orson Welles tried to buy out the screen credit of co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz. Welles actually paid him several thousand dollars. However, the Writers Guild got wind of this and said that was not permitted. But when Welles tried to get his money back, Manky had already spent it.
Both Welles' and Mankiewicz's Oscar statuettes were auctioned by Nate D. Sanders Memorabilia. Welles' statuette sold for $861, 542 on December 20, 2011. Mankiewicz's statuette sold for $588, 455 on February 28, 2012.
The ice sculptures at the Inquirer party behind Mr. Bernstein are caricatures of Bernstein and Leland. The placards under them read ["Broadway Jed" Leland] and ["Mr. (Big Business) Bernstein"]. The "Broadway Jed" is certainly due to Leland being the newspaper's drama critic, and "Mr. Big Business" could be due to Bernstein being something of a manager, but no clue is given as to why "(Big Business)" appears in parentheses.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The favorite film of "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. He incorporated many references to it in his strips over the years. In 1974 Schultz ruined the movie for anyone who hadn't seen it yet. In a Sunday Comics edition of Peanuts, Linus is watching TV and Lucy asks what he's watching. Linus says "Citizen Kane" and Lucy replies "Rosebud was his sled."