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Coming to Hollywood as a celebrated boy genius featuring a spectacular career arc in New York including his radio hoax War of the Worlds, Orson Welles is stymied on the subject for his first film. After a dinner party at Hearst Castle, during which he has a verbal altercation with William Randolph Hearst, Welles decides to do a movie about Hearst. It takes him some time to convince co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and the studio, but Welles eventually gets the script and the green light, keeping the subject very hush-hush with the press. The movie is about an aging newspaper publisher who controlled his enemies as ruthlessly as he controlled his friends; and whose mistress was destined for fame. When a rough cut is screened, Hearst gets wind of the movie's theme and begins a campaign to see that it is not only never publicly screened, but destroyed. Written by
Greg Bulmash <email@example.com>
The film depicts Orson Welles meeting William Randolph Hearst whilst a guest at the latter's home, San Simeon. In reality, Welles never went there, and never met Hearst until after Citizen Kane (1941) had opened. (Their one, brief meeting was in a San Francisco elevator, according to Welles; there were no others present, and it may be that Welles made up the story and never actually met Hearst). See more »
Just before Welles throws the drink in Mank's face and he falls into the pond, the camera angle changes, and Mank's shirt switches from neatly pressed to severely wrinkled, showing that he had already fallen into the pond in previous takes. See more »
An Excellent Fictional Version Of The Battle Over Citizen Kane
The battle between William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles over the latter's classic film Citizen Kane is the stuff that film history legends are made of. And after the amazing PBS documentary on it, it doesn't seem surprising that a film version would follow it. Though this film isn't a documentary and plays many things differently then they really happened, RKO 281 is an excellent film.
The cast is first rate from Liev Schreiber's Orson Welles onwards. Schreiber might not do Welles distinct voice, but he captures the arrogance and genies of the young man. James Cromwell brings both menace and sympathy to William Randolph Hearst and for the two scenes in the film when these two are together you can feel the tension.
The rest of the cast is just as superb. Of special mention is Melanie Griffith's performance as Marion Davies, the unfortunate victim of Citizen Kane and who becomes the reason for the battle over the film. John Malkovich, Brenda Blethyn, and the late Roy Scheider bring flesh and blood to these long dead members of the battle (writer Herman J. Mankiewicz, columnist Louella Parsons, and RKO executive George Schaefer).
The production is a lavish one. The filmmakers take you to San Simon (aka Hearst Castle), the RKO sets for the film, the boardrooms of Hollwood and New York, and the homes of those involved. The effect is giving the viewer a sense of being there as film history happens. It's not of course but one gets that feeling.
And now for the writing. The film is not, and does not claim to be, a documentary though it is based on the excellent PBS documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane. The events seen in the film are a mix of fact and fiction. The opening dinner party scene is questionable and the apparent motive for Welles to do the film is likely fictional. But many of the details and even chunks of dialog are real or based on real events. Indeed the final third of the film (apparently) happened almost exactly as it is seen in the film. While some might argue over this, it works in the context of the film.
In short RKO 281 is fiction based on fact. From the strong performances to the lavish production values, the fiction gives the viewer a new light on the legendary battle over a classic film and how it almost never made it to the public. If you're a fan of Welles or Citizen Kane, this is a must see. If not, prepare for a journey into the battle over Citizen Kane and how it almost brought down the film industry.
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