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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The film shows RKO production chief George Schaefer announcing to Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz that he has lost his job on the very day of the opening of Citizen Kane (1941) in May 1941. In fact, Schaefer did not get fired until late in the following year, and this was less because he had promoted the film career of Orson Welles than because almost all the films RKO had made during his tenure had been flops. See more »
When Welles is shown crossing out dialogue in the "Citizen Kane" script, he is actually marking up pages from the "RKO 281" script! See more »
He shot five scenes, two with sound when he was only supposed to be doing a camera test!
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Orson Welles was just twenty-six years of age when he made "Citizen Kane." A film regarded by many to be one of the best films ever made. As Welles quipped: "I started at the top and worked down." There is no doubt that Orson Welles was a genius (child prodigy), and that he never made a better film than "Citizen Kane." "RKO 281" (the original production number given to "Kane" by the studio), is the story of the trials and tribulations of making "Citizen Kane." By rights, a film about the making of "Citizen Kane", should pack more of a wallop than this one does. The subject has all the ingredients of high melodrama that's for sure; only this film doesn't quite live up to it. This is not necessarily the fault of the director: it's just that the topic is a far too complex one to be portrayed in a mere eighty three minutes. Still and all, "RKO 281" is not a bad little film about how one of the true geniuses of the cinema, who was treated so abysmally by the system that allowed him to make the film in the first place. Under pressure from William Randolph Hearst (whom "Kane" is a thinly disguised version), the heads of the other major studios devised a plan to ensure the film would never ever be seen again. Thankfully, George Schaeffer at RKO didn't go along with this idea. The film had its premier, but failed to engage cinema audiences, and effectively sank without a trace, no doubt helped by a total ban on advertising by the Hearst organization. Praise should go to Liev Schreiber as Welles, Roy Scheider as RKO boss, George Schaeffer, John Malcovich as Herman Mankiewicz, John Cromwell as Hearst and Melanie Griffith as Marion Davies. A special mention should also go to Brenda Blethyn as Hearst columnist Louella Parsons. In addition, Orson Welles second feature, "The Magnificent Ambersons", suffered the ignominy of having the editing of the film taken away from by RKO, who not only removed an hour of footage, but also shot a new, happier ending and tacked it onto the film. Although the extensive notes left by Welles on how the film was to be cut have survived, the excised scenes have not.
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