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RKO 281 (1999)

Orson Welles produces his greatest film, Citizen Kane (1941), despite the opposition of the film's de facto subject, William Randolph Hearst.



, (documentary "The Battle Over Citizen Kane") | 1 more credit »

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Won 1 Golden Globe. Another 13 wins & 27 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Louella Parsons
Gregg Toland
Louis B. Mayer
Hedda Hopper
Carole Lombard
Walt Disney
Simeon Andrews ...
John Houseman
Bill Armstrong ...
Mr. Lewis (as William Armstrong)
Darryl Zanuck
David O. Selznick


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 <greg@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Orson Welles used all his genius to create "Citizen Kane". William Randolph Hearst used all his power to try and destroy it. See more »


Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language and some graphic sexual images | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

20 November 1999 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

RKO 281: The Battle Over Citizen Kane  »


Box Office


$12,000,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


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Did You Know?


When Louella Parsons is shown viewing the film, the actual soundtrack and original dialogue from Citizen Kane (1941) is heard. See more »


When the "Citizen Kane" score is being recorded, the conductor's movements have nothing whatsoever to do with the music being played. See more »


[Addressing the RKO shareholders]
Orson Welles: Good afternoon. Today, a man from Germany invaded Greece. He's already swallowed Poland, Denmark, Norway and Belgium. He's bombing London as I speak. Everywhere this man goes, he crushes the life and the freedom of his subjects. He sews yellow stars on their lapels, he takes their voices. In this country, we still have our voices. We can argue with them, and we can sing, and we can be heard because we are, for the moment, free. No one can tell us what to say or ...
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References Gone with the Wind (1939) See more »


By the Fireside
Written by Ray Noble, Jimmy Campbell and Reginald Connelly (as Reg Connelly)
Performed by Al Bowlly with Ray Noble and His Orchestra
Courtesy of Castle Music Ltd. by arrangement with Celebrity Licensing, Inc.
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User Reviews

for those who like Citizen Kane
24 March 2003 | by See all my reviews

This film is the story of how Citizen Kane was made. There was much controversy over the production of the movie and its release in 1941. Citizen Kane is based on the life of William Hearst, publishing mogul. The intimate details of his life were showcased by Orson Welles, the director. RKO 281 follows Welles (Liev Schreiber) and his writing partner Herman Mankiewicz (John Malkovich) as they struggle to make their movie. It also follows Hearst (James Cromwell) and his lady friend Marion (Melanie Griffith) as their financial situation dwindles and the release of the film approaches. Orson Welles has some nerve making Citizen Kane as some will say, and others would suggest that it is a masterpiece. The controversy over the film is well presented. The viewer sees both Welles's side and Hearst's objections. The audience is able to see just how personal the film is to Hearst's life. I know I would object if someone threw my life on the screen for everyone to see, especially the comprimising stuff. Welle's justification for this was that Hearst has a monopoly over the newspaper business, and uses those newspapers to promote his own political beliefs. It was well know during this time that Hearst was not just a business man, but a politician, and a corupt one at that. Welles wanted the world to see Hearst for who he was, and what he was actually doing behind closed doors. RKO 281 gets to the root of this, and to the emotions felt by both Hearst and Marion with the making of the movie. An interesting film that goes along with both RKO 281 and Citizen Kane is The Cats Meow (director, Peter Bogdanovich, 2001). This film tells the semi-true story of a murder that took place at a gathering on William Hearsts Yacht in 1924. This film shows how powerful Hearst was, for the murder was covered up and never to be spoken of again, on Hearst's orders. These two movies give us some insight into the life of a very powerful publisher, and they do compliment each other. However, in RKO 281 we do not see the realtionship between Hearst and Welles, and what history drives Weles to make Citizen Kane. Of course he does give some reasons, like to give Hearst what he deserves, but why there is animosity between the two goes largely untouched. I also found it interesting that Welles's friend, Mankiewicz, who actually colected the information on Hearst's life and wrote much of the script for Citizen Kane, was never really given any credit. The boy wonder Welles was given all accolades for his film. RKO 281 shows the viewer the tensions between these two men, which contributed to the making fo the film. Overall, I found this film to be interesting. It was by no means the best I have ever seen, but if one is interested in Welles or Citizen Kane it is a must see.

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