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RKO 281 (1999)

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

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, (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 »

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Cast

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

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

Taglines:

The true, behind-the-scenes story of the making of the greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane. See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

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

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

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Release Date:

20 November 1999 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

RKO 281: The Battle Over Citizen Kane  »

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Box Office

Budget:

$12,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

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16:9
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This was originally planned as a theatrical film. The original cast consisted of Edward Norton as Orson Welles, Marlon Brando as William Randolph Hearst, Madonna as Marion Davies, Dustin Hoffman as Herman J. Mankiewicz, Meryl Streep as Louella Parsons. Ridley Scott was slated to direct. But studios passed on the film because of the projected $40 million budget. Scott dropped out as director. Brando and Hoffman also dropped out. Gene Hackman was considered to replace Brando and Al Pacino was considered to replace Hoffman. Eventually, the project was scaled down to a television movie and the entire cast was replaced. See more »

Goofs

When Orson is sketching a picture during the orchestra scene, he draws a semi-circle around the head of a lone figure on his sketch pad. When the scene cuts to the next part, the circle is not there. See more »

Quotes

Orson Welles: I expected better of you, Mank.
Herman Mankiewicz: Me too, but I got used to it.
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Connections

References Gone with the Wind (1939) See more »

Soundtracks

Finale
from Citizen Kane (1941)
Music by Bernard Herrmann
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User Reviews

 
An Excellent Fictional Version Of The Battle Over Citizen Kane
1 March 2008 | by See all my reviews

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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