The Academy Award winners 1940s
REBECCA - Selznick International Pictures
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY - 20th Century Fox
MRS. MINIVER - Metro Goldwyn Mayer
CASABLANCA - Warner Bros.
GOING MY WAY - Paramount
THE LOST WEEKEND - Paramount
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES - Samuel Goldwyn
GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT - 20th Century Fox
HAMLET - J. Arthur Rank-Two Cities Films
ALL THE KING'S MEN - Robert Rossen
The Academy Awards 1942. Orson Welles, the genius and young director who is nominated for four Oscars this year, is about to be publicly booed, almost scourged for his masterpiece of cinematography: Citizen Kane (1941). That's a scene very rarely experienced at the awards and it has a certain amount of incomprehensibility about it, a pitiful scene. Orson Welles receives a joint award only for best original screenplay, together with the renowned screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, and that's it for Citizen Kane.
The best movie of the year, according to the Academy, was "How
Green was My Valley" - 20th Century Fox.
That low-point of Academy history aside -- how can a 25-year
old brat from New York, do such an excellent and ingenious
movie? The contract he was given early on at RKO was extraordinary.
They quickly considered him to be a genius of unique proportions
in Hollywood, dangerous perhaps and unscrupulous too to say
the least, but a genius all the same.
Mercury Theatre, the famed theater group headed by Orson Welles
as a project of innovation, had only years before in 1938 shocked
American people with their radio broadcast of "The War of
the Worlds". The haunting piece of fiction by H. G. Wells,
dealing with spaceships and spooky occupants coming from the
planet Mars to take charge of poor earth. It has been said
in retrospect that Welles and the others in the group intended
it to be just a simple and harmless Halloween prank, but it
resulted in hysteria and pandemonium since it was so convincing.
Already at this young age the public learned the hard way he
wasn't likely to be the least reserved in shamelessly exposing
his unique, daring and decisive talent unto the American radio
and theater scene whenever he was given the chance to do so. Moreover
he didn't even seemed to care one bit about the turmoil or how
the baffled public would react to such a scheeme.
Nevertheless, RKO probably thought, in signing this unprecedented
contract with Orson Welles, that they now could rest assured
and that they were more then ready to cash in some huge, spectacular
money. In short that they were on their way in all aspects
of the word, heading like lightning to a certain success with this prodigy.
Dangerous reports however began to leak from the studio regarding
the subject of his new project Citizen Kane. The contract
Orson Welles was in possession of gave him free hands to do
whatever he wanted with two films, but reports were he was
having a very hard time finding a suitable subject. First he
tried for quite some time to do something with Heart of
darkness, the Joseph Conrad story, which turned out to
be in vain since it never got through. In this troubled situation
help and cooperation was appropriately found in the form of
Herman J. Mankiewicz, a celebrated scriptwriter who could do
just about anything with a script. 250 pages he had written,
lying on his back after a back injury.
The script he'd written went under the working title: "The
American." This became the working material and backbone
for the film and the subject to deal with was in place for
Welles after that, the slightly polished biography of the newspaper
tycoon William Randolph Hearst. To reflect on this choice now
might be difficult, but it's like picking the best known media
person in the U.S. at this instant-- whoever that might be
-- do an unrelenting movie and exposing the secrets of that
persons life as hard as you can, projecting it on the screen
for all the public to see. That's a tough load to carry on
a set. Keep also in mind that Orson Welles at the time was a
debutante at the movies and had never even acted in front of a camera
before. He'd been on the radio and the theatre for years of
course and had among other things done some amazing Shakespeare
productions in New York, but never in front of cameras on a
That's whichever way you look at it someone clearly willing
to risk his reputation, his entire career even.
The work at the studio with this new script evolved smoothly
and scene after scene were shot on the set with a unique spontaneity.
Many things have been said about the techniques, the groundbreaking
methods and the tricks they used. They didn't break every ground
in techniques, many things they used had actually been done
before, but they certainly refined it together and managed
some amazing effects. Gregg Toland's hand with the cameras
was especially instrumental for the result, unquestionable
so, also Welles's visual journey through the years of Charles
Foster Kane, the aging masks used in his face, was something
brand new in make-up art. The way in which they hacked out floors
to sink cameras deep down under floor level to get an extremely
low angle, the way they showed ceilings, the way they worked
with lights and shadows. In summary we can easily say that
Welles and the others were in the process of seeking new inventive
forms of how to make movies.
Regardless of how we appreciate the importance of Citizen
Kane today, it must be futile to deny the impact it had
in these inventive areas of moviemaking. Something unique and
important was achieved without question -- it was a pure statement
William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon who lived at
San Simeon in California, clearly influenced
Charles Foster Kane's character. That's obvious when we're
going through the film and follow Kane around as a journalist,
as as a politician, as owner of the pleasure ground Xanadu.
Had it not been a William Randolph Hearst we'd sit here today
with an entirely different story no doubt. The irony of this
is that William Randolph Hearst actually got the terrible message
of what was in the making from a gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper,
who early on in the realease process had seen a preview screening.
In addition to this we also have words to say that it's possible
that Hearst got notice from Mankiewicz who sometimes visited
Hearst at San Simeon.
Whatever way, it's clear that the fierce attack that followed
is, as far as I know at least, unsurpassed in movie history.
There has rarely been a more determined man than Hearst during
this period, attempting, no demanding to stop this movie from
ever seeing the light of day. Also the people in Hollywood
were shocked. Louis B. Mayer, a Hollywood executive, joined
effort with Hearst and was looking for every conceivable way
to get rid of it. They were ready to buy off Citizen Kane
and burn the negative. To get rid of this ugly picture fast
was by now considered to be the most perfect, noble and American
thing to do.
There were more to it -- blackmails were being issued, threats
of F. B. I. investigations were handed down and for every person
who wanted anything to do with this movie reprimands were planned.
These battles were quite detrimental to most of the people
involved, and I'll think that many of the difficulties that
followed Orson Welles throughout his career, financial and
others, actually were repercussions from these early scandals
that continued with so much ferocity long after the premiere
of Citizen Kane.
The reactions at the Academy Awards 1942 were with certitude
direct results. Orson Welles of course had never been someone
who shied away from turmoil and scandals. He actually seemed
to thrive on them. But these horrible battles fought over Citizen
Kane and the dangerous encounters with the powerful Hearst
was too much even for Welles's liking. Also for Hearst they
were certainly unwanted publicity. After the premiere there
were some clear, unmistakable remarks that coudn't be missed.
The pleasure-ground San Simeon blown out of proportions, his
California estate, where so many celebrated stars in U. S.
history had dwelled -- Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and the
rest, blown up and projected on the white screen as Xanadu,
with extraneous flavor of craziness.
Once George Bernard Shaw described San Simeon in the following
terms: "San Simeon was the place God would have built -- if
he had the money." There were also personal attacks on his
private life to be sure. Hearst's companion in arms -- the
showgirls Marion Davies -- was presented quite unmistakable
as the mistress and then the second wife of Charles Foster
Kane in the film.
It is quite probable that Orson Welles never expected this
kind of dreaded reaction. Certainly, in all awareness, he must have seen
some of it coming, projecting the powerful Hearst in that way,
but possibly not the unprecedented torrent. One can be easily
tempted to make comparisons with the radio broadcast that had
erupted just a few years before, the fascinating H. G. Welles
story that in a matter of speaking sent American public roaming
in the streets flabbergasted to literary take cover from Martian
attacks. Welles held press conferences after that event showing
no contrition to plead his innocence concerning intent, that
is to honestly say that there was no malice involved and that
it was just a show, which of course it was. In 1940 preparing his
debut in movies after this crashing experience and shooting his
role as Charles Foster Kane, he must likewise have understood
the potential danger, but might not nearly have grasped the
gale he had released.
Now we must not forget that the movie was released and that
it did draw considerable appreciation. There were noticeable
critics like Boshler Crowther in the New York Times and John
O'Hara in Newsweek who almost immediately saw its greatness.
The release however was diminished in the sense that it didn't
played in a normal national way because of boycotts, presumably
many of the Academy Awards audience hadn't even seen it on
Oscar night. Notwithstanding this reaction and the consistent
resistance it was obvious to most viewers who saw it that they
were witnessing a jewel, a provoking contemporary statement
of blunt cinematic brilliance.
The career of Orson Welles became indeed not easy after 1942.
Directly afterwards huge problems hit him hard when his sequel
The Magnificent Amberson was on its way
out, to conclude the contract he had with RKO for two films.
First problem faced was the difficulty in finding a workable
script. After the script was chosen there was more trouble
lurking, Welles had to resign on the point of his freedom that
was granted him before for Citizen Kane when they were
off to revise the contract he had made with RKO. They should now
posses script and casting approval over him and it was obvious that
the screws were meant to be tighter from now on. When the shooting
was finished, and Welles already working on another project
in South-America, a man named Wise was entrusted to do the
last editing. Things were mad along this way that clearly contradicted
Welles's intent and it was savaged.
Many directors and films have passed our way through the years
of cinema, but few have left the impression that Orson Welles
and Citizen Kane has. Here we have a man who early on
in life made something quite unique for which he paid a heavy
price, but for which he later on received so much appreciation
and admiration. How many filmmakers have not seen it, learned
from it and used it as a measurement for what films can be
like at the peak of creativity? The quite obvious over-weighted,
and cigar-smoking man has indeed found many admirers to follow
his thread. Although Welles never enjoyed the trust from Hollywood
again, always had difficulties in finding financing for any
of his other films and many projects cancelled as a result
thereof, he never failed to amaze. He filmed Kafka, he played
a corrupt police on the Mexican border and did numerous other
fascinating roles. Orson Welles died October 9th 1985 and he
could by then look back on quite an amazing career. The flick
to remember above else, I submit this, is with no doubt
Citizen Kane which stands certainly among the top few and
the absolute best in the history of cinema, winning new audiences
as time goes by. The purest sense of breath-taking, inventive
cinematography, a brilliant script and terrific acting all through
119 minutes are here for us, created by a fearless debutant of
25 years who would stop at nothing hammering this art form
to an unknown hight, surpassed by few.
To give this film the chance it deserves is just a very obligatory
thing to do. The American Film Institute's Top 100 has it right
on top of the scale, as do so many other lists of great films.
The irony is of course that it took so long to get the broad
public to enjoy it, to see it without the discriminate viewing
many were inclined to see it with during the 1940s.
An estimate is that it took about a quarter of a Century for
it to really be freed of the chains that were attached to it.
That's just proof once again that true art can and will gain
ground through the ages, conquer obstacles and poor taste of
the times, a they're the ones that are destined to be one of
Orson Welles is known to have said this:
I die they'll be picking over my creative bones... The films
will suddenly get financing; the films will get restored, old
scripts that we couldn't get financed, they'll find the financing
for some kid to direct. There will be biographies of me, and
documentaries. It's just inevitable."
How true these words are, tragic in a sense but there are still
The Official Academy
Battle of Citizen Kane
William Randolph Hearst