DVD: RKO 281 (1999)
Label: Warner Home Video/ Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: April 25, 2000
Genre: Docu-Drama / Film History / TV Movie
Synopsis: Dramatization of the battling egos when media tycoon William Randolph Hearst attempts to stop the release of Orson Welles’ film debut, “Citizen Kane.”
Special Features: (none)
Inspired by the superb PBS documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane [M] (1996), executive producers Tony and Ridley Scott fashioned this high-quality docu-drama which effectively traces the making of Citizen Kane [M] from the moment boy wonder Orson Welles snagged a virtual carte blanche production deal to the film’s release in 1941.
With plenty of rich factual material from which to draw, screenwriter John Logan (who also penned Ridley Scott’s Gladiator) distilled his elements into a compelling drama that doesn’t transform anyone into a saintly or villainous caricature. Welles (Live Schreiber) tries to usurp Kane’s authorship from writing partner / story originator Herman J. “Mank” Mankiewicz (John Malkovich) because he’s been told far too many times he was a “genius”; Mank gives into Welles’ pestering and writes the first draft of the script, knowing the details drawn from the personal lives of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst (James Cromwell) and Marion Davies (Melanie Griffiths) will leave them and RKO open to Hearst’s rage and powerful media empire; and studio production chief George Schaefer (Roy Scheider) took a gamble by luring Welles to RKO with a controversial production deal so sweet, it weakened his own power.
Woven into the drama are the effects of vile gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, and the cinematographer Gregg Toland, who sought out Welles for the chance to film Kane and learn new tricks from a young, brash, arrogant new filmmaker – even if Welles had never directed a studio picture before.
This HBO TV movie has very high production values, including ornate British locations and sleek set designs that perfectly evoke 1941 Hollywood, including its style, and wealth, and excess. John Altman’s orchestral underscore and jazzy source songs match the script’s fast pacing and dry tone, and director Benjamin Ross exploits the film within a film and rampant cineaste references, but never loses sight of the characters that remain fairly humane by the end. It’s also appropriate that the TV movie ends as Kane finally makes its theatrical debut, leaving viewers to check out the original documentary for further details.
Only qualms: while we know or are aware of the fates dolled out to Welles, Schaefer, and Hearst, Mankiewicz’s own career isn’t given any postscript, and it’s worth noting that Kane, and the Oscar it won for Best Original Screenplay, rekindled the veteran screenwriter’s career, making him bankable again. Mankiewicz soon after scripted a series of classics, including The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Christmas Holiday (1944), Enchanted Cottage (1945), and A Woman’s Secret (1949).
This title is available separately, and as part of Warner Home Video’s Citizen Kane 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition on DVD and Blu-ray.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan
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