The Citizen Kane Book

Despite Orson Welles’s constant claim that “cinema is the work of one single person,” Kael’s essay “Raising Kane” Persuasively demonstrates that Herman Mankiewicz, not Welles, was responsible for the script. In this and other respects, the film should be seen as a triumph of collaborative work rather than as the product of a single genius who was never again able to duplicate his early success. Kael does not so much deny as reinterpret Welles’s genius: His greatest achievement, she says, came from his ability to gather and galvanize a talented ensemble, including Mankiewicz, cinematographer Gregg Toland, and actors from his Mercury Theatre troupe.

Throughout her essay, Kael often seems less concerned with raising than debunking CITIZEN KANE. She repeatedly calls it a shallow masterpiece, a popular melodrama based on overstated scandal and oversimplified Freudianism. Yet despite the fact that she wants to show Welles’s feet of clay, Kael also wants to establish the true basis of CITIZEN KANE’s greatness. She chops away at the almost mythological stature of the film and its director but still ends up with something giant-size: Her praise of Welles’s magical presence as an actor and Mankiewicz’s rare ability to write a script that is insightful and satiric but not sentimental or sanctimonious, for example, balances some of her other less sympathetic judgments.

Besides voicing her own critical opinions, Kael presents a considerable amount of background information about CITIZEN KANE, including a very intriguing discussion of how Kane is not only a portrait of William Randolph Hearst but also a not entirely flattering representation of Welles himself. It would be very useful to have a text of the early version of the screenplay written by Mankiewicz, titled simply “American,” but this might be asking too much of an already lengthy book. Kael’s introduction and the two scripts printed here give the reader plenty of material to engage in serious study of this classic film.