It's considered the greatest American film ever made. Orson Welles, along with Herman J. Mankiewicz, won an Academy Award for original screenplay, and virtually the entire creative team was acknowledged with Oscar nominations. Released in 1941, Citizen Kane was the first film Welles directed, and he was given extraordinary freedom — freedom to develop his own story and use his own cast and crew; he even had final cut. Gregg Toland's cinematography is so indelible that, as a tip of the hat, for the opening credits Welles had Toland's credit appear on the same card as his own for director. Based on the life of William Randolph Hearst and primarily told in a series of flashbacks, the story follows the death of a publishing tycoon as a news reporter attempts to unravel the meaning of his final utterance. Hearst was deeply offended by the film's less than beatific portrayal of its protagonist. While critically lauded, Citizen Kane was not a box office smash upon its release, due in no small part to the efforts of Hearst and his supporters to intimidate exhibitors into refusing to show it. (Hearst even prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers.) It took some years before the film's reputation of greatness was solidified, initially by French critics and more widely by its American revival in 1956. It's a reputation that continues to blossom.

Tue., Dec. 21, 1 p.m., 2010

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