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'Citizen Kane' At 70: Film School In A Box For The Serious Cinephile

Citizen Welles: Tyro filmmaker Orson Welles' bigger-than-life movie debut was hailed in some quarters as groundbreaking, damned in others as slanderous. (Getty Images)

It's time again for our movie critic Bob Mondello's latest home-viewing recommendation. This week, Bob takes a look at a 70th anniversary Blu-Ray release of what many call the greatest film of all time: Citizen Kane.

Tragic, demanding, controversial, larger-than-life, and a mystery even to those who knew him. That's newspaperman Charles Foster Kane, and those terms could also be applied to theater genius Orson Welles, who produced, directed, co-wrote, and starred in Citizen Kane when he was all of 25.

The extras in this boxed set (many of which were also in the standard DVD set released a decade ago) make it easy to watch and re-watch his performance, and the intricate jigsaw puzzle of a film it's in, first to revel in its storytelling, then to learn why cineastes love it so much. The geek-squad explanations are handled in two full-length commentaries — one by director Peter Bogdanovich, the other by critic Roger Ebert (both recorded for the 60th anniversary release).

Each of them dissects virtually every shot — think of it as a filmmaking class in a box. The Blu-ray set includes posters and storyboards, a reprint of a 16-page souvenir program from 1941, and even some Schwab's Pharmacy receipts for three cases of scotch. The receipts bear the initials O.W. (no doubt he required them for medicinal purposes while editing).

There's also a two-hour documentary recounting the panic Welles caused with his War Of The Worlds radio show (the event that got him a Hollywood contract), and also the war waged against the film by newspaperman William Randolph Hearst, who thought Kane (with some justification) was a personal slander.

The great filmmaker Robert Wise, who edited Kane when he was still a kid, says he saw the film a little differently. In retrospect, he tells an interviewer, the story — outsized, sad especially at the end, but brilliant — seemed as descriptive of Welles as it was of Hearst.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host: It's that time again for our movie critic Bob Mondello's latest home-viewing recommendation. This week a new, 70th anniversary release of what many call the greatest film of all time, "Citizen Kane."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CITIZEN KANE")

ORSON WELLES: (as Charles Foster Kane) Rosebud.

BOB MONDELLO: Tragic, demanding, controversial, larger than life and a mystery, even to those who knew him. That's newspaper man Charles Foster Kane - and by many accounts, theater genius Orson Welles, who produced, directed, co-wrote and starred in "Citizen Kane" when he was all of 25.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CITIZEN KANE")

WELLES: (as Charles Foster Kane) As Charles Foster Kane, who owns 82,364 shares of public transit preferred - you see, I do have a general idea of my holdings - I sympathize with you. Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel. His paper should be run out of town. A committee should be formed to boycott him. You may, if you can form such a committee, put me down for a contribution of $1,000.

On the other hand, I am the publisher of the Inquirer.

MONDELLO: You may want to watch his performance, and the intricate jigsaw puzzle of a film it's in, several times - first, to revel in its storytelling, then to learn why cineastes love it so much. The geek squad explanations are handled in two, full-length commentaries - one, by director Peter Bogdanovich; the other, by critic Roger Ebert - both recorded a decade ago for the 60th anniversary release. Each of them dissects virtually every shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMENTARY)

ROGER EBERT: You see that little hat on the table there? And it just kind of jiggled a little bit as they sat down. I want you to play this back on the DVD and look at it again because, of course, the camera moves straight through the table. How did it do that? Well, the table was built to be in two pieces, and to come together after the camera had cleared it.

MONDELLO: Think of it as a filmmaking class in a box. The Blu-ray set includes posters and storyboards, a reprint of a 16-page souvenir program from 1941, and even the receipts for three cases of scotch initialed by O.W., who doubtless wanted them for medicinal purposes while editing. And there's a two-hour documentary recounting the war waged against the film by newspaper man William Randolph Hearst, who considered "Citizen Kane" a personal slander.

WELLES: Hearst was absolutely furious about this film and wanted it destroyed, period.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No Hearst newspaper ever published a review. No Hearst newspaper ever published an ad. The orders came from San Simeon.

MONDELLO: The great filmmaker Robert Wise, who edited "Kane" when he was still a kid, thought the film turned out, in retrospect, to be more descriptive of Welles than of Hearst - outsized, sad - especially at the end - but brilliant.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM "CITIZEN KANE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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