RKO 281

RKO 281 Information

RKO 281 is a 1999 historical drama film directed by Benjamin Ross. It stars Liev Schreiber, James Cromwell, Melanie Griffith, John Malkovich, Roy Scheider and Liam Cunningham. The film depicts the troubled production behind the 1941 film Citizen Kane. The film's title is a reference to the original production number of Citizen Kane.

Plot outline

In 1940, Orson Welles (Schreiber), RKO studio head George Schaefer (Scheider), and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Malkovich) struggle in making what will be considered as the greatest American film of all time, Citizen Kane. After learning that Welles' film is actually a thinly-veiled and exceptionally unflattering biography, publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Cromwell) uses his immense power and influence to try to bury the picture.

Misrepresentation of Davies and Hearst

Much of the film shows similarities between Kane and Hearst but also suggests Susan is based on Hearst's longtime mistress Marion Davies. However, in the introduction to Davies' autobiography The Time We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst, Orson Welles wrote "And what of Susan Alexander? What indeed. It was a real man who built an opera house for the soprano of his choice, and much in the movie was borrowed from that story, but the man was not Hearst. Susan, Kane's second wife, is not even based on the real-life soprano. Like most fictional characters, Susan's resemblance to other fictional characters is quite startling. To Marion Davies she bears no resemblance at all." Welles went on to say: "Hearst put up the money for many of the movies in which Marion Davies was starred and, more importantly, backed her with publicity. But this was less of a favor than might appear. That vast publicity machine was all too visible; and finally, instead of helping, it cast a shadow"?a shadow of doubt. Could the star have existed without the machine? The question darkened an otherwise brilliant career. As one who shares much of the blame for casting another shadow"?the shadow of Susan Alexander Kane"?I rejoice in this opportunity to record something which today is all but forgotten except for those lucky enough to have seen a few of her pictures: Marion Davies was one of the most delightfully accomplished comediennes in the whole history of the screen. She would have been a star if Hearst had never happened. She was also a delightful and very considerable person."

While much is made of Hearst's fight with RKO and Welles over the similarity of Hearst and Kane, no mention is given to the fact that Hearst played a major role in exaggerating the legend of Welles' 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds.

Filming locations

Producer Ridley Scott wanted to film in the Hearst Castle, but was denied. The movie was filmed in the United Kingdom, mostly around London. The Gothic stairwell in Hearst Castle was filmed in the St Pancras Chambers, attached to St. Pancras Station. Hearst's private quarters and office, including a marble fireplace, were filmed in the high-ceilinged Gamble Room in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The fireplace seen in the room was saved from Dorchester House prior to that building's demolition in 1929. The Hearst castle dining hall and ballroom was filmed in the Great Hall of the London Guildhall.


On aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a "fresh" rating of 92%, based on 13 reviews.


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