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People will think “what I tell them to think,” Charles Foster Kane famously declared in Citizen Kane.
And for decades, many critics and film scholars thought Orson Welles’ 1941 film was hands-down the Best Movie Ever Made.
Accordingly, the black-and-white drama’s 100 percent “Fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes has likewise long reflected that honor.
But not anymore.
Citizen Kane‘s score across 116 reviews has been reduced to a mere 99 percent “Fresh.”
The ranking slip is due to a single negative review that was recently unearthed by Rotten Tomatoes as part of the site’s Archival Project, which focuses on resurrecting critics and publications of the past and adding archived reviews to classic films. The project discovered a Citizen Kane review that ran in the Chicago Tribune in 1941 and is only available online as a scanned newspaper clipping. Last month, the review was quietly added to Kane’s page.
The review’s headline is incredibly on point, given the circumstances: “Citizen Kane Fails to Impress Critic as Greatest Ever Filmed.”
If that sounds like somebody went to the theater with rather high expectations, the review confirms as much. “You’ve heard a lot about this picture and I see by the ads that some experts think it ‘the greatest movie ever made,'” reads the review. “I don’t. It’s interesting. It’s different. In fact, it’s bizarre enough to become a museum piece. But its sacrifice of simplicity to eccentricity robs it of distinction and general entertainment value.” The review went on to pan the film’s iconic use of shadow (“it gives me the creeps and I kept wishing they’d let a little sunshine in”), yet praised Welles in the title role (“a zealous and effective performer”).
The critic apparently didn’t put their real name on the piece, but, as Boing-Boing pointed out, used the common-at-the-time pseudonym Mae Tinée (say it aloud). But whoever wrote it managed to pen a bomb that took 80 years to effectively detonate and blow up Citizen Kane‘s perfect score. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the first Citizen Kane reviews were added to the site in 2000 and the film most likely had a consistent 100 percent score for the past two decades — until Mr./Ms. Tinée’s dismissive takedown was discovered.
For the record, The Hollywood Reporter has been around for 91 years and back in 1941 thought Citizen Kane was pretty damn good.
Here are some movies that — by the rules of Rotten Tomatoes gladiatorial review ranking combat — are officially Better Than Citizen Kane by virtue of having perfect 100 percent scores along with at least 40 reviews: The Terminator, Toy Story, Paddington 2, Before Sunrise, Man on Wire (they’re along with the usual classic film school staples that you expect to find in the 100 percent club, such as Frankenstein, The Grapes of Wrath, The Maltese Falcon and Battleship Potemkin).
Paddington 2 has a certain distinction in the group as it’s also the film in this club with the most reviews (244), leading many to declare it the new Best Movie of All Time – something its director, Paul King, had something to say about.
The news comes on the heels of Netflix’s Mank, a biopic about Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, scoring a somewhat disappointing two Oscars on Sunday. The anonymous Chicago Tribune critic passingly mentioned Mankiewicz in their review, but apparently didn’t have any strong feelings about him either way.
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