Citizen Kane is a 1941 film, produced by RKO Pictures and Mercury Films. It is Orson Welles' first feature, and he produced, co-wrote (with Herman J. Mankiewicz), directed and played the leading role of Charles Foster Kane.
Inside his unfinished palatial mansion, media mogul Charles Foster Kane lies Dying Alone, having lived in seclusion from the world for many years. With his final breath, he utters the word "Rosebud." The movie unfolds in flashback as Intrepid Reporter Jerry Thompson tries to unravel the significance of Kane's dying declaration through interviewing those who knew him. However, no one he talks to knows just who or what Rosebud was; the closest answer he gets is from Kane's butler who concludes he was just saying a nonsense word. Thompson never does solve the mystery, though the answer is shown to the audience in the final scene. The conclusion? It is indeed Lonely at the Top.
Welles was known as an avant-garde theatre director and radio star at the time of making Citizen Kane. The film was the product of a unique contract that granted him full Auteur License and "final cut" approval, a rare privilege unheard of for a first-time director back then and even today. The end result of this was a technical breakthrough in cinematic storytelling with pioneering achievements in cinematography, editing, narrative structure, music, set design, special effects, and even film promotionnote . (When Welles was once asked in an interview where he found the confidence to direct such an innovative work, he famously replied, "Ignorance … sheer ignorance. There is no confidence to equal it.") The film was also controversial for its protagonist's thinly-veiled resemblance to real-life media mogul William Randolph Hearst, who subsequently moved to sabotage its release.
Citizen Kane represented the film debut and Star-Making Role not just of Welles but of most of his Mercury Theatre troupe that came with him to Hollywood. Joseph Cotten, who plays Kane's best friend Jed Leland, became a major star. Agnes Moorehead, who went on to enjoy a long career as a character actress, plays young Kane's mother in the opening sequence. Bernard Herrmann, who was the composer for Welles' The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio show, became one of the most famous composers in Hollywood history. Future A-lister Alan Ladd can be seen as the reporter smoking a pipe (he's talking with Thompson in the last scene). Robert Wise, who later enjoyed a hugely successful career as a director, did the editing. Gregg Toland (The Grapes of Wrath) was the director of photography, and his contribution was so essential to the film that Welles put Toland's name on the same title card as his director credit.