RKO 281, the working title for "Citizen Kane," was released last year on HBO to critical acclaim. It won a Golden Globe for the Best Motion Picture Made for Television. Liev Schreiber stars as Orson Welles, the hottest new director in Hollywood after his infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. "Citizen Kane" was to be his first motion picture, for RKO (it was their 281st production, hence the title of the film). Welles derives his inspiration for "Citizen Kane" after a dinner meeting with the hypocritical and tyrannical newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (played by James Cromwell). With the help of Herman Mankiewicz (played by John Malkovich), the scriptwriter, Welles directs what some call even today the greatest American movie ever. But, upon learning that the film is about him, Hearst tries to shut the movie down, by using his vast newspaper empire, blackmail, and threats. Can Welles convince RKO and its stockholders to believe in him and allow "Citizen Kane" to open?
Of course, some of the suspense in the movie is taken away, since this is history, and we know the outcome. But RKO 281 provides a fascinating "behind the scenes" view of what Welles had to overcome to get his movie made and released, and the effect it had on him and his friendships. All of the actors in the movie are terrific, including the aforementioned, along with Melanie Griffith, Roy Scheider, and Brenda Blethyn. The only shortcoming of the film is that its too short – lasting at a mere 87 minutes, it left me wanting more – the box promised too much, and gave too little.
RKO 281 is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, and displays only one or two very small flaws in the print during the film. Usually, however, the print is crisp, clean, and detailed.
Three options are presented for audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, and Spanish Mono. The score for the movie is terrific in DD 5.1, but the movie itself lends to very little surround, as this is mostly dialogue.
Easily the weakest part of the disc, RKO 281 only includes the choice of subtitles/languages, six cast bios (for the aforementioned actors), two crew bios, and chapter selections.
RKO 281 is an easy rental for anyone interested in knowing more about the making of "Citizen Kane." Although the movie runs too short and doesn't provide as much history as it could have, I found RKO 281 to be a very entertaining film with its strong performances, and recommend it, despite the lack of extras.