Partially drawing upon research by UCLA film professor Howard Suber, Kael sang the praises of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as the principal author of the Kane screenplay, and in so doing tarnished the contributions of director-cowriter and star Orson Welles.
Kael’s essay was later called into question if not discredited.
Two critics who’ve seen David Fincher‘s Mank (Netflix, 11.13), which is largely about the Manckiewicz-Welles relationship during the writing and making of Citizen Kane, are saying that the film revives the Kael view.
Mank “makes the implicit argument that Welles didn’t deserve co-screenplay credit,” says one. “This will unfortunately reignite the old Pauline Kael debate decades after she was rightly discredited for her shoddy research. The nearly 80-year-old argument that will never die, just slumber for years before being shaken awake again.”
The other critic agrees that Fincher’s film “does make that argument. But it’s called Mank and not Orson…I felt like [this] was okay in context.”
From a 2.28.16 Lou Lumenick N.Y. Post story, titled “My dad wrote Citizen Kane — not Orson Welles.”
“Orson Welles wrote ‘not one word’ of Citizen Kane,” insists a posthumous memoir by a son of the man who shared a Best Original Screenplay with the director of the 1941 classic.
“Frank Mankiewicz — who was Robert F. Kennedy’s press secretary, ran George McGovern’s presidential campaign and co-founded what became National Public Radio — writes in ‘So As I Was Saying…‘ that his father, Herman Mankiewicz, agreed to a shared credit as a favor to Welles.
“The son strongly supports the findings of Pauline Kael, who famously minimized Welles’ contributions to the writing of the film in ‘Raising Kane’, a lengthy essay that originally ran in The New Yorker in 1971.
“Welles’ many biographers have disputed her conclusions, [which were] drawn largely from interviews with John Houseman and Rita Alexander, who helped Mankiewicz edit his overlong script.
Ben Mankiewicz on CBS: “The debate over who wrote Citizen Kane has been raging for decades. My grandfather had a long first draft. Welles condensed it. They shared the film’s only Academy Award, the Oscar for Best Screenplay.”