‘Citizen Kane’ is no ‘Paddington 2,’ says Rotten Tomatoes
By Sarah Bahr
There is perfect. And then there is almost perfect.
And as anyone who’s ever gotten a 99% on a test can tell you, the two are not the same thing.
“Citizen Kane,” the 1941 Orson Welles classic about the rise and fall of publishing magnate Charles Foster Kane, long had a perfect critics’ score on the film website Rotten Tomatoes, which had aggregated 115 reviews. Until last month.
That is when a rediscovered write-up by a critic who died decades ago played spoiler.
The 80-year-old, less-than-effusive review, headlined “Citizen Kane Fails to Impress Critic as Greatest Ever Filmed,” resurfaced last month as part of a new archival project at Rotten Tomatoes. The review, which ran in the Chicago Tribune in 1941 and was quietly added to the “Citizen Kane” page on Rotten Tomatoes in March, brought the classic film, which is regularly placed atop lists of greatest American films, down a peg or two.
“You’ve heard a lot about this picture and I see by the ads that some experts think it ‘the greatest movie ever made,’” the critic, whose punny pseudonymous byline was Mae Tinee, wrote. “I don’t.”
The problem? It was a little too fresh, apparently.
“It’s interesting,” the reviewer wrote. “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 film’s black and white photography, which has been lauded for years for its atmospheric, noirish touch, was criticized as “shadowy and spooky” by the reviewer, who said it “gives one the creeps.”
“I kept wishing they’d let a little sunshine in,” she wrote. (She was a fan of Welles as an actor, though, calling him a “zealous and effective performer.”)
With the inclusion of her dissenting opinion, the film is now rated only 99% “Fresh” on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.
This means that, according to the review site, there are now 63 films with at least 40 reviews that are now more universally admired by critics than “Citizen Kane.” The site’s “100% Club” includes some predictable classics (“Modern Times,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Maltese Falcon”) and some less predictable recent films (the first two “Toy Story” movies).
One member of the club? “Paddington 2,” the children’s film about a bear who, according to the review site, “spreads joy and marmalade wherever he goes.” Its writer and director, Paul King, told The Hollywood Reporter that he while he was pleased the film was on the list, he would not take it edging out “Citizen Kane” too seriously. “I won’t let it go too much to my head and immediately build my Xanadu,” he said.
Rotten Tomatoes, which may soon take the critical scores of more classics down to earth as older archival reviews are added to the site, has previously acknowledged that members of the “100% Club” aren’t necessarily perfect.
“It’s a tough road for a movie to get a 100% with critics, fraught with peril,” a page on the site devoted to the paragons of perfect percentage says. “What if a small plot hole is big enough to irk a persnickety reviewer? What if the cinematographer didn’t show up that one day for a crucial scene? What if there was a bum performance from one of the background extras?”
The Mae Tinee take on “Citizen Kane” was a minority opinion at the time.
“In spite of some disconcerting lapses and strange ambiguities in the creation of the principal character,” critic Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times after attending the film’s 1941 premiere at the Palace Theater, “‘Citizen Kane’ is far and away the most surprising and cinematically exciting motion picture to be seen here in many a moon.”
“As a matter of fact,” he added, “It comes close to being the most sensational film ever made in Hollywood.”
The film was also the recent inspiration for Netflix’s “Mank,” a biopic of “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, which starred Gary Oldman and won two Oscars on Sunday (but which the critics aggregated by Rotten Tomatoes rated only 83% Fresh).
But there has been a corner of the internet that has argued for years that “Kane,” for all its accolades, was just, well, meh. (See sincere Reddit threads headlined “Is Citizen Kane the most overrated film of all time?” and “Can somebody please seriously in detail explain why Citizen Kane is considered by many critics and moviegoers as the best film ever made.”)
And now, with a change of 1 percentage point, those skeptics can rest a bit easier — thanks to Reviewer 116.