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Reviewing the Rotten Review of ‘Citizen Kane’

An 80-year-old review of ‘Citizen Kane’ was added to Rotten Tomatoes database, causing the film to lose its 100% rating. We review that review.

citizen kane rotten tomatoes review
Photo: Heritage Auctions, HA.com

Twitter was being its beautiful self recently as we saw the movie Paddington 2 (2018) trend. The reason? Citizen Kane (1941) had a movie review almost 80 years old added to the Rotten Tomatoes database. This rotten (negative) review caused Citizen Kane to lose its 100% Fresh rating, allowing Paddington 2 claim to the title of “Best Movie Ever” via Rotten Tomatoes. While ample attention is being paid to Paddington, I want to look at the infamous rotten rating. Let’s review the rotten review of Citizen Kane.

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Citizen Kane came out in 1941. It was co-written by Howard Mankiewicz and Orson Welles. Wells also directed starred as the titular Kane. The movie received high praise when it was released, and over the years it is consistently mentioned as the greatest film ever made. It was also nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning one for Original Screenplay. It was hard to find anything but praise for the movie until the crew at Rotten Tomatoes got to digging through some old Chicago Tribune clippings.

The review was originally run on May 7th, 1941, and was written by Mae Tinee. Tinee was the nom de plume of Frances Peck.

Peck, who admittedly I did not know of before digging into this, is a badass. The title of the review did not hold back, either: “Citizen Kane Fails to Impress Critic as Greatest Ever Filmed”. Mae came right in from the top rope.

The snippet they used on Rotten Tomatoes captures her opinion on the film perfectly:

“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.”

– Mae Tinee

Credit: Chicago Tribune 7 May, 1941. Accessed at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/72431782/citizen-kane/
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She spoke highly of the performances of the cast for the most part, as well as the writing. Based on the title of the review, I’m curious how much expectation weighed in on her review. It’s tough when you go into a movie or show for the first time and all you’ve heard from everyone that it’s the best thing ever. If you post online that you are planning to watch The Sopranos for the first time, you’d get bombarded with unsolicited opinions. And it makes sense it’s always been this way.

Another interesting thing about her review was that she highlighted the absence of an all persons fictitious disclaimer at the start of the film. There was a lot of controversy over the film depicting the life of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst himself was irate and used his connections to help ensure the movie bombed, and from a financial standpoint, it did. It seems like Tinee was very much on the side of the actual newspaper magnate, not the fictitious one on screen.

Credit: Chicago Tribune, January 1915. Photo accessed at https://wfpp.columbia.edu/pioneer/frances-peck/

In all, Mae Tinee provided a great review of the film. While it’s unfortunate for Citizen Kane‘s Rotten Tomatoes score, she provided succinct reasoning for her review. I’m glad I fell down a rabbit hole reading some of Tinee’s other movie reviews; she’s a talented writer and a true OG of women in film review. Stay tuned, I think there is more to tell on the story of Mae Tinee/Frances Peck.


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Schwartzy is a DILF and (participation) trophy husband. More Splenda Daddy than Sugar. I do the twitter, hit me up! @drschwa_96

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