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 as 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' debut film was the product of a unique contract that gave him full Auteur License and "final cut" approvalnote . An avant-garde theatre director and radio star, his first film as a director was a technical breakthrough in cinematic storytelling and pioneered several achievements in cinematography, set design and special effects. 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. The film became the quintessential Acclaimed Flop though it would recoup its losses in its vastly more successful anniversary and repertory screenings.
Future A-lister Alan Ladd can be seen as the reporter smoking a pipe.
This film provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents:
- Mr. Thatcher seems to be very distant from his young ward. Have you ever wondered how any human being could ignore that to have love, you have to give love? Well, just imagine him being raised by Mr. Thatcher.
- Emotionally, Mrs. Kane towards her son as she wants to insure that he has wealth and "proper" upbringing at the cost of being raised by his parents. The irony is that trying to protect Kane from his physically abusive real father, his mother condemned him to emotional neglect by Mr. Thatcher.
- Kane's father, physically speaking, which is partly why his mother sends him away in the first place. Although in his defense the one time he threatens to strike his son, is after Charles violently pushed Thatcher down with his sled.
- Achievements in Ignorance: According to an interview with Orson Welles, the technical advances of the film had a lot to do with this trope.Interviewer: What I'd like to know is where did you get the confidence from to make a film with such—Welles: Ignorance. Ignorance. Sheer ignorance. You know there's no confidence to equal it. It's only when you know something about a profession, I think, that you're timid, or careful, or...Interviewer: How did this ignorance show itself?Welles: I thought you could do anything with a camera that the eye could do, or the imagination could do. And if you come up from the bottom in the film business, you're taught all the things that the cameraman doesn't want to attempt for fear he will be criticized for having failed. And in this case I had a cameraman who didn't care if he was criticized if he failed, and I didn't know that there were things you couldn't do, so anything I could think up in my dreams, I attempted to photograph.Interviewer: You got away with enormous technical advances, didn't you?Welles: Simply by not knowing that they were impossible. Well, theoretically impossible.
- Actor Allusion: Kane knows plenty of magic tricks that amuse Susan. Orson Welles himself was an amateur magician.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Leland writes a scathing review of Susan's opera performance, passing out from drink afterwards. Kane reads it over his shoulder and can't help laughing.
- Actually, That's My Assistant: When Kane is buying the Inquirer, the editor of the paper mistakes Leland for Kane.
- Age Cut: "Merry Christmas" [cut forward about 15 years] "and a Happy New Year".
- Air Quotes: In-Universe and a Plot Point: Jed chuckles that Kane was determined to make Susan an accomplished opera star to Take That! the newspaper describing her as a "singer".
- All in the Eyes: Kane's eyes are lit at the opera house during Susan's disastrous debut. It shows his monomania and disconnection from the audience reaction.
- All Take and No Give: Kane's main problem. He wants everyone to love him, but he doesn't have any love to give in return.
- Alternative Character Interpretation: In-Universe with the opening newsreel in which Kane is denounced as both a communist and a fascist.
- Ambiguously Gay: Leland the "Broadway critic" is coded as gay (couldn't be stated outright under The Hays Code) and was possibly infatuated with Kane in his early years.
- Ambiguously Jewish: Mr. Bernstein. In fact, it's implied in one scene that Kane's first wife feels uncomfortable around Bernstein for precisely that reason. note Emily also complains about a Noodle Incident with Bernstein.Emily: Your Mr. Bernstein sent junior the most incredible atrocity yesterday, Charles. I simply can't have it in the nursery.
- The atrocity in question is a mezuzah, a box containing sacred Hebrew texts (usually the Ten Commandments), affixed to a doorpost, often believed to act as a warding or protection (and thus a protection over the child). Additionally, if "Mr. Bernstein is apt to pay a visit to the nursery now and then", he'd kiss his fingers and then touch the mezuzah upon entering and leaving the room.
- Anachronic Order: The film starts with the title character's death, gives us a brief newsreel outline of his life, then fills in the details of his life with a series of flashbacks. The flashbacks are not in chronological order; their order depends on the order in which a reporter interviews people.
- And I Must Scream: How Susan feels about Xanadu.
- And Starring: The final image of the credits, after all the secondary characters have had clips shown of them with their actors' names, is a list of the bit part actors. Then at the bottom it says "Orson Welles as Kane". Roger Ebert stated it was a blatant example of false modesty on Welles' part. He adds that listing Gregg Toland's cinematography credit alongside his directorial credit on the same card was true modesty.
- Anger Montage: The room trashing sequence. The movie commentary tracks note that this scene was a bit of "method acting" that got out of control. Welles broke his hand very early in the sequence; you can see him favoring it at the end. Also different from the typical example in that it is shown in a couple of long master shots, rather than an actual montage of closeups: this is because they could only do one take.
- Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: Given that he was based on William Randolph Hearst, Kane qualifies.
- Arc Words: "Rosebud." is a possible Ur-Example. Of course, it's not really enigmatic anymore.
- Arch-Enemy: Walter Parks Thatcher and 'Boss' Jim W. Gettys to Charles Foster Kane.
- Aside Glance:Thatcher: "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper." Hmmph!
- Badass Boast:Kane: You're right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place in... (smirking) 60 years.
- Became Their Own Antithesis: Kane starts out with a declaration of principles, championing the Inquirer and himself as a tireless seeker of truth and justice and the defender of "the common man", until he slowly becomes a power-hungry controller of information who wants the common man to love him but who has none to give back, exemplified when he loudly proclaims that the people will think "what I tell them to think".
- Big Eater: Kane, as evidenced by this early exchange:Jedidiah: Are you still eating?
Kane: I'm still hungry.
- Big Fancy House: Xanadu, which is cited as the largest private estate in the world, the cost of which to maintain quote "No man can say".
- Biopic: It's a biopic of an entirely fictional character (albeit one inspired by real-life figures) but Citizen Kane more or less invented and codified many of the tropes of the Biopic genre and actively inspired many later works on real-life figures.
This has to do with the fact that the film's narrative actively tries to dramatize, as the newsreel colleague says, "70 years in a man's life". A major problem with any film biography is telescoping the key incidents and shaping a proper dramatic arc to a life. Kane's approach, using the Character Death as an Excuse Plot inspired later films, such as Lawrence of Arabia and others, which managed to avoid the Foregone Conclusion nature of the story while still finding room for dramatic possibilities.
Welles putting on aging makeup and other aspects to show Kane in different times, paved the way for other actors in later films to portray characters in different stages of life, for instance, Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar. Likewise, the film's focus on Kane's interior struggle and ambitions as a way to make the character somewhat relatable often led to many films using a MacGuffin to tell the story.
- Blade-of-Grass Cut: Rosebud does not apply, but the snowglobe possibly does.
- Blunt "Yes":Leland: Bernstein, am I a stuffed shirt? Am I a horse-faced hypocrite? Am I a New England school marm?Bernstein: Yes. If you thought I'd answer you any differently than what Mr. Kane tells you...
- Book Ends: The same shot of Kane's house and the fence in front with a sign reading "No Trespassing".
- The Brainless Beauty: Susan Alexander Kane is more naive than stupid, really. It's just that her voice has "bimbo" connotations.
- Broken Ace: Under all his wealth and prestige, Kane is a broken man who can't hold down a relationship with anyone and desperately longs for his stolen childhood.
- Burn Baby Burn: The last shot is of Kane's childhood sled burning. Ultra close up on the sled's name, which is Rosebud but come on, you should know this already.
- Byronic Hero: Kane is an archetypal example. As a little boy, he gets snatched from his family and introduced into the cold, ruthless world of media, politics, and business. By rising to the top of that ruthless world through cutthroat cunning, he becomes an internationally famous media tycoon and one of the richest men of all time. But under all that wealth, he's a broken man who can't hold down a relationship with anyone and desperately longs for his stolen childhood.
- Bus Crash: Thanks to the Moral Guardians, Kane's first wife and son had to be killed in a car crash so Kane could marry Susan.
- Calling the Old Man Out:
- Kane delivers one to his adoptive guardian, Mr. Thatcher:Kane: You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man.
Thatcher: Don't you think you are?
Kane: I think I did pretty well, under the circumstances.
Thatcher: What would you like to have been?
Kane: Everything you hate.
- This is displacement. Kane's really angry at his mother, for sending Kane away when he was young, and putting him into Thatcher's hands. Implicitly, Thatcher is a decent (if very conservative) middle-aged banker who did his best while (ahem) raising Kane.
- Kane delivers one to his adoptive guardian, Mr. Thatcher:
- Capitalism Is Bad: The film is often seen as an attack on The American Dream, featuring a highly unsympathetic, though not one-dimensional or caricatured, portrayal of the American tycoon. It apparently struck a nerve with William Randolph Hearst, one of its inspirations, who managed to upset its distribution and make it a box-office flop.
- This wasn't just a "feud" as it has been portrayed. Harlan Lebo in his book Citizen Kane, A Filmmaker's Journey reveals the massive scope of Hearst's plot to destroy Welles and his film. They even smuggled an underage girl into Welles' hotel room and had two photographers standing ready. Fortunately, a police investigator warned Welles in time.
- Censor Decoy: The birthday/song scene originally took place in a brothel. Welles knew he'd never be able to get away with that, but he kept it in the screenplay so the execs at RKO wouldn't notice the jabs he was taking at Hearst.
- Central Theme:
- How will the world remember you when you are gone?
- Money can't buy love or happiness. Even the most powerful people in the world often truly desire simple things—like having a real childhood.
- Even in a world of mass information, it's sometimes impossible to truly "know" the people around us.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The now legendary sled.
- Also the Declaration of Principles, which Leland sends back to Kane after Kane has betrayed those principles.
- Chiaroscuro: Like many tropes, the usage of Chiaroscuro in film was widely popularized by Citizen Kane, although it was already common in German expressionist cinema. This ties into the film's use of "Deep Focus" (one of the techniques cinematographers rave about in the movie). The way they managed to bring foreground and background objects into focus in the same shot required the more distant objects to be extremely brightly lit, encouraging the heavy-shadow Chiaroscuro compositions. Which is why Welles put Gregg Toland's name on the same card as him.
- Classical Antihero: The titular character, albeit one Played for Drama.
- Collector of the Strange: Kane is one. He collects so many things - animals and plants, everything he had in his life - that after his death, a lot of his collection is not catalogued nor even unpacked, and has to be sold off or destroyed:Newsreel Narrator: [at beginning of news reel on Charles Foster Kane's death] Legendary was Xanadu where Kublai Khan decreed his stately pleasure dome. Today, almost as legendary is Florida's Xanadu, world's largest private pleasure ground. Here, on the deserts of the Gulf Coast, a private mountain was commissioned and successfully built. One hundred thousand trees, twenty thousand tons of marble are the ingredients of Xanadu's mountain. Contents of Xanadu's palace: paintings, pictures, statues, the very stones of many another palace — a collection of everything so big it can never be catalogued or appraised, enough for ten museums — the loot of the world. Xanadu's livestock: the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea, the beast of the field and jungle. Two of each, the biggest private zoo since Noah. Like the pharaohs, Xanadu's landlord leaves many stones to mark his grave. Since the pyramids, Xanadu is the costliest monument a man has built to himself. Here in Xanadu last week, Xanadu's landlord was laid to rest, a potent figure of our century, America's Kubla Khan — Charles Foster Kane.
- Corpsing: Joseph Cotton stayed up 24 hours so that he could be believably drunk in one scene. When he says "film crimiticism", Orson Welles can't help but grin at the unplanned if realistic flub of the line.
- Creator Cameo:
- Cinematographer Gregg Toland appears as a reporter in a brief scene in the opening montage.
- Pretty much every male in the cast plays also one of the reporters in the opening projection room scene. That is one of the reasons why it was shot so dark and shadowy, even compared to the rest of the film. Joseph Cotten is still clearly visible in the corner, however, when the editor is asking "What were his last words?".
- Dark Reprise: As Kane is embarking on his political career, he brings a marching band and a line of chorus girls into his conference room to sing a very upbeat rendition of "There Is a Man, A Certain Man" to the assembled businessmen and politicians at the conference table. ("Who is this man? It's Charlie Kane! He doesn't like that 'Mister'; he likes good old 'Charlie Kane'!") Much later, after Kane has lost the race for New York governor under extremely humiliating circumstances, a much slower and even dirge-like version of "There Is a Man" is played as an instrumental tune as Kane's campaign workers clean all the confetti off of the stage.
- Dead-Hand Shot: At the beginning, with the snowglobe.
- Dead Sparks: Kane and the first Mrs. Kane.
- Deconstruction: In the context of the '40s, and even today to some extent, Citizen Kane radically subverts the conventional Hollywood narrative.
- Citizen Kane was in many ways an attack on the narrative style of The Golden Age of Hollywood as well as several American types like the Self-Made Man and The American Dream. Namely that the idea of defining life in terms of social success and wealth ultimately makes you value people less and makes you desire to control and buy people around you.
- The theme of the story, that of an antihero Dying Alone, unredeemed, an unpleasant, manipulative Jerkass who never learns his lesson even in his old age and who leaves behind several disappointed friends and broken loved ones was fairly harsh, in terms of absence of easy conflict resolution, putting across the futility of life and the passage of time. Likewise the characters are not consistent or slaves to type. Rather than being marked by a single trait and attribute, they have multiple traits and attributes. Kane goes from an idealistic, flamboyant young man to a reclusive, paranoid hermit, the Character Development isn't drastic or cordoned to a single transforming event.
- The opening newsreel montage also parodies the glib, cheery newsreel style reportage at the time, pointing out that even if the information is objectively correct, the tone, the interpretation and drastic editing only gives a shallow, superficial idea of the subject. The multiple-narrators approach, which is still quite revolutionary, directly puts across the problem of objectivity, since there's always one part of the story that's missing and ultimately the reporter, William Alland decides that the full mystery of Kane or his motivations cannot really be known and gives up on finding out what Rosebud is. Even if the film supplies The Reveal and gives viewers a resolution to the Driving Question of "What is Rosebud?", the idea that it can explain Kane any more than the other stories we see remains up in the air.
- Decoy Protagonist: The film is a double subversion. Even though Kane is the title character, he's actually the person we learn about through multiple third-person perspectives of him, since he died at the beginning. The real protagonist is Jerry Thompson, whose goal throughout the film is to find out what "Rosebud" meant.
- Denied Parody:
- Orson Welles denied that Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst. It's unclear whether Welles was telling the truth, but Hearst certainly went out of his way to make sure everyone would think Kane was based off him. How very Charles Foster Kane of him.
- Hearst: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war." Kane: "Dear Wheeler, You provide the prose poems. I'll provide the war." Completely different!
- Welles actually tried to get around this by including a line in the film in which a journalist makes a reference to both Kane and Hearst, thus indicating that Hearst actually exists as a separate entity in the Citizen Kane universe. In later interviews, Welles stated that Hearst along with Howard Hughes and other industrialists were certainly influences on Kane, but that Kane was never intended as a parody/critique/insult to Hearst specifically or other industrialists, it was meant as a serious exploration of an American mythical hero, the tycoon and capitalist.
- Depth Deception: The film used this subtly:
- In one scene, a window turns out to both be much larger and much higher up than it initially appears, which means that when Kane approaches it, he suddenly appears a lot smaller and less significant. This, of course, is used for symbolic effect.
- Also done with the fireplace in Xanadu, which is revealed to be large enough to burn whole trees when Kane goes back to it.
- Determinator: One of Kane's Fatal Flaws, such as forcing the world to accept Susan as an opera singer, which drives her into a suicide attempt.
- Digital Destruction: The film got an accidental taste of this. In one scene, out the window there was supposed to be rain; the person in charge of the film's restoration thought it was excessive film grain, so it was digitally edited out of the restored print. Later, the Blu-ray boasted a new restoration, which brought back such details as the aforementioned rain.
- Downer Beginning: Kane dies in the first scene of the film.
- Downer Ending: By the end of the movie, the viewer realizes that, despite being on top of the world, Kane was tremendously unhappy and what he wanted above all else in his life was to be loved. Kane dies alone, as the movie opens, as he remembers the last time in his life when he was truly happy; when he was playing with his beloved sled, Rosebud. Plus the fact that the reporter and the rest of the world never do find out what "Rosebud" is. The only way the viewer finds out is when it's too late; when the sled is being burned, along with some of Kane's other belongings. The real tragedy is that he had the sled as part of his property throughout his whole life. Still, owning it didn't change a thing - the past is the past. This also means that Kane died with one cherished secret only he knew. The press and the populace could never get their hands on what was closest to his heart. And the snowglobe, which Kane held until he died, had belonged to Susan, who had loved him for himself. He was thinking of her, too.
- Dramatic Drop: The snowglobe that's dropped as Kane dies.
- Dramatic Shattering: The snow globe at the beginning.
- Driven to Suicide: Susan eventually decides that she's done with the opera singing and all the scathing critiques it brings and tries to overdose. She survives however, but nonetheless stops singing.
- Driving Question: What the hell is this "Rosebud" thing?
- Droste Image: This effect is shown when Kane passes between two mirrors.
- Dug in Deeper: A variant occurs, only without hilarity ensuing. Subverted by the fact that Susan knows that, while she's not completely untalented, she's nowhere near good enough to carry an opera all on her own. It's only Kane using all his wealth and influence to push her into the spotlight against her wishes.
- Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend: Kane funds an elaborate opera show for the sole purpose of casting his girlfriend in the lead role.
- During the War: Kane manipulates the public sentiment to incite the war. Bear in mind that the film came out before America entered WWII.
- Dying Alone: Kane at the beginning. The rest of the movie is devoted to showing why he was alone.
- Dying Candle:
- Throughout the opening montage showing Kane's vast Xanadu estate, a single lit window is visible on the upper right hand corner of every shot, getting closer all the time. At the end, the light goes out, leading to the memorable scene of Kane uttering his dying word.
- Susan's failed opera career is shown through a chaotic montage punctuated by a flashing lightbulb (supposedly the one used to cue the actors backstage). The montage ends abruptly with the bulb burning out, followed by Susan in bed with some sleeping pills next to her bed, implied to be a suicide attempt. Subverted in that Susan survives, although the burned out bulb can also symbolize the death of her opera singing career.
- Epic Tracking Shot: Both the tracking shot into El Rancho, and the tracking up the ladder during Susan's opera performance - and yes, it used a visual effect (miniature ladder).
- Establishing Character Moment: The first major scene with Welles as a 24-year-old Kane has him arguing with Thatcher over how he was running The Inquirer. It does extremely well with establishing how money was simply not a concern of his in any way, shape or form.
- Et Tu, Brute?: Lampshaded by Susan when the Inquirer gives her a bad review:Susan: Stop telling me he's your friend! A friend don't write that kind of review! All these other papers panning me, I could expect them, but when the Inquirer writes a thing like that, spoiling my big debut...!
- Everyone Has Standards: Even Jim Gettys is shocked Welles won't listen to his wife or Susan and spare them humiliation.
- Exty Years from Now: The present year is 1941, young Kane was taken from his parents in 1871 (70 years ago) and he ran for governor in 1916 (25 years ago).
- Face Framed in Shadow: The film has a few shots of Kane's face framed in shadow and stepping into light, or the other way around.
- The Faceless: The reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) is always shown from behind, or from a long distance, or with his face hidden in shadow, along with all of his reporter colleagues. According to Welles, it was a tribute to the hardworking reporters behind those film reels that were never seen. Roger Ebert called Alland's performance the most thankless, since he's the character who is the Audience Surrogate, yet he never got due credit because no one saw his face.
- Famous Last Words: Or one, anyway: Kane's final word is "Rosebud".
- Fatal Flaw:ane wanted to be loved, but on his own terms.
- Fat Suit: Welles wore one to play the older Kane. Back in the days when he didn't need one.
- Fiction 500:
We did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place in... sixty years.
- Kane is a media tycoon who has more than enough money to spend on constructing Xanadu (which is described in-universe as "the world's largest private pleasure ground") and filling it with exotic animals and priceless art from around the world. One early scene has his adoptive father Mr. Thatcher argue with him over how much money he's losing on running a newspaper and Kane's response?
- The above quote is said when he is still just starting out, and he's currently #5 on the Forbes Fictional 15. $1 million at the time is approximately $27 million today; thus, "starting out" and thanks to his family's gold holdings (and his mother's management), Mr. Kane is worth at least $1.6 billion.
- Film Noir: Although there's no crime involved, the movie has a lot of tropes associated with the genre.
- First-Name Basis: "He doesn't like that 'Mister' / He likes good old 'Charlie Kane'!"
- Flashback: Lots of them.
- Forced Perspective: Used on multiple occasions. Maybe most notable in the early scene where Thatcher and Bernstein are sitting at a desk signing papers, in front of some ordinary-looking bay windows. Kane enters the frame, and then walks away from the desk—and walks quite a bit further than one might have guessed, revealing that the far wall is actually further away than it looked and that those bay windows are some seven feet off the ground. This also has the effect of making Kane look tiny in a scene where he is being humiliated by having to sign away much of his media holdings.
- Foregone Conclusion: The fake newsreel spells out the whole plot, minus "Rosebud".
- Forgotten Fallen Friend: The newsreel reveals that Kane's first ex-wife and their son die in a car crash. They are never again mentioned in any scene that takes place after they died. Nobody suggests that among Kane's many personal problems, losing his only child might be one of them.
- Framing Device: The story is told mostly via interviews of people who were close with Kane with a reporter.
- Freudian Excuse:
- Kane's parents forfeited custody of their son to an emotionally distant banker. Yeah he's gone turn out A-OK in adulthood.
- On the sled symbolism in Citizen Kane, Orson Welles remarked: "It's a gimmick, really, and rather dollar-book Freud."
- Gave Up Too Soon: Thompson, after spending all the movie looking for the answer to the Driving Question gives up precisely in the very room the answer lies.
- The Gay '90s: A good chunk of the film takes place in the 1890s, when Kane is at his height as a media mogul.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Legend has it that this is the real story behind Rosebud .
- Get Out: Kane, when caught in an affair and Gettys threatens to go forward with the scandalous story:Gettys: You're making a bigger fool of yourself than I thought you would, Mr. Kane.
Kane: I've got nothing to talk to you about.
Gettys: You're licked. Why don't you—
Kane: Get out! If you want to see me, have the warden write me a letter!
Gettys: If it was anybody else, I'd say what's going to happen to you would be a lesson here... only you're going to need more than one lesson... and you're going to get more than one lesson.
John: Miss Alexander? This is Mr. Thompson, Miss Alexander.
- The widowed Susan Alexander is so embittered, she refuses Mr. Thompson's request for an interview:
Susan: I want another drink, John.
John: Right away. Will you have something, Mr. Thompson?
Thompson: I'll have a highball, please.
Susan: Who told you you could sit down?
Thompson: I thought maybe we could have a talk.
Susan: Well, think again. Can't you people leave me alone? I'm minding my own business, you mind yours.
Thompson: If I could just have a little talk with you, Miss Alexander, I'd like to ask you—
Susan: Get out of here. Get out!
- Gilligan Cut: When Kane announces his intention to make Susan Alexander an opera star, a reporter asks if she'll sing at the Met:Susan: Charlie said if I didn't, he'd build me an opera house.Kane: That won't be necessary.(cut to newspaper headline: "KANE BUILDS OPERA HOUSE")
- The Greatest Story Never Told: No one, except the audience, will ever know what Rosebud really means or signifies. It becomes a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle and a Riddle for the Ages. Thompson hangs a Lampshade on it at the end:Thompson: Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything... I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a... piece in a jigsaw puzzle... a missing piece.
- Greedy Jew: Subverted. It's Kane's very Jewish business associate Mr. Bernstein who says that there's more to life than money.
- Hail to the Thief: After Charles's and Emily's wedding:Emily: Sometimes, I think I'd prefer a rival of flesh and blood.
Kane: Oh Emily, I don't spend that much time with a newspaper.
Emily: It isn't just the time, it's what you print: attacking the President!
Kane: You mean Uncle John?
Emily: I mean the President of the United States!
Kane: He's still Uncle John, and still a well-meaning fathead who's letting a pack of high-pressure crooks run his administration. This whole oil scandal--
Emily: He happens to be the president, Charles, not you.
Kane: That's a mistake that will be corrected one of these days.
- He's Dead, Jim: The film opens with Kane's hand falling and dropping the snow globe.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Kane, who envisions himself as a crusader for the little guy against corruption, becomes a cynic and a reactionary.
- High Hopes, Zero Talent: Susan Alexander gets put out on a huge opera debut by Kane. While her voice may be pleasant for something singing in the shower, she is not cut out for opera in any way.note Her vocal teacher loudly proclaims she is unteachable and more or less facepalms every time she sings. Kane won't listen to Susan, the instructor, or every newspaper critic in America and insists she keeps going on stage.
- Welles later regretted this part of the film, as people assumed she was based on screen actress and William Randolph Hearst's paramour Marion Davies, who Welles (and many others) felt was actually a fairly talented actress and a nice person. Marion Davies was well-suited to romantic comedies— unfortunately, Hearst saw her as the second coming of Mary Pickford and kept putting her in lavish, sentimental dramas that didn't take advantage of her talents.
- Hitler Cam: Orson Welles was the trope namer. Refers to the practice of shooting a solitary figure from a slightly lower angle. This magnifies the figure's height and presence in the mind of the viewer. Greatly popularized by the film.
- In the newsreel, a ground level shot features Kane with Adolf Hitler played by Carl Ekberg, a Norwegian-born actor who would portray Hitler in several other movies, in addition to portraying German soldiers among other roles throughout his career.
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Averted with Susan Alexander. To get the effect of a realistically overmatched singer, Welles got a professional alto opera singer and had her sing a soprano part, so yes, the actress who played Susan Alexander can sing, but doesn't have much range.
- How We Got Here: The film starts with Kane's death. Thompson's investigation then serves as the framework for telling Kane's life story, which is then told in roughly chronological order.
- I Am Not What I am Not: Strangely, two characters come to terms to the fact that they can’t be the men they once wanted to be when they are before their In-Universe Catharsis.
- When he is forced to give up the control of his empire, Kane reflects that his advantages had stolen his chance as true greatness.
Thatcher: Don't you think you are?
Kane: I think I did pretty well, under the circumstances.
Thatcher: What would you like to have been?
Kane: Everything you hate.
- When 'Boss' Jim W. Gettys tries to Black Mail Kane, he admits that even when he is the archetype of the Sleazy Politician, even he has more standards than Kane.Kane: In case you don't know, Emily - this - this gentleman - (Kane puts a world of scorn into the Word) is -
'Boss' Jim W. Gettys: I'm not a gentleman, Mrs. Kane, and your husband is just trying to be funny calling me one. I don't even know what a gentleman is. (Tensely, with all the hatred and venom in the world) You see, my idea of a gentleman, Mrs. Kane - well, if I owned a newspaper and if I didn't like the way somebody else was doing things - some politician, say - I'd fight them with everything I had. Only I wouldn't show him in a convict suit, with stripes – so his children could see the picture in the paper. Or his mother. (He has to control himself from hurling himself at Kane) It's pretty clear - I'm not a gentleman.
- When he is forced to give up the control of his empire, Kane reflects that his advantages had stolen his chance as true greatness.
- I Coulda Been a Contender!: Inverted Trope by Kane, when he is forced to give up the control of his empire. Hardly a nobody. Very disillusioned, he reflects that it was his advantages that stole him his chance at true greatness:Charles Foster Kane: You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man.Thatcher: Don't you think you are?Charles Foster Kane: I think I did pretty well under the circumstances.Thatcher: What would you like to have been?
- I Just Want to Be Loved: This is Kane's main motivation. Deconstructed, as, despite how innocuous a motivation it seems, it causes him to be a Jerkass — he wants to be loved, but on his own terms, and he doesn't understand that it just doesn't work that way.Leland: He married for love. Love. That's why he did everything. That's why he went into politics. It seems we weren't enough, he wanted all the voters to love him too. Guess all he really wanted out of life was love. That's Charlie's story, how he lost it. You see, he just didn't have any to give. Well, he loved Charlie Kane of course, very dearly, and his mother, I guess he always loved her.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: Kane ultimately drives away all his friends with his egotistical personality and self-centeredness, becoming Lonely at the Top.
- I Take Offense to That Last One!:Charles Foster Kane: You long-faced, overdressed anarchist.Leland: I am not overdressed!
- Impoverished Patrician: Leland is described as coming from an old, rich family where one day the old man shoots himself and they discover they have nothing.
- Intrepid Reporter: Jerry Thompson, the reporter who tries to find out the meaning of "Rosebud". And Kane himself during his younger years.
- It's All About Me: Kane’s mission in life is to be loved on his own terms. Lampshaded spectacularly:Kane: [pleading] Don't go, Susan. You mustn't go. You can't do this to me.Susan: I see. So it's you who this is being done to. It's not me at all. Not how I feel. Not what it means to me. [laughs] I can't do this to you? [odd smile] Oh, yes I can.
- It's All Junk: Kane is an obsessive collector of everything, who then treats people like objects and dies a lonely old man, surrounded by glorified junk in a ridiculously opulent estate. The last line of the film is, in fact, "Toss that junk."
- And ironically, the only piece of "junk" that meant something really important to Kane is burned up because it can't be sold.
- It Was His Sled: Despite being the Trope Namer, the sled is a MacGuffin. As Jerry muses over a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces, "Rosebud" is only a piece of the puzzle. (In addition, there were two sleds, each representing a time in his life. The second sled was "Crusader".)
- It Will Never Catch On: Kane didn't believe, in 1935, that there would be a war. World War II started 4 years after that.
- Ivy League for Everyone: Kane is said to have attended and been thrown out of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Cornell.
- Jekyll & Hyde: Kane tells Thatcher early on, "The trouble is, you don't realize that you're talking to two people," referring to himself as both a man of wealth and as a man of the people. One of the main points of the movie is the internal war between those two sides. It can be argued that both sides lose by the end of the movie.
- Jerkass: The whole entire movie basically boils down to showing how Charles Foster Kane turned into a big piece of shit, lost childhood or not.
- Jump Scare: The screeching cockatoo near the climax of the film. Quite possibly the best non-horror example in cinema history.
- Large Ham: "Siiiiing Siiiiiing!". It works, though.
- Mr. Exposition during the introductory voice-over could count, as well.
- The Law of Conservation of Detail: Playing with this trope is arguably the main conceit: it's a movie about the impossibility of finding the right details. "Rosebud" is an example, as is the famous "girl in the white dress" speech.
- Let the Past Burn: The ending is a loose example, differing only in that the whole house isn't burnt.
- Lonely at the Top: As a core theme. One of the reasons why he tries to desperately cling to his wife, and eventually comes true when she leaves him. It's also the meaning behind 'Rosebud'- his life, though successful, was so unhappy that the greatest time in his life was when he was a child and playing with his sled.
- Love Hungry: As desperate as Kane is for love, he is too selfish to understand that one cannot force others to love them. It just doesn't work that way.
- MacGuffin: The identity of "Rosebud". It never gets obtained... by the characters, that is...
- Malevolent Mugshot: Regardless of whether one views the titular character as a Villain Protagonist, this image◊ certainly counts as the Trope Maker in film, beating out Nineteen Eighty-Four by seven years. Since the point of the film is to tell Kane's story and let the audience decide if he is a hero or villain (or both), it is also an Unbuilt Trope.
- The Man Is Sticking It to the Man: A subversion. Orson Welles made this film for a Hollywood Studio and the film was a general satire of The American Dream, yellow journalism, the Hollywood style and narrative, and it states that Capitalism Is Bad. This was made at the invitation of the studios themselves but as a result of Hearst's interference on account of "perceived" libel, the film's release was sabotaged, Welles' reputation was smeared and Hollywood learnt its lesson from "The Man."
- Match Cut: the entire opening sequence. Watch how the light never moves.
- Also after slapping Susan. Her left eye matches with an eye decoration in the next scene. Hard one to see.
- Mathematician's Answer:Reporter: Mr. Kane, How did you find business conditions in Europe?Kane: With great difficulty!
- Matte Shot: The outside of Xanadu is mostly a series of matte paintings.
- Memento MacGuffin: "Rosebud", which partially drives the plot.
- A Minor Kidroduction: Sort of—we get a glimpse of Kane as he dies and then we see him again in the newsreel, but the story proper starts with Kane at age 8.
- The Mistress: Susan Alexander, before Kane marries her.
- Mockumentary: Early in the film. Welles was good at these. Kind of an example of Aluminum Christmas Trees. People in the 1940s who were used to seeing the "March of Time" newsreels regularly would have been much more amused by the satire. Possibly the earliest example of an in-movie fake newsreel.
- Morally Bankrupt Banker: Subverted because Mr. Tatcher doesn't seem evil, Implicitly, Thatcher is a decent (if very conservative) middle-aged banker who did his best while raising Kane... as The Stoic, in a stage in Kane's life he needed love more than anything. Any wonder Kane grew up to be disfunctional?
- Mouthscreen: One of the most iconic examples in film history. The first we see of the title character is a close up of his lips as he says his last words: "Rosebud"
- Musical Pastiche: Salammbô, the opera in which Susan Alexander stars, is Bernard Herrmann's pastiche of French grand opéra à la Jules Massenet. Pauline Kael suggested that it was originally supposed to be a real Massenet opera, Thaïs; but Herrmann angrily refuted it when Kael said it was a compromise because they couldn't get the rights:Bernard Herrmann: Pauline Kael has written in The Citizen Kane Book (1971), that the production wanted to use Massenet's "Thais" but could not afford the fee. But Miss Kael never wrote or approached me to ask about the music. We could easily have afforded the fee. The point is that its lovely little strings would not have served the emotional purpose of the film. I wrote the piece in a very high tessitura, so that a girl with a modest voice would be completely hopeless in it. note
- Mythology Gag: Also a Shout-Out. In one scene dated 1935, Kane tells a reporter not to believe everything he hears on the radio. Considering who is playing Kane that is true.
- Name of Cain: Charles Kane.
- Newsreel: This has one of the earliest (if not the earliest) examples of an in-movie fake newsreel. Furthermore, Welles had RKO use their own newsreel department to create it to make it look authentic.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Kane's final attempt at reconciling with Susan almost works out, until the Wounded Gazelle Gambit backfires on him:Kane: Susan. Please don't go. No. Please, Susan. From now on, everything will be exactly the way you want it to be, not the way I think you want it, but — your way. Don't go, Susan. You mustn't go. You can't do this to me.
Susan: I see. So it's you who this is being done to. It's not me at all, not how I feel. Not what it means to me. [laughs] I can't do this to you? Oh, yes I can.
- No Antagonist: Kane brought his miserable life upon himself.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Kane was probably based on William Randolph Hearst, though Hearst was not pleased with the allusion.
- No Party Given: Justified; Kane is presumably running for Governor as an Independent. Boss Gettys' political affiliation isn't mentioned.
- Oh, Crap!: Kane displays a very subtle one when his first wife Emily tells him she is going to investigate the house of Kane's mistress, Susan Alexander, after receiving an anonymous tip about it.
- Old, Dark House: Xanadu is often presented this way.
- Old Media Are Evil: The film is one of the earliest criticisms of Old Media.
- New Media Are Evil: The film is also very critical of newer forms of media. Especially newsreels which are shown to be just as constructed, story driven and as biased as anything else and certainly not objective.
- The Oner: Long shots zooming into Susan's cafe through a skylight and up a ladder at the opera.
- One Steve Limit: Averted. The film has characters named Jim Gettys and Jim Kane.
- The One That Got Away:Mr. Bernstein: A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry and as we pulled out there was another ferry pulling in and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.
- One True Love: Charles and Susan really were meant for each other. She loved him for who he is, but Charles was incapable of understanding that he didn't need to buy her love, nor should he seclude themselves away from society. She leaves him because he doesn't know how to return her love. In fact, if Charles ever admitted that love is a two way street, she'd return in a heartbeat. As one of her friends said, any other day but Charlie's death, she enjoyed talking about him.
- Parents as People: Kane's mother seems like she truly thought she was doing what was best for her son by sending him away to be raised in wealth and prosperity (and away from his implied physically abusive father) even if it meant she couldn't be close to him anymore, not realizing that she set him down a very lonely path that ended with him Dying Alone.
- Patriotic Fervor: "I am, have been, and will always be, an American."
- Percussive Therapy: After Susan leaves him Kane tears her room apart.
- Please Don't Leave Me: When Susan decides that she has had enough of Kane and his ego and wants to walk out on him, Kane desperately begs her to stay. During this, he inadvertently tips off that he truly realize what he has done wrong by including a "You can't do this to me!" in his plea, making Susan even more resolute to leave him.
- Plot Hole: Legend has it that someone once asked Welles how anyone could have known Kane's Famous Last Words if he died alone. Welles supposedly paused for a long time and then said, "Don't you ever tell anyone of this." However, Raymond the butler later says he heard the word, implying that the scene was shot from his point of view.
- Plot-Triggering Death: The plot is kick-started by Kane's death.
- Popcultural Osmosis Failure: When many films are said to be "the Citizen Kane of horror/comedy/action" or someone says "Bad Movie is Citizen Kane compared to Worse Movie," folks get the idea that Citizen Kane is a great movie. Many people stop there.
- Posthumous Character: Charles Foster Kane, his wife and son.
- Powerful and Helpless: All of Charles Foster Kane's wealth and power can't stop the world from finding out about his adultery, which kills his political career. In fact one of the overarching themes of the film is that all of Kane's wealth and power fail to gain him the love of others, which is the one thing he truly wants and never really gets.
- Pretty in Mink: His two wives naturally wore a few furs.
- Protagonist Journey to Villain: Charles Foster Kane, obviously. He turns from an idealistic muckraker to a mogul whose life is slowly spiraling out of control.
- Protagonist Title
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: While Kane is finishing Leland's review:Kane: Hello, Jedediah.
Leland: Hello, Charlie. I didn't know we were speaking...
Kane: Sure, we're speaking, Jedediah... (forcefully hits carriage return on his typewriter, ka-CHUNK) ...you're fired.
- "Rashomon"-Style: An Unbuilt Trope since it preceded Kurosawa's film by several years (and Kurosawa adapted a Japanese short story that was published years before Kane's release). Essentially, each narrator has a view of Kane based on their experiences and relationships with him. Notably Bernstein dismisses Thatcher as an Unreliable Narrator, but later Jed Leland says that Bernstein's story is a Rose Tinted Narrative.
- Real After All: After Thompson Gave Up Too Soon to find what Rosebud is, the audience gets The Reveal: It Was His Sled
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Averted. Characters regularly talk over one another.
- Realityis Unrealistic: In F For Fake, Welles says that Kane was originally supposed to be based on Howard Hughes, but he and his crew decided to change Kane to a newspaper mogul because Hughes was so strange that people wouldn't believe his life story if it were presented on film.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Kane gets the same lecture three times from Leland, Susan and Boss Gettys: I Just Want to Be Loved is a Tragic Dream if you truly believe It's All About Me. Does Kane understand or accept it? No.
- Kane himself gets off a very short and sweet zinger at Thatcher's expense (see I Coulda Been a Contender! above).
- Red Scare: Thatcher accused Kane of being a communist near the beginning of the movie. A politician addressing a crowd of workers however accuses Kane of being fascist, and we see Kane hanging out with Hitler and Mussolini while stating "there will be no war". Essentially Kane is a demagogue who uses politics to his advantage and ego.
- Retraux: Editor Robert Wise scratched the "newsreel" with sandpaper to make the "old" footage look old.
- The Reveal: "Rosebud" was Kane's sled.
- Roadside Wave: This is how Kane meets Susan Alexander.
- Roman à Clef: Welles denies this, but Hearst, who Kane was supposedly based off of, believed this.
- The film actually attempts to avert this by having Hearst mentioned by name in an early scene (the reporters discussing the newsreel), establishing Kane as a different individual.
- But also shoots itself in the foot in the first scene with Kane as played by Orson Welles, in which he says: "You provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war". Substitute "pictures" for "prose poems", and this is a word-for-word quote of something Hearst himself said to a photographer.
- Herman Mankiewicz, who came up with the story, was a frequent guest at San Simeon (aka Hearst Castle). As much as Welles sometimes denied it, much of the story clearly was based on Hearst's life. Some similarities between the real and fictional men:
- Both were muckracking newspaper publishers who egged on the Spanish-American War, as noted above.
- Both had a family fortune that came from mining precious metals (Hearst's father George struck it rich with the Comstock Lode).
- Both had huge media empires, which wound up getting downsized to some extent in the Great Depression.
- Both had estates of staggering size (San Simeon/Xanadu).
- Both were failed independent candidates for Governor of New York (Hearst actually ran for office several times and served two terms as a Congressman from New York).
- Marion Davies and Susan Alexander were both alcoholics with a fondness for crossword puzzles. Furthermore, both are considered reasonably talented in light entertainment, but were shoehorned into more serious artistic fields that were considered seriously out of their depth.
- Of course there were many differences between Kane and Hearst as well, which helped Welles maintain Plausible Deniability. Hearst was never abandoned by his parents (in fact this more closely resembles Welles, who was orphaned at the age of 15). He never married Davies; instead she remained The Mistress and stayed with Hearst until his death.
- Herman Mankiewicz's original script, American, included even more overt parallels to Hearst's life, showing that Kane's opponents stole the gubernatorial election by dumping ballots in the East River and a scene modeled after the death of Thomas Ince. note Welles removed these scenes after one of Hearst's biographers sued the filmmakers for copying the incidents from his book.
- Rule of Symbolism: Some critics think Kane stretches the Willing Suspension of Disbelief in order to include symbolic elements. It certainly is packed with symbols.
- Scenery Porn: The sets (the political rally, the newspaper office, the library, Xanadu) are all lavish, grandiose... and empty like the main character.
- Seemingly Profound Fool: At the beginning of the movie there is a scene where a Corrupt Corporate Executive reunion claims that Kane is one of the Dirty Communists. It follows a scene where in a Worker’s rally Kane is declared a fascist, and then we have Kane’s own declaration that he is an American. This shows Kane as a human Rorschach test: Other people project what they most fear onto him, and will insist on their interpretation of his words and deeds with a desperate will no matter how contradictory they are. The three interpretations are wrong, because the Dirty Communists, the fascists and even the patriotic nationalist all believe in something bigger than themselves. The movie shows us that Charlie Foster Kane is only for Charlie Foster Kane.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: The Framing Device ends with Thompson not only giving up to find what Rosebud means, but admiting that knowing it will not explain Kane.
- Kane's dream was a Tragic Dream and so, it was never achieved.
- Single-Issue Psychology: All of Kane's problems result from him not knowing how to love due to being taken from his parents as a child. At his mother's urging, because his father was abusive towards him. This does not make it better, however. Welles's when dismissing the story's gimmick as "Dollar Book Freud" regretted it because of this implication, he didn't believe in Single-Issue Psychology, and used "Rosebud" as a deliberate "Shaggy Dog" Story to hook the movie around.
- Slimeball: In one sense, Kane is revealed to be something of a slimeball by his best friend after Kane's failed election campaign, who observes that: "you just want to persuade people that you love 'em so much that they oughta love you back!".
- Slow Clap: After the disastrous operatic debut of his wife Susan, Kane stubbornly stands up and does a Slow Clap; the rest of the audience begrudgingly follows suit.
- Snow Means Death: Not a straight example, but the snow globe should get an honorable mention.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: This is a pretty sad film but don't worry, the end credits should pick you right up.
- Spinning Paper: A standard trope of early 1930s "B" movies, especially in films dealing with organized crime. It went out of style at around the time The Hays Code was adopted; any use after the mid 1930's is a deliberate invocation of the trope as tribute and parody. Citizen Kane is one of these. Making later parodies parody parodies.
- Stage Mom: At their first meeting Susan tells Kane it was really her mother's ambition for her to be an opera singer.
- Starts with Their Funeral: The film start with Kane's death, and then moves onto a newsreel about his life, before diving right into the flashbacks.
- Stock Footage: The film contains a lot of this. For example, the newsreel has a scene where a man speaks to a political rally, denouncing Kane as a fascist. The crowd was simply stock footage and the man was an actor, filmed in a low-angle shot to hide the fact that no crowd was present. The background jungle footage for the picnic scene was lifted from The Son Of Kong and, in an infamous case of Stock Footage Failure, you can plainly see pterodactyls.
- The Stoic: Mr. Thatcher not seems to be very close to his young ward... or anyone else, really.
- Strawman News Media: Not at first but the Inquirer eventually becomes a Type 1, serving as a propaganda machine for Kane himself.
- Table Space: A very clever use of this trope to illustrate the deterioration of Kane's first marriage in a brief montage. The Kanes are shown at a small breakfast table being intimate and affectionate. We see snippets of arguments at other breakfasts. Then the scene ends with the Kanes dining in silence at opposite ends of a long table.
- In an in-universe Take That!, Emily is reading The Chronicle, Kane's biggest rival newspaper.
- Take That!:
- Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz was a regular invitee to Heart's San Simeon until he earned their disfavor and was kicked out. A lot of the satirical details of Kane comes from his own resentment and desire to mock Hearst.
- In-universe example: Kane finishes the bad review Leland began, and instead of cleaning it up (as Leland assumed he would), he keeps the same vitriolic negativity. Bernstein snarks, "That'll show you."note
- Tantrum Throwing: Upon his wife leaving him, Kane goes in a room and smashes/throws everything he sees. He stops at the crystal ball that Susan owned (and reminded him of his mother), making him utter, "Rosebud".
- Third-Person Person:Kane: Don't worry about me, Gettys! Don't worry about me! I'm Charles Foster Kane! I'm no cheap, crooked politician, trying to save himself from the consequences of his crimes! Gettys! I'm going to send you to Sing Sing! Sing Sing, Gettys! Sing Sing!
- This Cannot Be!:Kane: Susan. Please don't go. No. Please, Susan. From now on, everything will be exactly the way you want it to be, not the way I think you want it, but — your way. You mustn't go. You can't do this to me!Susan: I see. It's you that this is being done to! It's not me at all. Not what it means to me. I can't do this to you? Oh, yes I can.
- Time Passes Montage: One of the most famous: Kane and his first wife sitting at breakfast. Each shift into the future has their conversation becoming more and more hostile, til the final scene in which they don't say a word - he reads his newspaper, and she reads a rival newspaper.
- Timeshifted Actor: Being a fictionalized biopic, the film presents Kane in all ages. All of them are Orson Welles in makeup, except for eight-year-old Kane, played by Buddy Swan.
- Trade Your Passion for Glory: Kane, a young crusading newspaper owner, becomes The Man in his later life.
- Tragedy: Kane ends up dying alone and unloved thanks to his narcissism.
- Tragic Dream: Kane's dream is to be loved. Unfortunately, that dream is available to everyone but him: given the way he was raised, Charlie is used to paying for everything with money, and the idea of investing time and sacrificing his own interests for a relationship is absolutely beyond his comprehension.
- Tragic Hero: Kane, lampshaded by Leland.Leland: That's all he ever wanted out of life... was love. That's the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane. You see, he just didn't have any to give.
- Unbuilt Trope: It Was His Sled is a Trope Namer, but the sled is actually the unbuilt trope of the MacGuffin, long before Alfred Hitchcock coined the term.
- Understatement:Kane: (to Susan) I run a couple of newspapers, what do you do?
- Unrequited Love: Susan to Charlie. She never stopped loving him, ever. She left simply because it was the only way she could express her own feelings. Had Charlie said the right words, she'd have returned to him in a heartbeat.Manager: Why, until he died, she'd just as soon talk about Mr. Kane as about anybody.
- Video Credits: A clip of each major character is shown in the credits, except Kane himself.
- Vocal Range Exceeded: Susan Alexander can't hack being an opera singer. Instead of Hollywood Tone-Deaf, Welles got a professional alto to sing a soprano part.
- War for Fun and Profit: Kane does this in order to sell newspapers. Based on the manipulations of real-life media mogul William Randolph Hearst:"Dear Wheeler: You provide the prose poems. I'll provide the war."
- Wham Shot: The shot near the end showing the name "Rosebud" on Kane's old sled.
- Whip Pan: These are used in the breakfast table montage showing the deterioration of Kane's first marriage.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: Susan Alexander is a bit out of the ordinary: Now she's running on the fumes of her former notoriety, but initially she was pushed into the limelight somewhat against her will and found stardom humiliating.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Kane started off as one, and was moderately successful as such, exposing corruption successfully and ascending the ranks in journalism.
- The Wild West: Eight-year-old Kane grew up in 1871 Colorado; seen in a brief Flashback
- Woman in White: Not seen but remembered by Bernstein.
- Worthless Treasure Twist: "Rosebud" is a "Lost Heirloom". And it gets tossed into the incinerator along with the wealthy protagonist's other worldly possessions. Nobody in the story ever finds out what his lost love/lost treasure "Rosebud" meant, though the audience gets the reveal.
- Would Hit a GirlSusan: Don't tell me you're sorry.Kane: I'm not sorry.