"Citizen Kane," too, can be viewed as an early noir, both visually and in terms of theme. "While the work of a young man full of vitality it seemed, the film comes out of the depth of despair and solitude, when very little in the American movie had suggested that that was where America wanted to be," he writes. "Kane had gone awhile under the working title "American," but no one then anticipated that that word could be a synonym for personal disaster." One of the personal disasters Thomson has in mind is, of course, Welles's career, which, for all its accomplishment, seems somehow as if it ought to have been even more spectacular than it was. (It would have helped, of course, if RKO had not butchered Welles's second film, "The Magnificent Ambersons" – a film rumored to have been, in its original cut, a greater masterpiece than "Kane" – and dumped the excised footage into the Pacific.)
Part of what noir does is to put the audience in a disturbing and threatening complicity with its flawed protagonists, so that "Citizen Kane" is another film that puts us, as watchers, in a unique, not entirely comfortable, and perhaps not entirely innocent position:
"Kane" is a closed-room mystery; just as we alone hear the dying word Rosebud, so we are the only ones left at the end to see the name burn off the sled from Colorado. What does that make us? Charlie Kane's faithful? The ones who will not give him up? As a device and a narrative ploy, it seems to suggest that the story feeds on itself.… In all that Pauline Kael wrote about the film…she said it was a masterpiece, but a shallow masterpiece. And as the film stays imprisoned in first place, I wonder whether that doesn't confirm something dazzling but shallow about the whole medium.