Kane was the Executive Officer aboard the commercial towing vessel Nostromo during its return voyage to Earth.
In the year 2122, while returning from a job in the Solomons, the ship passed through the Zeta II Reticuli system when the Nostromo's onboard computer, "MOTHER", awakened them from hypersleep prematurely (Kane was the first one to awaken). The computer had intercepted a distress beacon originating from a planetoid within close proximity to their ship.
The Nostromo crew responded to the beacon and took a drop ship to a planetoid (which later came to be known as Acheron). The weather conditions on the planetoid's surface were extremely violent and the ship suffered extensive damage while trying to land. Commander Kane was part of a three-person survey crew that explored the planetoid's surface. Along with Captain Dallas and navigator Lambert, they discovered the ruins of a derelict space craft, which had apparently crash landed here many years ago. They determined that it was the ancient S.O.S. beacon from this vessel that their ship had intercepted.
Kane explored the cargo bay of this carrier ship and found a giant nursery filled with thousands of large, bio-organic pods. Drawing his weapon, he examined one of the pods at close range and found that it was actually an egg. His proximity to the egg prompted it to hatch. As he peered into the egg, a crab-like alien organism leaped out and attached itself to Kane's helmet. This alien "facehugger", secreted an acid that bled through the helmet, allowing the organism to attach itself directly to Kane's face.
The rest of the crew found Kane and quickly brought his unconscious body back on board the drop ship (breaking quarantine protocols in the process). He was immediately taken to the infirmary where the ship's science officer Ash began to analyze the creature. The facehugger had inserted a long proboscis into Kane's mouth which was feeding him oxygen. Although the ship's crew didn't realize it at the time, the organism was also infecting Kane with an alien embryo, using his body as a living incubator. Once the facehugger adequately performed its duties as midwife, it dropped off of Kane and died.
Kane soon recovered and had almost no memory of his experiences on the planetoid. He was brought back to the Nostromo and the rest of the crew prepared a large meal before going back into hypersleep. During dinner, the seed within Kane's body began to grow. Kane went into convulsions and Dallas and chief engineer Parker had to restrain him. The Alien embryo punched through Kane's chest and skittered across the floor of the room. Kane was killed instantly. Shortly after his death, the Nostromo crew held a short funeral for Kane and launched his body into space.
- Kane was the first onscreen kill in the Alien film franchise.
- John Hurt made a cameo appearance in Mel Brooks' parody film Spaceballs, reprising his role as Kane and did a spoof of the Chestburster scene in the space diner as the apparent result of eating the "special," Hurt mutters despairingly "Oh no, not again!", likely referring to his gruesome demise in Alien.
- British actor Jon Finch was originally cast as Kane, however on the first day of shooting Finch suffered a severe bronchitis attack and had to drop out of filming.
- John Hurt was initially unavailable due to a project that he was scheduled to work on in South Africa. As it turned out, Hurt was denied entrance into South Africa because the South African authorities had mistaken him for a political activist named "John Hurd", who had developed a reputation for his outspoken views against Apartheid. Unable to work in South Africa, Hurt then became available to work on Alien.