Mr. Arkadin


1h 39m 1955
Mr. Arkadin

Brief Synopsis

A private eye investigates a millionaire's mysterious past before a murderer can get to the witnesses.

Film Details

Also Known As
Confidential Report
Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Thriller
Adaptation
Film Noir
Release Date
1955
Production Company
Mercury
Location
France; Germany; Italy; Spain

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

Bracco, the victim of a waterfront stabbing in Naples, confides the names Gregory Arkadin and Sophie to Mily, the girl friend of Guy Van Stratten, an unscrupulous American cigarette smuggler. These names, asserts Bracco, will prove the key to a fortune. Learning that Arkadin is a wealthy financier, Van Stratten obtains an introduction through the magnate's sheltered daughter, Raina. Arkadin engages Van Stratten to reconstruct his life before 1927, at which time he lost his memory. So empowered, the American sets out on a quest, during which he encounters a Copenhagen flea-trainer; an Amsterdam fence masquerading as an antiquary; a Polish baroness; a French secret service agent; Sophie, Arkadin's former partner in a white slave operation, now married to a retired general in Mexico; and Zouk, a Munich tailor. All are subsequently murdered, as is Mily. Van Stratten learns that they are the victims of Arkadin's henchmen and he himself is the financier's dupe. To forever bury his unsavory past from his daughter, Arkadin has used Van Stratten to locate all former associates. Realizing that he is in imminent danger, Van Stratten contacts Raina, who attempts to radio her father. Convinced that she has learned the truth, Arkadin jumps from his private plane.

Film Details

Also Known As
Confidential Report
Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Thriller
Adaptation
Film Noir
Release Date
1955
Production Company
Mercury
Location
France; Germany; Italy; Spain

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report)


In 1952 Orson Welles was acting in the second season of a popular BBC radio series based on his role as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949). Welles wrote a few of the half-hour "Adventures of Harry Lime" episodes himself, including episode 37, "Man of Mystery," broadcast on April 11, 1952. The story opens with quite an intriguing hook:
One late afternoon a couple of years ago, a plane was sighted about seventy miles out of Orly Airport in Paris. It was a private plane, medium sized, and nobody was in it; nobody at all. The plane, keeping its course steadily toward Paris, was flying itself. Why was it empty? Who had been flying it? And why, and under what circumstances, had they left it? Why? Thereby hangs a tale.

The plane had been flown by one Gregory Arkadin, who in the radio play employs Harry Lime to investigate his past, feigning amnesia. A year after the broadcast, Welles set out to adapt the story into a feature film. He later told Peter Bogdanovich, "One of the plots I thought up in a rush [for the radio series] was that plot - and I realized that the gimmick was super - it was the best popular story I ever thought up for a movie."

The story, then: Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden), a small-time hood and cigarette smuggler, and his girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina), are given two names by a dying man on a dockside freight yard in Naples. They are told that the names are worth a small fortune. Mily seeks out one of the names - Gregory Arkadin (Welles), a mysterious and immensely wealthy financier, while Van Stratten attempts to strike up a relationship with Arkadin's daughter Raina (Paola Mori). Arkadin has Van Stratten investigated to discredit him, then makes an intriguing proposal: he will pay $15,000 to Van Stratten to investigate his past, claiming that he remembers nothing before 1927. Van Stratten proceeds to travel across the Continent interviewing people who knew Arkadin before he amassed his fortune. Unfortunately, these same acquaintances also begin to turn up dead.

The financing for Mr. Arkadin came together thanks to Louis Dolivet, a wealthy dabbler in film production. Based in Paris in the 1950s, he had actually known Welles since the mid-1940s, when they both championed Left-wing political causes in America. Welles' previous film, Othello (1952), had been filmed haphazardly throughout Europe over a span of several years. Largely self-financed, Welles filmed whenever he had earned enough money from outside projects to reunite his cast and get cameras rolling again. The more tidy financing for Mr. Arkadin meant a quicker shooting schedule, though the movie still shot for eight months in far-flung locations in Spain, France, and Germany.

The Mr. Arkadin script called for a colorful gallery of supporting characters, and Welles orchestrated a memorable series of bizarre cameos. The film is highlighted, in fact, by such guest stars as Michael Redgrave, almost unrecognizable as an antiques dealer; Mischa Auer looking at his flea circus, as well as the world, through a magnifying glass; Katina Paxinou as the much sought-after Sophie, sad and nostalgic while thumbing through a photo album; and Akim Tamiroff as the final person on the hit list, anxious for his last meal of goose livers. (Tamiroff was a favorite of Welles - he was unforgettable as Uncle Joe Grandi in the director's next film, Touch of Evil [1958], and was cast as Sancho Panza in Welles' unfinished Don Quixote).

Critics have often found fault with some of Welles' other casting choices for the film. Arden, who had worked with Welles on the Harry Lime and The Black Museum radio shows in London, is stiff and unappealing as Van Stratten, though that was quite possibly Welles' intention for the character. Paola Mori was Welles' girlfriend and had appeared in a few Italian films, but was inexpressive and spoke English only through a thick accent (her voice in this film was dubbed by Billie Whitelaw). Owing to the blank performances of Arden and Mori, there is little tension in the Arkadin-Van Stratten-Raina triangle. (More trivia involving the leading cast: five years after filming Mr. Arkadin, seasoned actress Patricia Medina married Welles' best friend Joseph Cotten).

Like Othello before it, Mr. Arkadin also fell victim to some technical deficiencies. Welles' full-blown false-nose-and-beard makeup tends to change shape from scene to scene, for example. The sound recording in the film is particularly erratic. The dialogue often sounds muddy, whether it was recorded on location or dubbed in after the fact. It is also disconcerting to hear Welles himself dubbing several actors in the film - not just the bit parts, but major performers like Auer.

Welles admitted that it took him three times longer to cut a picture than it did to shoot, and it was during the editing phase of Mr. Arkadin that he (once again) lost control of the film. Dolivet desperately wanted a Christmas 1954 release, but as Welles missed deadline after deadline, Dolivet took the film away and had others finish the editing. Several scenes which delved into Arkadin's character were eliminated, according to Welles, as was an elaborate flashback structure. Ultimately, several versions of the film were released, though a true director's cut does not exist. European versions bearing the title Confidential Report retain something of the flashback structure, but a version released in America in 1962 is cut to tell a straight chronological story. Due to the Spanish financing, yet another version exists with Spanish dubbing and a few substitute actors. Welles was later to say, "More completely than any other picture of mine has been hurt by anybody, Arkadin was destroyed because they completely changed the entire form of it: the whole order of it, the whole point of it - [The Magnificent] Ambersons [1942] is nothing compared to Arkadin!" Of course, loss of the final cut of his films was a chronic (and according to some, a partially self-inflicted) problem with almost all of Welles' post-Citizen Kane (1941) projects.

Mr. Arkadin, in any version, is disjointed and technically flawed, but contains flashes of brilliance and many memorable set pieces. As it features an investigation of the past life of a man of wealth and influence, some critics have dismissed the film as a pale echo of Citizen Kane. Such an attitude is short-sighted given the themes that Welles visited repeatedly in his oeuvre. After all, the plot of Welles' next film, the Hollywood-produced Touch of Evil, also features an outsider who shines a light on the past doings of a powerful figure while jeopardizing his wife and encountering a variety of bizarre and grotesque personalities along the way.

Producer: Louis Dolivet, Orson Welles
Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Cinematography: Jean Bourgoin
Film Editing: Renzo Lucidi, William Morton, Orson Welles
Art Direction: Orson Welles
Music: Paul Misraki
Set Decoration: Gil Parrondo, Francisco Prosper, Luis Perez Espinosa
Costume Design: Orson Welles
Makeup: Roy Ashton
Cast: Orson Welles (Gregory Arkadin), Robert Arden (Guy Van Stratten), Patricia Medina (Mily), Akim Tamiroff (Jakob Zouk), Mischa Auer (The Professor), Paola Mori (Raina Arkadin), Peter van Eyck (Thaddeus), Michael Redgrave (Burgomil Trebitsch), Suzanne Flon (Baroness Nagel), Katina Paxinou (Sophie), Gregoire Aslan (Bracco), Jack Watling (Marquis of Rutleigh), Gert Frobe (Policeman).
BW-99m.

by John M. Miller
Mr. Arkadin (Aka Confidential Report)

Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report)

In 1952 Orson Welles was acting in the second season of a popular BBC radio series based on his role as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949). Welles wrote a few of the half-hour "Adventures of Harry Lime" episodes himself, including episode 37, "Man of Mystery," broadcast on April 11, 1952. The story opens with quite an intriguing hook: One late afternoon a couple of years ago, a plane was sighted about seventy miles out of Orly Airport in Paris. It was a private plane, medium sized, and nobody was in it; nobody at all. The plane, keeping its course steadily toward Paris, was flying itself. Why was it empty? Who had been flying it? And why, and under what circumstances, had they left it? Why? Thereby hangs a tale. The plane had been flown by one Gregory Arkadin, who in the radio play employs Harry Lime to investigate his past, feigning amnesia. A year after the broadcast, Welles set out to adapt the story into a feature film. He later told Peter Bogdanovich, "One of the plots I thought up in a rush [for the radio series] was that plot - and I realized that the gimmick was super - it was the best popular story I ever thought up for a movie." The story, then: Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden), a small-time hood and cigarette smuggler, and his girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina), are given two names by a dying man on a dockside freight yard in Naples. They are told that the names are worth a small fortune. Mily seeks out one of the names - Gregory Arkadin (Welles), a mysterious and immensely wealthy financier, while Van Stratten attempts to strike up a relationship with Arkadin's daughter Raina (Paola Mori). Arkadin has Van Stratten investigated to discredit him, then makes an intriguing proposal: he will pay $15,000 to Van Stratten to investigate his past, claiming that he remembers nothing before 1927. Van Stratten proceeds to travel across the Continent interviewing people who knew Arkadin before he amassed his fortune. Unfortunately, these same acquaintances also begin to turn up dead. The financing for Mr. Arkadin came together thanks to Louis Dolivet, a wealthy dabbler in film production. Based in Paris in the 1950s, he had actually known Welles since the mid-1940s, when they both championed Left-wing political causes in America. Welles' previous film, Othello (1952), had been filmed haphazardly throughout Europe over a span of several years. Largely self-financed, Welles filmed whenever he had earned enough money from outside projects to reunite his cast and get cameras rolling again. The more tidy financing for Mr. Arkadin meant a quicker shooting schedule, though the movie still shot for eight months in far-flung locations in Spain, France, and Germany. The Mr. Arkadin script called for a colorful gallery of supporting characters, and Welles orchestrated a memorable series of bizarre cameos. The film is highlighted, in fact, by such guest stars as Michael Redgrave, almost unrecognizable as an antiques dealer; Mischa Auer looking at his flea circus, as well as the world, through a magnifying glass; Katina Paxinou as the much sought-after Sophie, sad and nostalgic while thumbing through a photo album; and Akim Tamiroff as the final person on the hit list, anxious for his last meal of goose livers. (Tamiroff was a favorite of Welles - he was unforgettable as Uncle Joe Grandi in the director's next film, Touch of Evil [1958], and was cast as Sancho Panza in Welles' unfinished Don Quixote). Critics have often found fault with some of Welles' other casting choices for the film. Arden, who had worked with Welles on the Harry Lime and The Black Museum radio shows in London, is stiff and unappealing as Van Stratten, though that was quite possibly Welles' intention for the character. Paola Mori was Welles' girlfriend and had appeared in a few Italian films, but was inexpressive and spoke English only through a thick accent (her voice in this film was dubbed by Billie Whitelaw). Owing to the blank performances of Arden and Mori, there is little tension in the Arkadin-Van Stratten-Raina triangle. (More trivia involving the leading cast: five years after filming Mr. Arkadin, seasoned actress Patricia Medina married Welles' best friend Joseph Cotten). Like Othello before it, Mr. Arkadin also fell victim to some technical deficiencies. Welles' full-blown false-nose-and-beard makeup tends to change shape from scene to scene, for example. The sound recording in the film is particularly erratic. The dialogue often sounds muddy, whether it was recorded on location or dubbed in after the fact. It is also disconcerting to hear Welles himself dubbing several actors in the film - not just the bit parts, but major performers like Auer. Welles admitted that it took him three times longer to cut a picture than it did to shoot, and it was during the editing phase of Mr. Arkadin that he (once again) lost control of the film. Dolivet desperately wanted a Christmas 1954 release, but as Welles missed deadline after deadline, Dolivet took the film away and had others finish the editing. Several scenes which delved into Arkadin's character were eliminated, according to Welles, as was an elaborate flashback structure. Ultimately, several versions of the film were released, though a true director's cut does not exist. European versions bearing the title Confidential Report retain something of the flashback structure, but a version released in America in 1962 is cut to tell a straight chronological story. Due to the Spanish financing, yet another version exists with Spanish dubbing and a few substitute actors. Welles was later to say, "More completely than any other picture of mine has been hurt by anybody, Arkadin was destroyed because they completely changed the entire form of it: the whole order of it, the whole point of it - [The Magnificent] Ambersons [1942] is nothing compared to Arkadin!" Of course, loss of the final cut of his films was a chronic (and according to some, a partially self-inflicted) problem with almost all of Welles' post-Citizen Kane (1941) projects. Mr. Arkadin, in any version, is disjointed and technically flawed, but contains flashes of brilliance and many memorable set pieces. As it features an investigation of the past life of a man of wealth and influence, some critics have dismissed the film as a pale echo of Citizen Kane. Such an attitude is short-sighted given the themes that Welles visited repeatedly in his oeuvre. After all, the plot of Welles' next film, the Hollywood-produced Touch of Evil, also features an outsider who shines a light on the past doings of a powerful figure while jeopardizing his wife and encountering a variety of bizarre and grotesque personalities along the way. Producer: Louis Dolivet, Orson Welles Director: Orson Welles Screenplay: Orson Welles Cinematography: Jean Bourgoin Film Editing: Renzo Lucidi, William Morton, Orson Welles Art Direction: Orson Welles Music: Paul Misraki Set Decoration: Gil Parrondo, Francisco Prosper, Luis Perez Espinosa Costume Design: Orson Welles Makeup: Roy Ashton Cast: Orson Welles (Gregory Arkadin), Robert Arden (Guy Van Stratten), Patricia Medina (Mily), Akim Tamiroff (Jakob Zouk), Mischa Auer (The Professor), Paola Mori (Raina Arkadin), Peter van Eyck (Thaddeus), Michael Redgrave (Burgomil Trebitsch), Suzanne Flon (Baroness Nagel), Katina Paxinou (Sophie), Gregoire Aslan (Bracco), Jack Watling (Marquis of Rutleigh), Gert Frobe (Policeman). BW-99m. by John M. Miller

The Complete Mr. Arkadin from The Criterion Collection on DVD


Trying to get a handle on some of the later films of Orson Welles was once a difficult proposition, as definitive versions didn't seem to exist. Bob Epstein showed us a slightly longer copy of Touch of Evil in film school at UCLA and described studio-imposed alterations like covering up the bravura opening tracking shot with a title sequence. Reading about The Stranger and The Lady From Shanghai, we discovered that the films we knew actually had major sequences missing, remixed soundtracks, and even entire scenes re-shot by other hands. (* Footnote 1).

Unless one wants to go into projects that were only partially completed, Mr. Arkadin is the biggest Welles puzzle of all. Several differing versions were given localized releases, so that when the film finally surfaced in the U.S. seven years later no one really knew what they were looking at. Not only did the order of some scenes change from release to release, one version told the story without benefit of Welles' Citizen Kane- like flashback structure.

Synopsis: Disreputable cigarette smuggler Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) and his girlfriend Milly (Patricia Medina) stumble into the weird life of Gregory Arkadin (Orson Welles) when they hear his name whispered by a dying man on an Italian dock. Hoping to con his way into a job or a grubstake, Guy is instead offered a curious assignment by the reclusive billionaire: To help Arkadin reconstitute his life before 1927, when he mysteriously 'appeared' with a lot of money and no memory of his past experiences. Guy is attracted to Arkadin's daughter Raina (Paola Mori), but Arkadin desperately wants to keep his 'confidential agent' away from the sheltered woman. Arkadin appears to have a lot to hide, especially from Raina.

We've seen reconstructions of supposed director's cuts of movies in recent years, including an elaborate refurbishing of Touch of Evil. Criterion's pricey but fascinating 3-disc set offers the two best-known release versions of Mr. Arkadin plus a new Comprehensive version, an attempt to assemble the longest, most inclusive and coherent version possible. It's all annotated with commentaries, explanatory docus, galleries of alternate scenes and outtakes, and even the full published novel of Mr. Arkadin. The book is its own mystery; Welles signed it but may not have written it.

Unlike some autopsies of movies that have been partially lost or exist only as a scrambled set of puzzle pieces (a theme integrated into the set's cover artwork), Criterion's effort leads to a rediscovery of a worthy near-classic. I confess to having had very little interest in the picture before now, but this disc set lays out the cinematic mystery so that we can ponder the clues for ourselves.

Mr. Arkadin must have held a special attraction for Welles, as he obviously cared enough to wrestle it almost all the way to the finish line. By 1955 he had accumulated more stalled projects than completed movies, and Arkadin had all of his favorite film elements. Given a dry run in a "Harry Lime" radio show, the story concerns one powerful and mysterious man's attempt to erase his past with crooked dealings in the international underworld, involving smuggling, politics, murder and white slavery going back thirty years. Gregory Arkadin is like The Third Man's Harry Lime -- if Lime had escaped Vienna and used his fortune to change his identity and build a financial empire.

The movie is almost good enough to stand on its own feet without invoking the usual excuses --- insufficient funding, flaky financing, producer "interference." (* Footnote 2). Take Orson Welles' name off and it would still be an arresting whirlwind of original images, eccentric characters and convoluted storytelling. But the film does have aspects (not necessarily flaws) that work against it.

Robert Arden's Guy Van Stratten is a very unlikable leading man. He's a charmless crook and a belligerent thug and we really don't see any reason for Raina to be attracted to him. He abuses Milly and is indirectly responsible for a series of murders. Frankly, we suspect that Welles picked Arden so that the audience wouldn't gravitate toward Van Stratten as a conventional hero. A disagreeable 'hero' adds a touch of moral ambiguity, and keeps us from dismissing the Arkadin character as a stock villain. I'm not saying that Van Stratten needed to be Cary Grant, but even Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer has some attractive qualities.

There's really nobody in the film for an audience to identify with. Poor Milly talks herself into deep trouble and Raina Arkadin is something of a sheltered princess type. We're left with the partial compensation of a rogue's gallery of colorful eccentrics, most of whom are crooks of one kind or another.

Like it or not, Mr. Arkadin is still an Orson Welles vanity production. The Arkadin character dominates the movie; only airline personnel seem able to put him in his place. Welles may be trying to hide himself but his make-up job and beard transform him into the Roman Zeus or some other classically inflected character. He upstages the other actors along with several travelogue castles in Spain and Germany. Welles doesn't direct himself as well as he does other people; he always seems to be winking at the camera, saying "It's that cute old trickster me, you know." Whether he plays a billionaire, a Borgia or an ordinary tramp sailor, his characters stand outside the drama at hand. Welles must have thought his perfect stage was live radio, where he could play a character while doing asides to the audience and the orchestra and even criticize the script as he read it. He does the same thing when he acts. His characters are at the center of the tale, making noise and doing actor's gymnastics, but he just doesn't know when to back off from the close-ups.

Finally, some of the storytelling is simply sloppy. The basic setup with Van Stratten spilling the plot to crusty old Akim Tamiroff (who seems to have reprised this role in Alphaville) is bad radio work: "Hey Buddy, we have to get you out of this room right away or be murdered by assassins, so let me instead tell you my tale from the beginning ...". The structurally interesting film begins more like a third-rate film noir than the reworking of Citizen Kane so frequently cited.

In almost every other aspect Mr. Arkadin is a dazzler. The cast is a riot of entertaining grotesques. Michael Redgrave's insinuating, mischievous antiques dealer is a bit much, but Tamiroff, Grégoire Aslan, Mischa Auer, Peter van Eyck and Suzanne Flon put in excellent appearances. Welles actually shows us Auer's flea circus at work, making us wonder if the sequence isn't an elaborate hoax. Van Eyck is appropriately cold and nobody stumbles on-screen with a knife in his back better than Aslan. Suzanne Flon (Moulin Rouge) is an ex-resistance fighter who makes Arkadin into his own definition of a fool: A person who pays for the same thing twice. The best is Katina Paxinou's (For Whom the Bell Tolls) cigarette-smoking old slaver. She gives Arden at least a dozen different dirty looks while playing cards with Manuel Requena's corpulent old General.

Criterion's DVD set of The Complete Mr. Arkadin a.k.a. Confidential Report is one of their best all-inclusive research jobs yet.

The three discs hold the "Corinth" version, the variant version Confidential Report and the new Comprehensive version. The quality is very good, alternating between razor-sharp original negative material and versions cut from dupes. Only a few moments come from softer 16mm film. Several scenes, especially aerial shots of Arkadin's plane, have dirt that appears to be from the original photography. The audio is good as well, with Paul Misraki's score providing transitions as Welles constantly shifts locales. Christmas Carols heard from the street tell us we're in Germany with Akim Tamiroff, and Arkadin's wild costume party in Spain is an even wilder mass of noise.

Savant watched the Comprehensive version and sampled the two others; the extras do a good job of cataloguing the remarkable differences between them. We don't know if Welles' work was unjustly yanked from him at the last minute or if the producers had no choice but to take it away, but what happened to this film is just plain weird: Multiple release versions with radical re-editing. The producers must have thought Welles' cutting ideas were an aberration needing "fixing" by more reasonable hands.

Disc producer Issa Clubb edited most of the documentaries on the show, the best of which is On the Comprehensive Version, a fascinating report on Stefan Drössler and Claude Bertemes' decision process of what to include and what to leave out. Each version had content not found in the others. Clubb shows us how one version moved a scene of Arkadin warning Van Stratten about some Mexican policemen waiting to interview him, several scenes after the interview takes place. Across three versions, the shot of a dead body on a beach shows up variously at the beginning, in the middle, and not at all.

Commentaries, radio shows, still galleries and a Harper Collins paperback of Welles' novel are a part of the boxed set. Participants include critics Jonathan Rosenbaum, James Naremore and Peter Bogdanovich.

A gallery of outtake dailies of Welles' directing is particularly rewarding. He'll have an actor concentrate on a particular line, repeating it endlessly with minute directorial instructions... it's maddening. When Welles is on camera, he'll cover a single line reading six or seven different ways. At one point Welles shouts at someone on the set to stop moving. On another take he rattles through his entire half of a conversation, jumping back and forth in the script. It's a well-known Edgar G. Ulmer "Wild Card" economy strategy; Welles is trying to conserve film. The gallery also includes a pair of Spanish-version alternate scenes in which Spanish actresses replace Suzanne Flon and Katina Paxinou.

Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin can finally be seen in a version with audible dialogue and a continuity that makes sense. It's still emotionally cold, unless one identifies with the lonely old serial killer, racketeer and raconteur Arkadin enough to shed a tear for him. But nobody ever made thrillers as cinematically exciting as Welles did, and Arkadin is quite an accomplishment.

For more information about Mr. Arkadin, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Mr. Arkadin, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Footnotes: 1. I first read about an extensive, lost prologue to The Stranger in Bret Wood's terrific article in Video Watchdog's issue #23, May/June 1994. That movie was meant to show a serioius Arkadin- like Nazi hunt from Germany to Argentina before finally catching up with Welles' character posing as a college professor in a small New England town.
Return

2. Producer Interference: In some cases definable as a producer expecting the terms of his business deal with an filmmaker to be honored, even if the filmmaker is a capricious genius.
Return

The Complete Mr. Arkadin from The Criterion Collection on DVD

Trying to get a handle on some of the later films of Orson Welles was once a difficult proposition, as definitive versions didn't seem to exist. Bob Epstein showed us a slightly longer copy of Touch of Evil in film school at UCLA and described studio-imposed alterations like covering up the bravura opening tracking shot with a title sequence. Reading about The Stranger and The Lady From Shanghai, we discovered that the films we knew actually had major sequences missing, remixed soundtracks, and even entire scenes re-shot by other hands. (* Footnote 1). Unless one wants to go into projects that were only partially completed, Mr. Arkadin is the biggest Welles puzzle of all. Several differing versions were given localized releases, so that when the film finally surfaced in the U.S. seven years later no one really knew what they were looking at. Not only did the order of some scenes change from release to release, one version told the story without benefit of Welles' Citizen Kane- like flashback structure. Synopsis: Disreputable cigarette smuggler Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) and his girlfriend Milly (Patricia Medina) stumble into the weird life of Gregory Arkadin (Orson Welles) when they hear his name whispered by a dying man on an Italian dock. Hoping to con his way into a job or a grubstake, Guy is instead offered a curious assignment by the reclusive billionaire: To help Arkadin reconstitute his life before 1927, when he mysteriously 'appeared' with a lot of money and no memory of his past experiences. Guy is attracted to Arkadin's daughter Raina (Paola Mori), but Arkadin desperately wants to keep his 'confidential agent' away from the sheltered woman. Arkadin appears to have a lot to hide, especially from Raina. We've seen reconstructions of supposed director's cuts of movies in recent years, including an elaborate refurbishing of Touch of Evil. Criterion's pricey but fascinating 3-disc set offers the two best-known release versions of Mr. Arkadin plus a new Comprehensive version, an attempt to assemble the longest, most inclusive and coherent version possible. It's all annotated with commentaries, explanatory docus, galleries of alternate scenes and outtakes, and even the full published novel of Mr. Arkadin. The book is its own mystery; Welles signed it but may not have written it. Unlike some autopsies of movies that have been partially lost or exist only as a scrambled set of puzzle pieces (a theme integrated into the set's cover artwork), Criterion's effort leads to a rediscovery of a worthy near-classic. I confess to having had very little interest in the picture before now, but this disc set lays out the cinematic mystery so that we can ponder the clues for ourselves. Mr. Arkadin must have held a special attraction for Welles, as he obviously cared enough to wrestle it almost all the way to the finish line. By 1955 he had accumulated more stalled projects than completed movies, and Arkadin had all of his favorite film elements. Given a dry run in a "Harry Lime" radio show, the story concerns one powerful and mysterious man's attempt to erase his past with crooked dealings in the international underworld, involving smuggling, politics, murder and white slavery going back thirty years. Gregory Arkadin is like The Third Man's Harry Lime -- if Lime had escaped Vienna and used his fortune to change his identity and build a financial empire. The movie is almost good enough to stand on its own feet without invoking the usual excuses --- insufficient funding, flaky financing, producer "interference." (* Footnote 2). Take Orson Welles' name off and it would still be an arresting whirlwind of original images, eccentric characters and convoluted storytelling. But the film does have aspects (not necessarily flaws) that work against it. Robert Arden's Guy Van Stratten is a very unlikable leading man. He's a charmless crook and a belligerent thug and we really don't see any reason for Raina to be attracted to him. He abuses Milly and is indirectly responsible for a series of murders. Frankly, we suspect that Welles picked Arden so that the audience wouldn't gravitate toward Van Stratten as a conventional hero. A disagreeable 'hero' adds a touch of moral ambiguity, and keeps us from dismissing the Arkadin character as a stock villain. I'm not saying that Van Stratten needed to be Cary Grant, but even Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer has some attractive qualities. There's really nobody in the film for an audience to identify with. Poor Milly talks herself into deep trouble and Raina Arkadin is something of a sheltered princess type. We're left with the partial compensation of a rogue's gallery of colorful eccentrics, most of whom are crooks of one kind or another. Like it or not, Mr. Arkadin is still an Orson Welles vanity production. The Arkadin character dominates the movie; only airline personnel seem able to put him in his place. Welles may be trying to hide himself but his make-up job and beard transform him into the Roman Zeus or some other classically inflected character. He upstages the other actors along with several travelogue castles in Spain and Germany. Welles doesn't direct himself as well as he does other people; he always seems to be winking at the camera, saying "It's that cute old trickster me, you know." Whether he plays a billionaire, a Borgia or an ordinary tramp sailor, his characters stand outside the drama at hand. Welles must have thought his perfect stage was live radio, where he could play a character while doing asides to the audience and the orchestra and even criticize the script as he read it. He does the same thing when he acts. His characters are at the center of the tale, making noise and doing actor's gymnastics, but he just doesn't know when to back off from the close-ups. Finally, some of the storytelling is simply sloppy. The basic setup with Van Stratten spilling the plot to crusty old Akim Tamiroff (who seems to have reprised this role in Alphaville) is bad radio work: "Hey Buddy, we have to get you out of this room right away or be murdered by assassins, so let me instead tell you my tale from the beginning ...". The structurally interesting film begins more like a third-rate film noir than the reworking of Citizen Kane so frequently cited. In almost every other aspect Mr. Arkadin is a dazzler. The cast is a riot of entertaining grotesques. Michael Redgrave's insinuating, mischievous antiques dealer is a bit much, but Tamiroff, Grégoire Aslan, Mischa Auer, Peter van Eyck and Suzanne Flon put in excellent appearances. Welles actually shows us Auer's flea circus at work, making us wonder if the sequence isn't an elaborate hoax. Van Eyck is appropriately cold and nobody stumbles on-screen with a knife in his back better than Aslan. Suzanne Flon (Moulin Rouge) is an ex-resistance fighter who makes Arkadin into his own definition of a fool: A person who pays for the same thing twice. The best is Katina Paxinou's (For Whom the Bell Tolls) cigarette-smoking old slaver. She gives Arden at least a dozen different dirty looks while playing cards with Manuel Requena's corpulent old General. Criterion's DVD set of The Complete Mr. Arkadin a.k.a. Confidential Report is one of their best all-inclusive research jobs yet. The three discs hold the "Corinth" version, the variant version Confidential Report and the new Comprehensive version. The quality is very good, alternating between razor-sharp original negative material and versions cut from dupes. Only a few moments come from softer 16mm film. Several scenes, especially aerial shots of Arkadin's plane, have dirt that appears to be from the original photography. The audio is good as well, with Paul Misraki's score providing transitions as Welles constantly shifts locales. Christmas Carols heard from the street tell us we're in Germany with Akim Tamiroff, and Arkadin's wild costume party in Spain is an even wilder mass of noise. Savant watched the Comprehensive version and sampled the two others; the extras do a good job of cataloguing the remarkable differences between them. We don't know if Welles' work was unjustly yanked from him at the last minute or if the producers had no choice but to take it away, but what happened to this film is just plain weird: Multiple release versions with radical re-editing. The producers must have thought Welles' cutting ideas were an aberration needing "fixing" by more reasonable hands. Disc producer Issa Clubb edited most of the documentaries on the show, the best of which is On the Comprehensive Version, a fascinating report on Stefan Drössler and Claude Bertemes' decision process of what to include and what to leave out. Each version had content not found in the others. Clubb shows us how one version moved a scene of Arkadin warning Van Stratten about some Mexican policemen waiting to interview him, several scenes after the interview takes place. Across three versions, the shot of a dead body on a beach shows up variously at the beginning, in the middle, and not at all. Commentaries, radio shows, still galleries and a Harper Collins paperback of Welles' novel are a part of the boxed set. Participants include critics Jonathan Rosenbaum, James Naremore and Peter Bogdanovich. A gallery of outtake dailies of Welles' directing is particularly rewarding. He'll have an actor concentrate on a particular line, repeating it endlessly with minute directorial instructions... it's maddening. When Welles is on camera, he'll cover a single line reading six or seven different ways. At one point Welles shouts at someone on the set to stop moving. On another take he rattles through his entire half of a conversation, jumping back and forth in the script. It's a well-known Edgar G. Ulmer "Wild Card" economy strategy; Welles is trying to conserve film. The gallery also includes a pair of Spanish-version alternate scenes in which Spanish actresses replace Suzanne Flon and Katina Paxinou. Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin can finally be seen in a version with audible dialogue and a continuity that makes sense. It's still emotionally cold, unless one identifies with the lonely old serial killer, racketeer and raconteur Arkadin enough to shed a tear for him. But nobody ever made thrillers as cinematically exciting as Welles did, and Arkadin is quite an accomplishment. For more information about Mr. Arkadin, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Mr. Arkadin, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson Footnotes: 1. I first read about an extensive, lost prologue to The Stranger in Bret Wood's terrific article in Video Watchdog's issue #23, May/June 1994. That movie was meant to show a serioius Arkadin- like Nazi hunt from Germany to Argentina before finally catching up with Welles' character posing as a college professor in a small New England town. Return 2. Producer Interference: In some cases definable as a producer expecting the terms of his business deal with an filmmaker to be honored, even if the filmmaker is a capricious genius. Return

Quotes

Baroness, a fool is a man who pays twice for the same thing.
- Gregory Arkadin

Trivia

All of Paola Mori's dialogue was reportedly dubbed by another actress.

Notes

Filmed in 1954 on locations in Spain, France, West Germany, Italy, Greece, and Mexico. Opened in Madrid in March 1955. Previously released abroad in English as Confidential Report.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1962

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1955

Shot in 1954 and 1955.

Released in United States 1962

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1955