Wednesday, October 03, 2018
***Note: The main body of this review is based on the 99-minute Corinth version of Mr. Arkadin as there are three available versions of the film here in the U.S.***
Written, directed, costume design, art directed, and co-starring Orson Welles in the titular role, Mr. Arkadin (Confidential Report) is the story of an amnesiac billionaire who hires a smuggler to investigate his life including own life as it leads to chaotic trip around the world. Based on radio scripts Welles co-wrote with Ernest Bornemann as well as parts of Graham Greene’s The Third Man and the Harry Lime radio programs Welles did in the 1950s. The film is an offbeat mystery that play into a man’s identity as he meets a smuggler to try and piece everything in his life. Also starring Robert Arden, Paola Mori, Patricia Medina, Akim Tamiroff, Gregoire Aslan, Jack Watling, Mischa Auer, Peter van Eyck, and Michael Redgrave. Mr. Arkadin is a fascinating and strange film from Orson Welles.
Set in Europe, the film revolves a smuggler who witnessed a murder where he learns the murder is connected to the reclusive billionaire in Gregory Arkadin who would ask him to go on a journey to find out about his own life before 1927 believing he has no recollection of his life before he became a billionaire. It’s a film with a simple premise yet it is filled with complexities, twists, and turns where this young man is given a task to learn about this billionaire where there are so many things that would confuse him. Orson Welles’ screenplay is largely told by the smuggler Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) to a man named Jakob Zouk (Akim Tamiroff) who has just gotten out of jail and has some connection towards Arkadin. Van Stratten’s story begins in Italy where he and his girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) witness a murder as Mily gets information from the dying man as it relates to Arkadin.
Arriving in Spain where Arkadin lives, he meets Arkadin’s daughter Raina (Paola Mori) as he falls for her and later meets Arkadin who gives him the job due to Van Stratten’s reputation for smuggling. Arkadin gives Van Stratten instructions and conditions for the job with the one being for his daughter to not know anything about his past. Throughout this chaotic journey around the world including stops in Mexico, Tangiers, Germany, and other parts of the world. Van Stratten deals with not just the many stories about Arkadin but also the people he meets as they all have an idea of what he did before creating this air of confusion.
Welles’ direction is stylish for the intrigue that he creates as it is shot largely on various locations in Spain along with scenes set in Paris, London, Munich, the French Riviera, and the Chateau de Chillon in Switzerland. The film is a whirlwind of visuals as Welles would create a lot of stylistic shots from not just a few slanted camera angles but also some low camera angles to play into the towering presence of Mr. Arkadin. Welles’ usage of wide shots play into the vast locations that Van Stratten would be as it does feel like a film that took place around the world as there are these moments of Van Stratten in different places. The close-ups and medium shots that Welles uses in Van Stratten’s meetings with those who might know about Arkadin as there are also these moments that are offbeat yet intriguing. There is an element to the film that is messy as it relates to Van Stratten’s journey as he’s unaware that Arkadin is following him where it does hinder the film’s pacing a bit in some places.
Serving as the film’s costume designer and art director with help from set decorators Gil Parrondo and Luis Perez Espinoza, Welles would create a look that play into this lavish world that Arkadin is in as he often hosts parties where he is mysterious where no one is sure where he is. Welles would also showcase these moments that play into the mystery and the need for Arkadin to not let it go out for his daughter to know. Especially in a thrilling climax that is this race to reach Raina between Arkadin and Van Stratten as there are also these complexities into the fact that the latter knows that is his own life is on the line after being aware of how dangerous Arkadin has become. Overall, Welles crafts an exhilarating and provocative film about a billionaire who hires a smuggler to find answers about his past.
Cinematographer Jean Bourgoin does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it creates a mesmerizing look for some of the exteriors in the day and night along with the interiors at night. Editor Renzo Lucidi does excellent work with the editing as its usage of stylish dissolve montages and rhythmic cuts help play into the suspense. The sound work of Jacques Lebreton is terrific for the sound effects that are created along with some of the natural sounds although some of the post-dubbing synchronicity is off in some parts of the film. The film’s music by Paul Misraki is fantastic for its playful orchestral score that has elements that are light and upbeat to play with the locations in Spain to some eerie pieces for the film’s third act.
The film’s marvelous cast include some notable small roles from Gert Frobe as a Munich detective, Eduard Linker as Munich policeman, Tamara Shayne as a woman who hides Zouk, Frederick O’Brady as a junkie who knew Arkadin in Oskar, Katina Paxinou as the mysterious Sophie who knows about Arkadin’s past, Suzanne Flon as a socialite friend of Arkadin in Baronness Nagel, Peter van Eyck as a man Mily meets in Tangiers with information about Arkadin, Michael Redgrave as an antiques dealer in Burgomil Trebitsch, Mischa Auer as a mysterious professor who runs a flea circus that knew Arkadin, Gregoire Aslan as the man that Van Stratten meets in Italy who is killed early in the film, and Jack Watling as an aide of Arkadin in Bob the Marquess of Rutleigh. Akim Tamiroff is superb as Jakob Zouk as a man that Van Stratten tells his story to as he also carries some crucial information about Arkadin yet remains in hiding.
Patricia Medina is fantastic as Mily as Van Stratten’s girlfriend who has some information that she received on the night of the murder that she and Van Stratten witnessed as she also knows Arkadin and warns Van Stratten to not get too close. Paola Mori is wonderful as Arkadin’s daughter Raina as a young woman who wants to have some freedom but is also concerned about her father’s domineering persona as Mori’s voice is dubbed by another actress. Robert Arden is excellent as Guy Van Stratten as a smuggler who gets Arkadin’s attention as this young man that is trying to woo Raina only to be given this immense assignment filled with confusion and befuddlement. Finally, there’s Orson Welles in an incredible world as the titular character as this billionaire that is bigger than life itself as he’s elusive yet playful but also has this dark element to him that showcases a man that is obsessed with wanting to protect his secret.
***The following is an overview of the 98-minute European version of the film known as Confidential Report***
Considered the best version of the film in terms of its visual print as the film was transferred from 16mm to 35mm, the film that was re-edited under the supervision of producer Louis Dolivet is a different take on the film though not much of it has changed from the Corinth version. Aside from the voice-over narration of Van Stratten which is more prevalent in this film than in the Corinth version which was based on Van Stratten telling Zouk his story as the narrative moves back and forth. In this version, it’s more of Van Stratten telling the story through voice-over narration. Other key elements that is changed in the film includes an extended monologue from Arkadin at the masquerade ball that play into his fascination with lore and death. Another major change in the film that is different that relates to its second act is order of film sequences.
Notably when Van Stratten travels around the world as he would meet the professor and later the antiques man in this version while the scene of Mily at Arkadin’s yacht appears after Van Stratten meets the antiques man. It’s a version that has an improved pacing and looks better though it still has a few flaws such as the post-synch dubbing and other messy moments in the film.
***The following is an overview of the 2006 105-minute comprehensive version from the Criterion Collection***
Compiled by Stefan Drossler from the Munich Film Museum and Claude Bertemes with the aid of film critic/historian Jonathan Rosenbaum and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich from various different versions of the film. It is the longest available version that is closer to what Welles had intended for the film as it has a different opening of a dead body lying on the beach as well as an ending that relates to a plane about to crash. The film itself feature an array of footage from different versions as it does play into the structure of the Corinth version with its usage of flashbacks but it has a few extended moments such as the sequence at the docks in Italy.
While there’s shots in the film that doesn’t match with parts of the film in some scenes due to the source material was used in the other films. The pacing of the film is better while there is also an element of the film that does feel fragmented which is an advantage to its pacing. It’s a film that still has a few issues in terms of the post-synch dubbing that doesn’t match up with the actors but it isn’t as noticeable in comparison to the other versions. Of the three, it is the best version in terms of its pacing and gathering everything that is needed in the story no matter how flawed it is.
Mr. Arkadin is a marvelous film from Orson Welles. While there will never be a definitive version of what Welles intended, the three versions of the film from the Criterion Collection in their different running times and presentation is still a fascinating suspense film that play into the idea of obsession and identity. Even as it showcases a story told in different versions of a man trying to find clues of a man’s past and lose himself in this journey. In the end, Mr. Arkadin is a remarkable film from Orson Welles.
Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story – F for Fake - Filming Othello – The Other Side of the Wind
Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2
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