Orson Welles?s Mr. Arkadin (a.k.a. Confidential Report) is one of cinema?s great mysteries. How did a globetrotting narrative of espionage, amnesia, and backstabbing come to be itself marked by these qualities? In the film... more », small-time American smuggler Guy van Stratten is hired by elusive billionaire Gregory Arkadin to investigate the tycoon?s past. What follows is a dizzying descent into the Cold War landscape of a Europe trying to erase its history. In making the film, Welles was ultimately banned from the editing room by producer Louis Dolivet. As a result, many versions exist, none of them definitive. The Criterion Collection is proud to collect the many faces of Mr. Arkadin into one box for the first time?from the story?s beginnings in radio to the novel published under Welles?s name to an all-new "comprehensive version" of the film.« less
Three Versions of Orson Welles' Oblique Tale of Obsession an
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 04/25/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Orson Welles wrote and directed "Mr. Arkadin" based on 3 episodes of "The Lives of Harry Lime" (1951-1952) radio show, in which Welles starred as antihero adventurer Harry Lime, reprising his role from the 1949 film "The Third Man". Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) -con artist, "petty adventurer", and, according to himself, "the world's greatest sucker"- was smuggling cigarettes with girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) in Naples harbor when a man named Bracco (Gregoire Aslan) was stabbed on the dock. Bracco whispered 2 names to Mily with his dying breath. One name was Gregory Arkadin (Orson Welles), a fabulously wealthy international financier. Thinking that Bracco's dying words might be worth something to Arkadin, Guy tries to ingratiate himself with Arkadin's daughter Raina (Paola Mori), while Mily uses her charms to get close to him. Disapproving of Guy's relationship with Raina and realizing his ambitions, Mr. Arkadin proposes to pay Guy to investigate his past in exchange for Guy abandoning Raina. Arkadin claims to suffer from amnesia, knowing nothing before he found himself in Zurich in 1927 with 200,000 Swiss francs in his pocket. With this information, Guy criss-crosses Europe trying to reconstruct Arkadin's past. (4 stars)
"Mr. Arkadin" has been called a burlesque and a pastiche of Orson Welles' earlier films. It's not clear whether to take it literally, figuratively, or as satire -although the film's outrightly comic scenes are its best. Robert Arden's performance is often considered the weak spot in the film, because he doesn't make Guy Van Stratten sympathetic. I think Arden portrays Guy's clumsy, obnoxious ambition rather well actually. He's not a sympathetic character, but a junior Mr. Arkadin. There are many wonderful supporting performances. The weakness is Mr. Arkadin himself, who is a caricature rather than a character. Called "the ogre" by his daughter and a "phenomenon of an age of disillusion and crisis" by his enemies, Mr. Arkadin has a ridiculous appearance and manner, and his actions rarely make sense. A large man with a conspicuously coiffed hair and beard, he is simply absurd. Welles' keen sense of the absurd comes through in canted camera angles and lavish, chaotic art direction. The seemingly modern tale is set before an intriguing medieval backdrop of castles, peasants, and religious ritual. The Goya-inspired masquerade ball adds a touch of grotesque to the already unsettling tone.
Adding to the absurdity, Welles often changed his mind about structure and dialogue, forcing some scenes to be dubbed later. Welles himself dubbed several parts, including Bracco and The Professor. That was probably for technical reasons, but it's unfortunate. Scenes dubbed out of artistic whim are recognizable for speech that doesn't match the actors' lips. Welles lost control of the film in the editing process, as usual, ultimately resulting in several different versions of "Mr. Arkadin". Producer Louis Dolivet, a stealthy character himself, took the film away from Welles, because he was editing only 2 minutes of final product per week. Louis Dolivet was a communist who had been Welles' political mentor for a few years in the 1940s. Dolivet later had colorful career as a Soviet espionage agent, but insofar as "Mr. Arkadin" was concerned, he did the capitalist thing and sued Welles. The Criterion Collection offers 3 versions of the film in this "The Complete Mr. Arkadin" set (5 stars). Optional English subtitles are available.
DISC 1: The "Corinth Version" (99 minutes), discovered by Peter Bogdanovich in the early 1960s, is thought to be the last extant version to be under Orson Welles' control. Welles stated that the editing within scenes is true to his intentions. This version isn't horrible, bu it cuts to Guy and Zouk in the Berlin apartment repeatedly in such a manner as to disrupt the flow of the film. Arkadin's rendition of the scorpion-crossing-the-river story is the worst that I have seen, and it spoils his entrance. Bonus features on Disc 1: There is a nice audio commentary by Welles scholars Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore. They discuss the film's origins, visual style, themes, performances, and Welles' directing methods. "The Lives of Harry Lime" (90 min) includes the 3 radio show episodes (audio) on which the film was based, for play on a computer, DVD or MP3 player. The sound quality is not very good. "Reviving Harry Lime" (20 min) is an interview with Harry Alan Towers, who created and produced the radio show. He recalls how Orson Welles came to work on the show, putting the show together, and who may have actually written the 6 episodes credited to Welles, namely Ernest Borneman. There is also a "Stills Gallery" of production stills and behind-the-scenes photos.
DISC 2: The "Confidential Report" version (98 minutes), or the Louis Dolivet edit, which was released in 1955 in Great Britain. This version has the best picture quality, but it's the worst edit. It assumes that the audience will not be able to follow the story unless it is spelled out. The flashback structure is simplified, which at least eliminates choppiness. But the audience is guided by an overburdened voiceover narration. Extraneous scenes are included, particularly in the first 15 minutes, while more interesting material was cut. The introductions to both women, Mily and Riana, make them out to be weaker characters than they are. The scene on the dock with Bracco is longer, contains more explication, and a different intent. The bonus feature on Disc 2 is "Men of Mystery" (25 min), an interview with Welles biographer Simon Callow, who talks about Orson Welles, Louis Dolivet, actor Michael Redgrave, and includes some interview tapes with Robert Arden.
DISC 3: This "Comprehensive Version" (105 minutes) has recently been assembled by film historians/archivists Stefan Drossler and Claude Bertemes from 5 different versions of the film based on comments that Welles made in the years following the film's original release. It is an attempt to create a Welles edit, not the best edit. Although we may know Welles' intentions, it is impossible to know what he would have done had he had the footage in front of him. This version is superior to the others, because the elaborate flashback structure has been restored to working order. But it errs on the side of including too much. For example: Additional footage of Guy approaching Zouk's apartment house gives that scene an inappropriately leisurely pace. In one scene, Mily's dialogue is interrupted then resumed, apparently a mistake. A clip of the plane crashing makes little sense, because it is a subjective camera in an empty plane. Bonus features on Disc 3: "On the Comprehensive Version" (20 min) in which Drossler, Bertemes, and Peter Bogdanovich explain some of the decisions in the new edit. "Outtakes and Rushes" (30 min) are from footage found at the Cinematheque de Luxembourg. "The Spanish Actresses" are alternative scenes with the Baroness Nagel (4 min) and Sophie (7 min) shot specially for the Spanish language version with Spanish actresses Amparo Rivelles and Irene Lopez Heredia."
WORST OF SEVEN VERSIONS
Donald A. Newlove | Greenwich Village | 11/09/2000
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Laserlight's scratched and speckled public domain version of MR. ARKADIN, even at four bucks, is worthless and rapes Welles's memory. Seven versions of this film are floating about. The best is Criterion Collection's superbly rich, smooth-flowing laserdisc, which I have and which I hope will appear on DVD along with Criterion's vastly well-documented MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. And may Criterion get the strong new print released to theaters early last year for its DVD version of CITIZEN KANE. Laserlight's MR. ARKADIN, the film's U.S. title, is just atrocious, with jumps, dialogue dropouts, a pale image, and worst of all, a linear re-editing of the story which Welles expressly strove to avoid. He wanted wildly intense editing. With its lost footage (you wouldn't believe the great stuff they left out), the Laserlight version only looks swift, while the Criterion version, called CONFIDENTIAL REPORT, has the European release, anointed by New Wave directors back in the fifties, which cleaves more closely to Welles's vision. There is NO FINAL EDIT BY WELLES known to exist. While you await Criterion's DVD of CONFIDENTIAL REPORT (or seek the laserdisc on auction sites), buy the DVDs of THE TRIAL and the re-edited TOUCH OF EVIL for Welles in his glory. I haven't seen Bogdanovich's LADY FROM SHANGHAI DVD, a film gutted by Columbia Pictures (especially the Fun House climax), then rescored, and stripped as well of Welles's strong, radio-smart sound effects (just dead studio sound remains)---but have great hopes for it and await its delivery from Amazon. RKO gutted THE STRANGER, weakening it, removing a dark, 20-minute opening about Nazis in South America which set up Franz Kindler's being in New England.It's a necessary DVD, nonetheless. But avoid Laserlight's washed out public domain MY MAN GODFREY DVD. My tape off PBS is far richer, as I imagine is the videocassette version."
John Ellis | New York, NY United States | 04/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Orson Welles more than any film director understood that film is a mosaic of tiles, and that it is in the act of piecing them together that a film is made. He also failed to do so about half the time, in part due to his nature, in part due to the nature of the business. He wrote, acted, directed in this manner, creating puzzle pieces much in the way Brian Wilson created "Smile" musically, and with similar results on "Mr. Arkadin". Wilson finally finished "Smile" two years ago; Welles has "Arkadin" finished for him with this box set.
Welles deliberately filmed "Arkadin" so that only he could fuse the fragments together properly to protect himself from interference. Then the producers took it away from him and over time arranged and released five different versions of it, none of which had the structure or story line Welles intended, one or two of which literally do not make sense. Working that way, juggling it all in his head, Welles did let some balls drop - in particular the opening section seems to have missing shots or even scenes (scenes which appear in the novel version included here, begun by Welles and finished by his secretary). This box set includes the two best previously released versions, both intriguing but flawed, and then a new version crafting together in beautifully remastered image and sound something much closer to what Welles would have done if he could have. It's still rather like the Ancient Roman novel (the first surviving) "Satyricon", wonderful large fragments of a great work in ruins. But what ruins. The flea circus scene, Michael Redgrave's pawnbroker, the Christmas orgy, the German ghetto, are all among the best stuff Welles ever filmed. Holes in the plot - holes that could have been explained or worked out but weren't - remain, but if you're interested in Welles you will enjoy the new version a lot.
It would rate a four if not for the extras, which include footage of Welles doing takes as an actor and even better Welles directing the very ordinary actor in the lead (the film would be another level higher with someone like Richard Basehart instead) and his non-actress wife, who plays Arkadin's daughter. Five minutes only, the later is priceless for anyone interested in the craft of acting on film. If you have only seen the English versions, you'll be thrilled with the lost ending, the end credits, whole scenes that were only in the Spanish version. Except for the young leads, the actors are extraordinary. Welles neophytes should start elsewhere, but anyone who has digested "Citizen Kane" will find "Arkadin" compelling, for all the flaws in makeup, post-dubbing, the music which was written without cue lengths so the audio cuts are clumsy, even the botched initial set-up for the flashback structure ('We're about to be murdered so let me tell you the whole story...').
Perfect is only possible when you work in miniature."
Fractured film-noir by Welles, in the best possible package
Felix Felicis | Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry | 04/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Orson Welles was many things - daring, ambitious, brilliant, egomaniacal - but structured was not one of them. When he was merely 21 he was given the keys to RKO and the right to make any film he wished. He made "Citizen Kane", not only one of the finest and most important pictures ever but also the subject of much wrangling between himself and William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful media tycoons in history. Though the film was released as he intended, Welles paid a heavy price for his hubris - he would never again enjoy that kind of creative control in any of his later films. His next feature, "The Magnificent Ambersons", was famously taken from him in editing and cut by nearly an hour, and the remaining nitrate was later destroyed. "The Stranger", "The Trial", "Don Quixote", and "Touch of Evil", among several others, suffered the same fate (thankfully ToE was at least later restored to his meticulous specifications). However, no film of Welles suffered as much as "Mr. Arkadin", described in his own words as his most butchered movie.
Before I describe the plot of the film or the details of this wonderful Criterion edition, you first must understand what version of the film I am discussing here, and a bit about it's tortured history. "Mr. Arkadin" was never completed by Welles or authorized by him in ANY form - so there is not a long-lost Director's Cut of the film or a clear and precise set of instructions by Welles to be carried out to their fullest intent (like the restored version of Touch of Evil, which was based on a 58-page memo that Welles sent Universal). ALL versions of this film were edited after Welles failed to deliver his cut on time - without his direct input. The assembly process is further hurt by the fact that Welles conceived of an intricate flashback structure to tell his tale just before shooting, and shot the film in fragmented form precisely because he would be the only one who could assemble it properly. Additionally, it was shot over a long period of time over several locations and in varying degrees of quality - there are a number of scenes that freely switch between 16mm and 35mm and a lot of unfinished dialogue track timing and several poorly overdubbed segments. There are at least SIX distinct versions of the film and each contains at least one thing that the others do not - the "Corinth" version found by Peter Bogdanovich in 1960 (98 minutes with Welles' described flashback struture mostly intact; until now generally considered to be the best representation of "Mr. Arkadin"), two seperate Spanish-language cuts, an American linear version that is derived from the Corinth cut, the notorious "Confidential Report" European cut that was done by Louis Dolivet (95 minutes), and finally for this release we get a brand-new "comprehensive" cut of the film done by Stefan Drossler of Fimmuseum Munchen in conjunction with Claude Bertemes. This new 105-minute cut is an attempt to piece together the most complete, coherent and lucid version of the film, using only the most finished shots and Welles' own piecemeal instructions from notes and interviews, and contuity clues from the previous cuts (especially the "Corinth", which is the earliest cut) for the footage itself and how it should be properly sequenced. This is by far the BEST cut of "Mr. Arkadin" available, in my opinion, and since Criterion was thoughtful enough to include the Corinth and Confidential Report versions in this set, it is easy to compare how much improved the clarity of the story becomes in the comprehensive version, with Welles' intricate flashbacks intact and his unique sense of film grammar plainly evident. If you do by this set I would recommend watching this edit of the film first, and then wading into the earlier cuts. Kudos to Criterion for this magnificent restoration attempt (as usual).
"Mr. Arkadin" is the story of Gregory Arkadin (Orson Welles), a shadowy figure with enormous resources who built himself up from humble beginnings, but cannot recall any of the details of how his initial fortune came to be. The story is intentionally told in fragments. In the opening shot we see an unknown figure lying dead on a beach. Suddenly, two men are hiding out from the police, one of them is desperate to tell his tale. His name is Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden), a smuggler who was kind to a dying man in his last moments (he was knifed to death). The man tells Guy and his girlfriend, Mily, the names of two people - Gregory Arkadin and a woman named Sophia - information, he says, that is worth a fortune. Van Stratten, now unemployed with nothing but time on his hands, is curious and decides to search for the elusive Arkadin - in the hopes of blackmailing him. He discovers that Arkadin has a beautiful daughter, Raina, and uses her as a means of entrance into his world. But Arkadin is one step ahead of him; he knows everything there is to know about Guy through his vast network of spies. Eventually, Guy is hired by Arkadin to discover the truth about his life and fortune (and the mysterious Sophia, who's last name no one remembers) because he is an army man and has access to all kinds of confidential information; but Arkadin is merely using Guy as bait - he follows him every step of the way, interviews the same figures that Guy does, and eventually kills each one of them as the story of his life begins to unravel; he is ashamed of his secrets and is driven to protect his daughter's innocence before Van Stratten reaches her and tells her the truth. Soon, only Van Stratten and Arkadin are left, and as Guy races to find Raina in time Arkadin is right on his tail. The conclusion of this excellent thriller is exciting and also very revealing about Arkadin's character, much like the final moments of "Citizen Kane". It is a worthy addition to the Welles noir canon alongside "Touch of Evil" and "The Lady From Shanghai" and others.
Even in mangled form, it is easy to see why the film is so admired. It bears all the hallmarks of Welles' unique visual style - extremely low angle shots at or even below ground level, deep focus all the way from the foreground to the background, long tracking shots, dramatic visual compositions (with a face filling the foreground and a figure far in the background, for example), characters looking directly into the camera from a higher position in order to mythically exaggerate them, etc. and since it is a noir it also features the typical flair in lighting and shadows. Welles, as Arkadin, is often photographed in shadow, silouhette, or even in masks. The story itself is pretty fascinating on a number of levels. For one thing, just about every character is crooked and unlikeable at the start - including both male protagonists. The plot deals with the secrets and possible redemption of such a character, Mr. Arkadin, and only in the ending of the film is he really humanized - this is more than a passing resemblance to the central idea behind "Citizen Kane", of course. Also, the dense labyrinthine plot and the atmosphere and realistic sound design (even with a fractured score) contribute quite a bit of atmosphere and thrills to the film. As stated eariler, this amazing Criterion release contains three distinct cuts of the movie and several worthwhile and informative special features - film critic Johnathan Rosenbaum and author James Naremore provide commentary on the Corinth version, there are outtakes of Welles acting and directed from the assembly cut of the rushes, and on the Comprehensive version there is a great 20-minute documentary fully explaining the reasoning behind the new cut and the various differences in the previous versions. There is also a novelization of the story, credited to Welles but in reality a ghost-written translation of a French version of the tale. In addition, all versions have been significantly cleaned up in terms of aural and visual debris and down-converted from a 1.33:1 full frame HD transfer, with the comprehensive cut and the "Confidential Report" version being the cleanest. All in all, if you are a fan of Welles and curious about his incomplete works, or you love noir, or even just like film in general and wish to learn from a master, I can't stress how awesome this Criterion Edition of The Complete Mr. Arkadin is. It's a great thriller, visually and thematically impressive, that was never completed - but this "best guess" is probably as close as we'll ever get. And as typical for Criterion, it's pretty damn good."
Mr Satan in Person
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 07/07/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Mr Arkadin, aka Confidential Report - or, to give it its rather wonderful German title, Mr Satan in Person - is certainly one of the most problematic of Awesome's films, with a lot of money obviously spent on screen in all the location-hopping, but far too little in post-production (the lip-synching is truly atrocious throughout thanks to constant script changes). It also boasts every conceivable manner of (often wildly incompatible) performance from its interesting cast - Robert Arden gives possibly the loudest performance in a leading role until Al Pacino started making movies, Welles towers and glowers behind one of cinema's worst wig, beard and putty nose ensembles, Patricia Medina is almost endearing in her total lack of ability, Michael Redgrave hams it up outrageously while the likes of Katina Paxinou and Suzanne Flon tone it down and Akim Tamiroff steals every scene going. The first third is awkward in each of the three versions on Criterion's excellent DVD, but it gradually exerts a grip, filled throughout with Welles' trademarks, from the almost omnipresent ceilings in shots to the director conspicuously dubbing bit players (everyone from Gregoire Aslan's dying blackmailer to Mischa Auer's flea circus impresario).
Most of the changes in the `comprehensive version' make sense, even if after seeing the other two versions it is jarring to see the visit to Sophie come after Arkadin's appearance in Mexico (which does explain why Van Stratten didn't tell him that Sophie didn't care). However, the opening doesn't flow quite as well once Arden's introductory screen credit that flows right into his arrival at Zouk's garret is put at the end of the picture. The film never quite lives up to its premise, but as ever with Welles, it's an engaging mess.
With an excellent and intelligent selection of extras (including what may well be Harry Alan Towers only appearance on a Criterion DVD!), this comes highly recommended."