The Complete Mr. Arkadin: The Criterion Collection
Assessing Orson Welles' body of work is as depressing as surveying the wreckage of a house fire. There are only a handful of films that can be claimed unmarked outside of Citizen Kane and even complete films like The Trial and F for Fake can't hide their thrown-together quality. The majority of Welles' films reveal traces of damage or wholesale destruction (The Magnificent Ambersons being the primary example). And then there's something like The Lady from Shanghai, which only appears unaltered Peter Bogdanovich reveals on the film's DVD commentary that at least an hour was trimmed. There's also the posthumous "Director's Cuts" done for titles like Touch of Evil, which are not without merit but decidedly not Welles' final word and at least two finished projects are sitting in cans, waiting on rights issues to be resolved. Orson Welles always felt the most mangled of his productions was 1955's Mr. Arkadin (also released as Confidential Report). The project has antecedents in two of Welles' most popular movies, the first being Kane (in flashback, a man tries to reconstruct another man's life), and the second Carol Reed's The Third Man. Welles had made radio serials about the early adventures of his nefarious Harry Lime, and a handful of those radio scripts begat the early treatments for Arkadin. Production finished on schedule, but after eight weeks in the editing room Welles was banished the producer thought he was taking too long. Now, Criterion's release of The Complete Mr. Arkadin assembles three versions of the film, as well as the novelization of the story as handled but not finished by the director himself.
The narrative of Mr. Arkadin remains consistent in all four versions. Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) is an anonymous smuggler whose life changes when he stumbles across a dying man who tells him he can be rich by knowing two names. Guy is distracted by the police when the man dies, but his sometime-girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) hears both names, although she can only remember one: Gregory Arkadin (Welles). Arkadin is a self-made millionaire who refuses to be photographed and may have made his fortune through illicit channels. To get closer to Arkadin's money, Guy pursues the wealthy man's daughter Raina (Paolo Mori) their relationship eventually gets him invited to the Arkadin house, where he overhears his host tell the story of "The Scorpion and the Frog" (perhaps the most famous anecdote from the film and retold in The Crying Game). Arkadin gets Guy alone and offers him money partly to get him to leave Raina, but also to make a confidential report on himself. Arkadin suggests that amnesia made him forget who he was before he became successful, and he wants Guy to find out who still knows the old Arkadin. Mily then keeps tabs on Arkadin while Guy digs up clues. But trouble looms as every person Guy finds who knew the old Arkadin ends up dead shortly after being interviewed. And before long, Guy's a suspect.
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Orson Welles' legacy raises questions about his own culpability in his fate for a man of his talent, wasting the majority of his career hustling for low-budget assignments like Mr. Arkadin seems tantamount to a felony crime. Similarly, the pedestal upon which film historians have perched Citizen Kane's subtle brilliance has only served to harm the director posthumously many come to the film expecting cinematic profundity and leave wondering what the fuss was all about. And yet, few filmmakers are as engaging, be it with with studio interference or artistic autonomy. Welles was a showman, and what makes watching Kane and Arkadin invigorating is the sense that the man behind the camera is having a great time making a movie. With Arkadin, like Guy's journey to uncover the man, the viewer is also left sifting through puzzle-pieces to construct an authentic image. Some pieces are missing, which makes the film seem interesting but flawed, even if delivered by a major talent. That said, Mr. Arkadin was always a pulpy murder mystery and, unlike The Magnificent Ambersons, at least nothing was reshot. With its busting-at-the-seams energy, stunning deep-focus shots, German expressionist angles, and Welles' creative solutions to his problems (the director dubbed many of the bit players himself), it's easy to see why the Cahiers du Cinema critics declared it a masterpiece in 1958. Even more so than Kane, Arkadin bears greater influence on the do-it-yourself aesthetic of the early Nouvelle Vauge productions. What makes the title a great DVD collection is how it reveals that no matter the cut or the damage done Orson Welles' inimitable brio is still intact.
The Criterion Collection presents The Complete Mr. Arkadin in solid full-frame transfers (1.33:1 OAR) with DD 1.0 audio on all three versions. Disc One offers the "Corinth Version," which was unearthed by Peter Bogdanovich in the early 1960s and is commonly regarded as the most Wellesian edit. It runs 100 minutes and comes with a commentary by Welles scholars Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore. Also included on the first disc are three radio episodes of "The Lives of Harry Lime" from 1952, all featuring Orson Welles, and available as an MP3 file (86 min.). The featurette "Reviving Harry Lime" covers Harry Alan Towers, the producer of the radio serial (20 min.) , and there's also a stills gallery. On Disc Two is the Confidential Report version of the film (98 min.), while extras here include an interview with Welles biographer Simon Callow, who shares his recording of a conversation with star Robert Arden (25 min.). Disc Three offers The Comprehensive Version, (106 min.), which is considered a best-guess attempt at restoration. The featurette "On The Comprehensive Version" includes interviews with Peter Bogdanovich and archivists/historians Stefan Drossler and Claude Bertemes (21 min.). Following that are "Outtakes and Rushes," of which a third is silent, and which offers a rare chance to hear Orson Welles direct (30 min.). The DVD supplements are rounded out by two scenes played by Spanish actresses for the Spanish release, with Amparo Rivelles playing the Baroness (4 min.) and Lopez Keredia playing Sophie (7 min.), both presented in Spanish with optional English subtitles. And in the slipcase is the novelization, which is credited to Welles (though ghostwritten) with an introduction by noir scholar Robert Polito. Three-DVD digipak and paperback book with paperboard slipcover.