The Criterion Collection presents
The Complete Mr. Arkadin (1955)
Arkadin: You're a dangerous man to be seen with.
Van Stratten: Yeah. I guess that's the way you had it planned all along.
Arkadin: I knew what I wanted. That's the difference between us. In this world there are those who give and those who ask. Those who do not care to give...those who do not dare to ask. You dared. But you were never quite sure what you were asking for.
- Orson Welles, Robert Arden
Stars: Orson Welles, Robert Arden, Paola Mori
Other Stars: Patricia Medina, Mischa Auer, Michael Redgrave, Katina Paxinou, Akim Tamiroff, Tamara Shane
Director: Orson Welles
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for adult themes, mild violence
Run Time: 05h:04m:08s
Release Date: 2006-04-18
Genre: suspense thriller
DVD ReviewOrson Welles' Mr. Arkadin has stood for years as a complicated case in a career full of confusing events and convoluted works. The film exists in several versions, three of which are included in Criterion's latest jewel of a release, a three-DVD set titled The Complete Mr. Arkadin. Without meaning to be pedantic, a more fitting title might be "The Worthwhile Mr. Arkadin", since the set excludes at least three versions of the film: the inferior public domain cut regularly released by bargain bin outfits for years, and two Spanish versions, largely unseen and featuring different actresses from the English language versions in two roles. Otherwise, Criterion's come up aces again, providing a wealth of material for the committed viewer, including three episodes of Welles' Lives of Harry Lime radio show that provided some early sources for the film, the novelization that features Welles credited as author, but has been presumed to have been ghostwritten by Welles' friend Maurice Bessy, and several valuable supplements. With all the attention dedicated to the film, the question the uninitiated might be asking is, "Is it worth it?" My answer would be that any Welles film has plenty to recommend it, and Arkadin is no different.
The plot remains the same across all three versions: seedy smuggler Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) and girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) stumble upon a murder. Before dying, the victim, Bracco (Gregoire Aslan), passes along some valuable information—the names of two people, one of them being Gregory Arkadin. Van Stratten and Mily begin trying to find out about Arkadin, in order to somehow cash in on their knowledge. Arkadin (Welles) is a massively rich figure, and Van Stratten finds the best way to get at him is through his daughter Raina (Paola Mori). Arkadin, already a protective father, scornfully informs Van Stratten that he has done a thorough background check, uncovering his shady past. Van Stratten makes an offhand remark about what such a check might find out about Arkadin. Intrigued, as he claims to have amnesia regarding his past, Arkadin hires Van Stratten to do such a check, but with an ulterior motive that could spell death for Van Stratten.
All in all, there are numerous ways in which Mr. Arkadin defies story logic; any viewer will be able to pick apart some of the inconsistencies and holes in the plot. Also, Welles' use of dubbing sometimes leaves mouth movements vastly different from the lines the characters speak on the soundtrack. To simply focus on these superficial weaknesses would be to deny the pleasures of the picture, of which there are several. Welles rounds up an array of fascinating actors to play Arkadin's former associates, and they all appear to relish these eccentric characters. Michael Redgrave, Mischa Auer (dubbed by Welles, like several other characters), Katina Paxinou, and others have scenes that thrill. Welles makes extensive use of canted camera angles, and like most of his films, it is beautiful to look at. Arden has been unfavorably assessed in his role as Van Stratten, but he does precisely what the character calls for; Guy is a sleazy moron, delving into a world clearly beyond him, and Arden conveys that well. Not a typically handsome leading man, Arden carries a look varying between puzzlement and sneering self-assurance. Paola Mori, soon to be Welles' third wife, acquits herself well as Raina, but her vocal performance is dubbed by British actress Billie Whitelaw. One of Welles' favorite actors, Akim Tamiroff, is very funny as the doomed Jakob Zouk.
There are echoes of previous and future Welles projects within Arkadin; Citizen Kane is an obvious ancestor in that both feature investigations into the past of a vastly wealthy man. The Third Man features Welles in his most popular role, and that film has its reflections here as well, with an outgunned loner seeking a mysterious man while fighting that man for the heart of a woman, who eventually scorns him for the destruction of the other. Welles' enduring interest in the powerful and how they use their power rears its head again here. His interest in the past, as well as the lingering spectre of fascism, also features strongly, as it does in many of his works.
The set includes three versions of the film. The first has been dubbed the "Corinth Version", so called because Corinth Films held the rights to it. This is considered by some the closest in structure to Welles' own final concept. Next is the European cut, re-titled Confidential Report. This one features some material not included in the Corinth version, and vice versa. This cut had work done on it by producer Louis Dolivet after Welles had been kicked off production. Finally, Stefan Drössler of the Munich Filmmuseum and Claude Bertemes of the Cinématheque municipale de Luxembourg are behind the third version, dubbed the "comprehensive edition." This version combines as much unique material as possible from each existing cut of the film (including the Spanish versions), hewing as closely as possible to what Welles' presumed version would have been. Viewers may begin wherever they like, but newcomers may find it more useful to watch both of the original release versions included before the comprehensive cut, to get a better idea of how the material was combined. If you have a copy of the dreadful public domain version that completely does away with the flashback structure, then you'll really have an idea of how the film has been messed about. For those familiar with the previous versions however, a jump straight into the comprehensive version will likely be in order.
It's refreshing to see a DVD release like this, one that uses the format to great advantage. Some will no doubt quibble with the film chosen for such a treatment, but there is plenty to enjoy in Mr. Arkadin regardless of its weaknesses. This set serves as an object lesson in how films are often shaped by the moneymen, the producers and financiers, rather than the artists. While Orson Welles' final version of Mr. Arkadin will never be seen, this most welcome of Criterion releases allows us to understand the ways in which it has been manipulated by various hands in order to make something sellable out of it, in addition to allowing us to make the final choices in how we wish to view it.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
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Image Transfer Review: I've owned previous editions of Confidential Report, and the film has never looked better than it does here. The same must be said for the "Corinth" Arkadin, a version of the film diehard Welles fans have passed among each other through the collector's grapevine for years. The "comprehensive version" similarly looks as good as we might expect as well. Occasional flaws in the material pop up now and again, but contrast levels look good and detail is fine.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: All three films feature the original mono soundtrack, and all sound perfectly adequate, given the limited resources Welles had to work with.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 86 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Deleted Scenes
Feature/Episode commentaries by Film scholars James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum (on Corinth Version)
- Outtakes of Welles acting and directing, rushes of close-ups
- Three episodes of Lives of Harry Lime radio series relating to film
- Stills gallery
- Novelization of film
- Booklet with essays
The on-disc extras are spread across all three discs. On the disc with the Corinth Films version, the main feature of note is a commentary by Rosenbaum and James Naremore. In addition to the commentary, Disc 1 also includes three episodes from the Lives of Harry Lime radio series. The series, syndicated around the world, was made by Welles in 1951-52 in the wake of The Third Man's immense success. Given the ending, the series featured stories pre-dating the film's action and also makes Lime much more likeably roguish, rather than the amoral crook the movie portrayed. All three episodes feature elements that found themselves in Welles' script for Arkadin. Also located within this Harry Lime section is a short documentary, Reviving Harry Lime (20m:42s), which goes into the background of the series. Actor/Welles biographer Simon Callow appears briefly to provide some background to Welles' activities at the time, and then an interview with Harry Alan Towers follows. Towers, who produced the Harry Lime series, discusses his time working with Welles, including his assertion that Welles never actually wrote the episodes accredited to him.
The second disc includes Men of Mystery (24m:52s), in which Callow discusses Arden, Michael Redgrave, and Louis Dolivet. There's plenty of interesting comments, and Callow provides some audio recordings of his interview with Arden about his time with Welles. The third disc features the bulk of the extras, with On the Comprehensive Version (20m:33s) leading the way. In this documentary, Stefan Drössler and Claude Bertemes discuss the mindset behind how they put together the new version of the film. Peter Bogdanovich discusses his thoughts about Arkadin and the comprehensive version in separately filmed material. Despite having been shot in a strange fashion that has Drössler and Bertemes telling their comments to one another, it's quite fascinating. Also on Disc 3 are a series of outtakes and deleted material, sure to be of interest to Welles buffs. There is footage of Welles performing different material from the film, working through different line readings and so on (14m:55s). Similarly, there is footage of Welles directing (03m:17s), leading Arden and Mori through their work. This material was previously seen in an Italian documentary about the film, and it's good to see it reach a wider audience now. Also here are rushes of close-ups (06m:36s), and, finally, footage of the actresses unique to the Spanish version of the film (10m:43s), fully subtitled in English.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsBecause of its public domain status in its most well-known (and inferior) version and worn-looking prints, Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin has long been regarded as a sour note in the director's career. While it doesn't reach the heights of Citizen Kane or Chimes at Midnight, it is nevertheless a fascinating part of the director's cinematic work. A more troubled film than most in Welles' parade of troubled projects, Arkadin will hopefully see a renaissance of sorts with this sterling effort from Criterion, who presents viewers with three different versions of the film with supportive arguments for each. Not only that, but an array of extras are on hand to flesh out the story of bedeviled production issues and a confusing history. For fans, it is a treasure trove of material not to be missed.
Jeff Wilson 2006-04-17