Mr. Arkadin


Mr. Arkadin Review

Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin is one of those films that is much more interesting in how it got made than in the final product. Just about every aspect of it is shrouded in mystery and confusion, starting with the original plot, which (arguably) began with a radio play called "The Lives of Harry Lime," which Welles adapted into a novel, was translated a couple of times, and eventually became a script. for a film. The film was painstakingly produced in a typical trouble-filled Welles affair, full of lawsuits and ownership issues that resulted in at least seven versions of the film being produced for various markets, in various languages, and by various producers. Even the title is changed from time to time.

Criterion has unearthed this saga for an exhaustive DVD box set, which features two versions of the film (including one called Confidential Report), plus its own cut of the movie, which combines elements of all the seven versions into a "comprehensive" version of the film. Welles' novel is included in whole, too, along with umpteen essays about the curious backstory of Arkadin and its long road to DVD.

Altogether the set is completely baffling. Because I can't imagine anyone wanting to sit through Mr. Arkadin more than once, and even that experience will probably be a less than ideal one. The titular Mr. Arkadin is a magnate (played by Welles himself) who claims to have amnesia about his early life. He inexplicably commissions an adventurer (Robert Arden, in an infamously bad performance) to find out where that part of his life went, and soon he's jetting around the world in search of clues to Arkadin's early days. Pretty soon, everyone he talks to is getting killed, and our hero begins to fear for his own life, too.

What we've got here is a sort of high-stakes remake of Citizen Kane, only Welles fails to realize that political intrigue and the threat of death isn't what made Kane great: It's how the character of Kane is developed and enriched, even during the scenes when Kane isn't on screen. Arkadin doesn't have nearly the amount of screen time that Kane did, but the film suffers not from Welles' absence but rather from any reason for us to care about Arkadin. Is he, like Kane, a misunderstood tycoon? Or is he a murderer that's hiding something? The parlor tricks Welles employs to tell this story, combined with an intentionally obtuse script and some awful acting, ensure that we simply don't care either way.

Welles aficionados -- and I count myself as a minor one -- will probably want to check out Arkadin, which has been difficult to find until now, but if any of you makes it through all three DVDs (each loaded with extras) you're probably in the minority.

Facts and Figures

Reviews 3 / 5

Cast & Crew


Starring: as Gregory Arkadin, as Burgomil Trebitsch, Patricia Medina as Mily, as Jakob Zouk, as The Professor, Paula Mori as Raina Arkadin, as Thaddeus, Grégoire Aslan as Bracco

Also starring: