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Mr. Arkadin
IMDB Rating: 7.4/10 from 5,229 votes
Release: 2 June 1956 (France) /

Mr. Arkadin

Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Orson Welles,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Guy Van Stratten, American smuggler, leaves an Italian prison term with one asset, a dying man's words about wealthy, mysterious Gregory Arkadin. Guy finds it most pleasant to investigate Arkadin though his lovely daughter Raina, her father's idol. To get rid of Guy, Arkadin claims amnesia about his own life prior to 1927, sending Guy off to investigate Arkadin's unknown past. Guy's quest spans many countries and eccentric characters who contribute clues. But the real purpose of Guy's mission proves deadly; can Guy himself survive it? Written by Rod Crawford <[email protected]>

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Critic Reviews

I've always liked Orson Welle's "Mr Arkadin." At least I've been compelled to watch it an awful lot of times, in any case. So I must like it, right? Actually, I think a big part of the reason why the film is so fascinating, to regular folk like me as well as to film historians, is that it is so obviously incomplete and unfinished. This is both the film's greatest weakness and its most intriguing strength. The film "Mr Arkadin" is just as mysterious as the character it is named after. This is yet another film Welles made that was taken from him during the editing stages by the people putting up the money.

Until the recent release of the exhaustive Criterion "Complete Mr. Arkadin" DVD set, all I had to go on were tapes and discs of various, beat up public domain versions and a nice Janus tape of the "Confidential Report" version that is widely known to be a re-edit of Welles' "original" cut.

However, now, after having seen the famed "Corinth" version as well as Criterion's "Comprehensive" version, I doubt that there ever really WAS a Welles cut of this film. He was obviously a compulsive tinkerer who liked to massage the story in the editing room. Therefore, we can't really know what version is "closest to Welles' intentions," we can only guess at which ones are closest to the intentions he had at the moment the producer took the film from him. I have no doubt that if he'd been given all the time to edit he wanted, the film would have completely changed a dozen more times.

If you closely watch first half hour or so of the versions that are supposedly "closer to Welles' vision," this is apparent. These are the scenes between Arden's Van Stratten and Tamiroff's Zouk that set up the flashback within a flashback format that Welles himself has been quoted as saying was absolutely vital to his vision. But if you watch closely during the scenes between Van Stratten and Zouk, it is obvious that virtually none of Arden's lip movements come anywhere near matching what he's saying on the soundtrack. And I'm not talking about the usual Welles problem of the voices not exactly matching the lips—I'm talking a complete disconnect. These scenes were originally filmed with much different dialog. Interestingly if you watch Laserlight's release of the American 'no flashbacks' version you can catch bits of this original dialog (why wasn't that version included in Criterion's 'Complete' set?).

I think that Welles came up with the flashback idea well after principal photography was finished and then had Arden dub in different lines to make the flashback format work. It looks to me like his original plan was a linear story, like the novel, and then he had the idea to make it a "Citizen Kane" type series of flashbacks after the fact. So even Welles' "original vision" wasn't his "original vision."

But the film is still fascinating, and the new, "more complete" Criterion versions do make more sense than the public domain versions that have been floating around. There are more establishing shots, better transitions, slightly fuller characterizations, and much better sound. But the first twenty minutes is still a mess. The story lurches and jumps, asking us to accept too many crazy things too quickly and losing us for a while. There seems to be at least twenty minutes worth of material missing. So far I haven't seen or read anything in the Criterion set to suggest that more material from the early part of the film exists, but I did read a fascinating blog article by a gentleman who claims to have seen a working print preview of "Arkadin" in England back in the 50s. As of this writing, it can be found here: http://www.epinions.com/mvie-review-7A18-458AFFD2-3A4C153E-prod3. In this article, the guy describes many scenes of exposition in the early part of the story that do not exist in any available film version. For instance: 1) In the prolog, we not only see Mily's dead body on the beach (a rare shot restored in the Criterion version) but also a close up of her face and eyes. And on the soundtrack we hear Van Stratten eulogizing her. 2) There was a rather involved scene showing Zouk actually being released from prison (in the released version, we are just told that this happened in dialog).

If this account of what must have been one of the first public showings of any version of "Arkadin" is true, that also says to me that Welles was compulsively noodling around with the film, changing it, rearranging it, cutting it to bits, well before his backers took it away from him and edited it themselves. And if we believe that these bits existed, there's no reason not to believe that other footage also existed. But I don't think we can assume he was necessarily making it better with each change, either.

I think that one of two things would have had to have happened for there to have ever actually been a true "final cut": 1) Welles would have had to accept collaborators to help him decide when to quit editing (as he had during "Kane" with Mankiewicz and Houseman) or 2) he would have had to have been given as much time as he wanted to edit. I think option one would have been the better choice—from the state of any version of the film available, I think it is obvious that he would have tinkered with it until he freaking died.

Making great art is not simply a matter of "doing it until it's right." It is also a matter of knowing when to stop. Arkadin is a fascinating study of an artist who didn't know when to--or didn't really want to--stop. But I still love the mystery.

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