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The Complete Mr. Arkadin DVD Review

The Complete Mr. Arkadin

April 12, 2006

Director: Orson Welles,
Starring: Orson Welles, Robert Arden, Paola Mori, Patricia Medina, Akim Tamiroff, Gregoire Aslan, Jack Watling, Mischa Auer, Peter Van Eyck, Michael Redgrave, ,

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DVD Review

By 1955, Orson Welles’ Hollywood career was over having burned his final bridges with Tinseltown over The Lady From Shanghai (1947). He would direct Touch of Evil (1958) for Universal a few years later but only at Charlton Heston’s behest. Mr. Arkadin (1955) was one of the many films Welles never finished completely – others did that for him resulting in numerous versions, three of which are included on this indispensable box set from the Criterion Collection.

Mr. Arkadin is a “fictionalized account” of an empty airplane, a murder and the ensuing scandal that almost led to the fall of a European government. Guy Van Stratten (Arden) is an international smuggler who recounts the story (via flashbacks) of how he and his girlfriend (Medina) witnessed a murder of a man (Tamiroff) who utters the name, “Arkadin” before he dies. Gregory Arkadin (Welles) is an international drug smuggler and Guy decides to track him down via his daughter (Mori).

Once he meets Arkadin, the master criminal asks Guy to assemble a file on him in order to uncover his real identity of which he does not remember. Like the reporter in Citizen Kane (1941), Guy travels far and wide, interviewing countless associates in order to assemble a portrait of a complex and often contradictory, larger than life figure.

Included in this box set is the Corinth version, discovered by Peter Bogdanovich in 1960 and distributed in the United States by Corinth Films and that features a flashback structure favoured by Welles. The Confidential Report version was released in Europe in 1956 and completed by the film’s producer Louis Dolivet after he and Welles had parted ways. This one features scenes with different dialogue, and rearranged scenes with the flashback structure butchered. Finally, there is the Comprehensive version that attempts to take all of the best elements from the various versions by film historians/archivists Stefan Drossler and Claude Bertemes and that gets as close as possible to the version Welles might have envisioned.

Like his Harry Lime character in The Third Man (1949), Welles’ Arkadin is an elusive figure whose reputation precedes him. Guy is not exactly sure why he’s pursuing him if only to solve the mystery of the dead man or to infiltrate Arkadin’s organization and get rich. After all, Guy is an opportunistic grifter and Robert Arden plays him as the cigar-chomping epitome of the ugly American.

Welles makes excellent use of his European locales, from the classic architecture that consists of imposing, massive castles and busy marketplaces, to the streets of Paris that is on display throughout the movie. The settings are almost a character unto themselves, providing plenty of atmosphere. The director’s trademark style is in full effect with extensive use of deep focus photography, low angle framing of shots, lengthy, uninterrupted takes and carefully composed frames.

The patchwork way Welles shot the film reveals itself in the sometimes shoddy make-up job on the director and the clumsy dubbing of most of the actors. These really aren’t drawbacks but almost endearing aspects of this highly theatrical, sometimes flawed movie. Mr. Arkadin feels and looks unmistakably like a Welles’ film despite its checkered post-production past. It is still a fascinating film and this set is a top notch example of cinematic scholarship that parallels Guy’s assembly of Arkadin’s file.

Special Features:

Included with this set is the novel “written” by Welles that supposedly inspired the film. There is some debate as to who the true author is of this book, which the lengthy introduction explores in great detail.

There is an audio commentary on the first disc for the Corinth version by Welles’ scholars Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore. As you would expect from these two film historians, a lot of factoids about Welles and the film itself are given. They also offer excellent analysis of what we’re watching and the film’s themes. Rosenbaum points out that this is one of the hardest films to research because Welles was so unhappy with it that he forgot a lot about it. They touch upon the rift between Welles’ and the film’s producer and how Arkadin was taken away from him because he took too long editing it. This is a solid, informative track that enhances the viewing experience of this movie.

“The Lives of Harry Lime.” Taken from The Third Man, Welles reprised one of his most famous characters in a series of radio plays from 1951 to 1952. Included are three programs that influenced Arkadin. In a nice touch there are mp3 versions that you can download off of the DVD.

Rounding out this disc is a “Stills Gallery” that features an extensive collection of production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, examples of the press book and lobby cards.

The second disc features an interview with Welles biographer Simon Callow. He talks about actor Robert Arden with excerpts of an audio interview he conducted with the man in 1990. Arden talks about how he first worked with Welles and gives his impressions of the director and his working methods.

The third disc includes a featurette on the making of the Comprehensive version. Drossier and Bertemes talk about how they assembled this new version while Bogdanovich talks about Welles’ original intentions. They had at least five different versions to take footage from and it took several years of careful, painstaking work to put together this version.

“Outtakes and Rushes” features footage from the workprint that was found in Luxembourg. It includes extra footage of Welles acting and directing, close-ups of Welles, and deleted scenes.

Finally, there is an extra entitled “Spanish Actresses.” Welles re-shot two scenes with different actresses playing Baroness Nagel and Sophie and this footage is taken from the Spanish versions.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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