One of the great fallacies of film history is that Orson Welles made his directorial debut at age 25 and then burned out and never made anything else of note. And it's true that he spent a lot of time doing acting jobs for money and starting projects that he never finished. But in reality, he directed, completed and released thirteen films between 1941 and 1976 -- including that debut, Citizen Kane -- and every single one of them is notable. Some are masterpieces, some are ahead of their time, and some, like Mr. Arkadin (1955), require a little work. Mr. Arkadin was only one of two original screenplays in Welles filmography (along with Citizen Kane), and they have many things in common: a flashback structure and a secondary character snooping around in the life of the title character. (A book was published with Orson Welles listed as the author, but Welles insisted that he wrote the screenplay himself and the book was ghost-written by someone else after the fact.)
But the two films are very different. Mr. Arkadin was made for relatively little money and has a much more run-down, dreamier feel, as if it's all slightly unreal. The arrogant American hero Van Stratten (Robert Arden) is hired to look into the past of the wealthy, mysterious Gregory Arkadin (Welles), but the deeper he digs, the more people wind up dead. Van Stratten travels all over the world in his task, and he more or less just appears at each location, as if he woke up there. Welles omits the details of traveling and luggage and sleeping. The cast of bizarre characters that weave in and out of Van Stratten's path add to the dreamlike structure (Welles would later play with this same idea to greater effect in parts of The Trial.)

As with most of Welles' later films, the sound on Mr. Arkadin can be atrocious and it makes following the plot difficult. There are also several cuts of the film: there's the 99-minute American version, which is in the public domain, but some prefer the slightly shorter, European version, which is called Confidential Report. In 2006, several Welles scholars edited together a "definitive" 105-minute version, which was released on a Criterion DVD. Either way, the chance to watch the film in any version (for free) and luxuriate in its one-of-a-kind visuals is too good to pass up.

Watch Mr. Arkadin over at SlashControl!
CATEGORIES Cinematical