Sunday, 22 April 2018


67. “Who is this man? You know we can’t afford any trouble.”

You can split the filmography of Orson Welles into two categories: “Citizen Kane,” and everything else. While two more films were made under Welles’s contract with RKO, “Citizen Kane” was the only film where he was given everything needed to make the film he wanted, and finish and release it as he intended – there remains only one version of “Citizen Kane,” and that is the vision of its writer, director and star.

This has to be borne in mind when you attempt to make a critical statement on Welles’s films, as in most cases, and especially for “Mr Arkadin,” you have to make clear which version you have watched. A French-Spanish production, filmed across a number of European capital cities, “Mr Arkadin” was taken out of Welles’s control by the producer when the original release date was missed – after four months of editing, only the first third of the film had been pieced together. There now exists about five different versions that are available to view, cut together in vastly different ways, and the version I watched had a different name, “Confidential Report.”

The story is the same across all versions: played by Welles, Gergory Arkadin is a billionaire businessman and socialite, who claims to have amnesia, with no memory of his life before 1927. Arkadin hires a man named Guy Van Stratten to produce a confidential report that fills in the missing time, except each person Van Stratten consults winds up dead, as Arkadin ties up the loose ends of his former life as a gangster in the years following the First World War – a race to Spain ensues as Van Stratten becomes the last target. If it sounds like the search for Charles Foster Kane mixed with “The Third Man,” it is because it was based on a script Welles wrote for a Harry Lime radio series.

The reason Welles took so long to edit “Mr Arkadin” was because he wanted the story to jump around in time, as Van Stratten discovered new information. Non-linear plots like these were less common for 1955, but Welles was also trying to alienate the viewer from the characters – instead of easily allowing the audience to identify emotionally with the characters, the performances, direction and editing are intended to make you look at everything more critically. However, what worked for this effect’s originator, Bertolt Brecht, didn’t work so well for Welles – all the characters are spiky and unlikeable, even the nominative hero, Van Patten, whose journey we are essentially following. Even worse, the dubbing work found in the film, mainly to rewrite lines, sounds more convincing in a cheap ninja action flick, mainly down to the small budget Welles was working with.

The version of “Mr Arkadin” I was watching, “Confidential Report” was the name it had when first premiered in London in 1955. The more well-known title came when it was eventually given a US release in 1961 – there had been legal action between Welles and the producer, but the film was not copyrighted properly, meaning US law counts the film as existing in the public domain. A couple of versions begin with an unexplained dead body on a beach, as Welles intended, the version I saw put that shot in the middle. I got voiceovers from Van Patten explaining what his intentions are, which other versions do not have. My version had the credits at the beginning – they should be at the end. My version had events presented out of order, which varies in intensity and editing between versions, with the most common public domain version presenting everything in chronological order. You may have to watch more than one version of “Mr Arkadin” to get the full story, which is fitting for the story it tries to tell, but not very helpful if you want to be satisfied at the end.

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