Mr. Arkadin (Confidential Report)

Orson Welles in Mr. Arkadin.

Orson Welles lost artistic control over Mr. Arkadin while it was in post-production. The producer, Louis Dovilet, released several different versions of this film. The one I saw is apparently the one that was originally released in Britain.

Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden), a smuggler and petty criminal, and his girlfriend, Milly (Patricia Medina), witness a man named Bracco (Gregoire Aslan) being killed in Naples by a mysterious man. Just before he dies, Bracco tells them that they can get a lot of money from a man named Gregory Arkadin just by telling him that Bracco has told them his secrets. Arkadin (Welles, wearing a not quite convincing wig) is a wealthy businessman who lives in a castle in Spain. Van Stratten and Milly manage to worm their way into his company. In the process, Van Stratten becomes romantically involved with Arkadin’s daughter, Reina (Paola Mori), much to Milly’s disapproval. Van Stratten’s attempt at blackmail fails, but Arkadin, impressed by Van Stratten’s audacity (and hoping to get him away from his daughter), offers him a job. Arkadin, who has amnesia, can’t remember anything that happened to him before 1927. He offers to pay Van Stratten to research his early life. Just as one suspects, he is setting Van Stratten up for a double cross.

Much of Mr. Arkadin is taken up with Van Stratten interviewing various eccentric people. In that respect, it bears a strong resemblance to Citizen Kane, although it doesn’t seem as compelling as Welles’s masterpiece. Again, its should be said that Welles didn’t have control over the final cut, so the many of the film’s weaknesses may not be his fault.

I do think that Welles made a mistake in casting the English actor, Robert Arden, as Van Stratten. Arden’s muscular efforts at sounding American make his character so abrasive that it’s hard to see how any woman, let alone a refined and intelligent woman like Reina, could possibly fall in love with him. I’m told that Welles played Van Stratten in the radio plays on which this movie is based. It might have been better if Welles had played Van Stratten in this film.

Mori’s lines were reportedly dubbed over by Billie Whitelaw, who was known for acting in Samuel Beckett plays. Mori apparently didn’t hold this against Welles, since she later married him.

We will probably never know exactly how Welles intended Mr. Arkadin to be seen. Yet Welles was such a good director that even when his films have been mangled, they are still fun to watch.

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