Mr. Arkadin review by Matt Fuerst


If you are a fan of film (or even if you use the word film as opposed to movies, and as a sidenote, if you refer to film as cinema - get the hell out) then you probably are aware of the existence of a film called Citizen Kane and the tremendous impact it had on movies of today. You are also probably aware of the fellow behind Kane, that being Mr. Orson Welles. Welles had what I perceive to be a genius level of intellect, but after release of Kane, he often found himself bouncing from one project to the next. There was a variety of reasons for Welles semi-outcast status in terms of Direction, but he was always able to find himself acting roles to keep the paychecks coming in and, when necessary, fund his own production for his movies.

1955 found the release of Mr. Arkadin unto the world. The production and release, like many of Welles' films, was plagued with problems, and upon completion of the shoot, Welles found himself jetting overseas to his next acting role without completely finishing editing on the project. The movie he left as a 120 minute story was chopped down to a 90-some minute movie for general release. Upon release, many people expected Welles to return to the greatness of Citizen Kane, after all, the storylines between the movies shared many similarities and many considered Arkadin to be Welles retrospective of 14 years of learning and wisdom since Kane. Overall, audiences were disappointed, but more of that analysis later.

Our story begins on the docks in Italy. Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) and his girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) are alone on the docks on a cold night, when Bracco stumbles upon them, stabbed. The assailant runs away from the police presence quickly arriving, and with his dying breaths, Bracco decides to give a gift to Guy and Mily for comforting him as he crosses over. He whispers two names, one of which is Gregory Arkadin. Bracco promises the couple this information is priceless yet has a price, and passes on. Guy and Mily decide to set off on a journey to find out what it all really means, and how they can cash in on it.

As it turns out, Gregory Arkadin is a mysterious multi-millionaire who is extremely private. He doesn't like he picture taken, throws balls where the attendees are by invite only, and has a secret past. Mily takes the high road (or is it the low road?) and decides to get inside Arkadin's circle by sucking up to the main man himself. Guy, a bit of a roughian, decides to find out what he can from his people, those around Arkadin.

Eventually Guy and Arkadin meet and Guy tells Arkadin that Brocco gave him a secret before he dies. He tells Arkadin he knows that he has a secret past that he is going to expose Arkadin and his secret. Arkadin, instead of being intimidated or even denying it, turns the situation on it's ear and offers Guy $10,000 to find out the truth about Arkadin's past. You see, Arkadin has amnesia, and cannot remember anything before a certain point in his life. He remembers arriving on a boat, in a suit, with 200,000 swiss francs in his possession. From that point on he built his empire.

Guy follows the trail from Arkadin's first memory while Mily stays close to Arkadin to find out whatever she can. Along the way here, Guy manages to entangle himself with Arkadin's daughter, Raina, whom is the one thing that Arkadin truly loves and cherishes in his life. While at times it seems like Raina and Mily are involved just to have two female leads, the female presence does become important later on in the story.

Sadly, there are many, many problems with the movie itself. The story is fairly one dimensional, both in it's presentation and content. Many of the gorgeous shots of Kane are absent in Arkadin. There are brief moments of beauty. A well framed shot involving many of the interesting locations (the film was shot throughout France, Germany, Italy and Spain) such as crazy gothic castles, or the occasionally exchange between Akradin and Guy at the masquerade ball, but a lot of the story progresses without cinematic panache. As for the story itself being one dimensional, it really is a surprisingly straightforward event. I believe I read that Welles was hoping to use a reverse narrative type method when editing the film, which may have spiced things up a great deal, but instead, Guy gets his mission and the rest of the movie leads to Guy finding the answers he is looking for. Subplots are throwaways, Mily, Guy's girlfriend doesn't question Guy's relationship with Raina, Guy doesn't question what Mily is doing with Arkadin.

Instead, the movie really revolves around a speech that Welles gives to his partygoers at his ball. Not very shy about hiding the focus of his movie (I appreciate that) Welles then spends the rest of the movie around the one point and one point alone.

Now, if you are a Welles completist or fan of his works, you are probably going to want to watch this one no matter what kind of rating I give it, so in todays world of DVD, you are going to have several choices. Mr. Arkadin (released as The Confidential Report abroad and many websites sight it under that name) apparently fell into the public domain for a time (potentially still?) so there are many fly by night DVD Production houses that have produced their own version of Arkadin. While this has a positive side effect (some very inexpensive DVD's floating around) the negative effect is that these Production Houses don't really spend any time at all cleaning up and improving their print quality. One online DVD retailer I visited had two different DVD's of Arkadin for sale. One pressing is from Laserlight entertainment and runs about $6. This is the pressing that I have. The video ranges from very choppy (the first reel is very poor) to average. The sound, which I understand was poorly sourced to begin with, was very poor. Audio levels bounced all over the map and keeping the sound volume controller handy is a must. The ideas of the movie are conveyed, but it certainly is a far cry from a Criterion edition. There are several other pressings out there, so be aware and do some homework before you buy. Google is your friend. It's my friend too.

Sadly, Akradin isn't all that it could have been. On an unlimited timeline, with an unlimited budget, Mr. Arkadin could have been something truly spectacular. Even if Arkadin was made by Welles before Citizen Kane it would be much more interesting, as it would have shown a genesis of Welles ideas and serve as a springboard for his future success. Though unfair, we must judge Welles by the successes of his past as opposed to each film standing on their own, and in comparison to Kane, Arkadin doesn't hold water.

5 out of 10 Jackasses
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