Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Arakadin the Third

I've heard a lot about Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin: The Confidential Report (1955) - mostly that Welles never actually finished it, it was edited without his permission, and there are many variant versions. Like that's anything different for Welles.

This version is, I believe, the British 93-minute version. It starts with Welles telling the tale of an empty airplane, with no pilot or passengers, seen over Spain. This caught me because I had heard a similar "hook" in a radio drama - Harry Lime, nonetheless.

We then flash back to Robert Arden talking to a shabby, dying Akim Tamiroff. Arden realizes he'll have to tell the whole story, so we dive into another flashback.

Arden is a penny ante cigarette smuggler in France, when he and his girl (Patricia Medina) find a dying man on the docks. His last words are "Tell Arkadin that Braccho told you everything - he'll pay millions." Arkadin turns out to be a very wealthy man with a beautiful daughter, Paola Mori. For a while, we only see Arkadin in the shadows, like Harry Lime. When he finally appears, he is regal, with a beard like the king on a playing card. He tells Arden a secret - he doesn't know what Braccho was talking about, because he has amnesia. Perhaps Arden can investigate Arkadin, to find out if there's anything he should worry about.

And so the story goes from Spain to Zurich, Paris, Mexico, Warsaw, all over (all filmed in gloriously surreal Dutch angles, in dreamlike black and white). We meet an amazing bunch of people, including our beloved Mischa Auer as the proprietor of a flea circus (and yes, we do get to see the fleas perform).

And people who know about Arkadin start dying - at last, there are only 2 people who know his secret. Wait, there are three. And who is the Third Man?

There is a lot more than a little Third Man in this movie: the layered paranoia, the fantastical camera work, the mystery of Orson Welles at the center. There's also a bit of Fellini in some of the grotesque faces. There's also a lot of almost documentary work - I feel in some ways that Welles was just shooting from his own jetsetting life. If he needed a yacht, I'm sure a friend could loan him one. If he needed a castle, there are plenty in Europe. So we get no soundstages, all locations, but shabby, bombed-out, war-weary locations, even at the height of luxury.

We could tell that this was not  a complete film - there are weird edits, jumps in the narrative, bad dubbing. But the overall effect is dreamlike, yet exquisitely mannered. It has a touch of noir flavor to the black and white, the paranoia, and the anti-heroes. Glad we watched it. Now, about the other versions...

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