One of Frank’s favorite films is…… (hold that thought)….
Yup, there he is above — director Orson Welles alighting in Spain to attend to the shooting of Mr. Arkadin.
When this photo was taken, Welles was deep into his gypsy foreign period, acting in a picture in one European capitol, and then flying off to another to continue piecing together the filming of his personal projects.
One result of all this was 1955’s Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report), a vastly entertaining mess of a movie about a corrupt international business mogul who kills in order to keep his beloved daughter ignorant of his criminal past.
Welles directed the picture, wrote both the story and screenplay and plays the title role in some of the worst makeup ever devised for a major star.
Some critics and film scholars compare Mr. Arkadin to Citizen Kane. The parallels with (‘Kane’) are so obvious as to make them seem intended, writes biographer Simon Callow in his excellent new book, Orson Welles: One Man Band.
Both films begin at the end of the story, both are investigations into the life of a magnate, both have flashback structures.
But the qualitative similarities stop right there. Most critics and scholars consign Mr. Arkadin to Welles’ film maudit (cursed film) category. A few are blunt enough to say the movie stinks.
Thankfully, Callow is not one of them. He devotes a full chapter in his book — the third in a Welles biographical trilogy — to Mr. Arkadin, one of Frank’s personal all-time favorites. Here’s why the movie is certainly worth at least a close look:
— The cast is superb, a litany of some of Europe’s finest screen actors including Michael Redgrave, Akim Tamiroff, Mischa Auer, Katina Paxinou, Gregoire Aslan, Peter Van Eyck and Suzanne Flon. Each performer was encouraged by Welles to create singular characters in their abbreviated roles, and they deliver in spades. Paxinou and Redgrave are especially memorable.
— Welles’ performance, despite the makeup (movable beard and hairpiece) is somewhat clinical but still masterful. He conveys the title character’s roaringly seductive evil with conviction.
— Although there are occasional lapses in plot continuity, director Welles put together a suspenseful story that wastes little time in the telling. Welles believed in tight editing, and it shows nicely here. A pleasant advantage is that the picture was filmed for the most part in Madrid, Paris and Munich, giving it an international gloss; Europe in the 1950’s.
— Mr Arkadin has a superb musical score by Paul Misraki, the regular composer for French director Jean Renoir’s movies. Callow praises the composer’s score for its “swirling glissandi and international flavour.” In any case, the music greatly enhances the action.
— Although the performers in the key roles in Mr. Arkadin are often faulted, they have a certain charm. Welles’ cast his wife, Paola Mori, in the part of the business magnate’s daughter while the role of narrator/investigator Guy Van Stratten went to Robert Arden, a largely unknown American actor who performed in stage productions in London.
Both can generously be described as workmanlike. Putting a brief (she worked on the movie for a total of 10 days) but thoroughly engaging turn as a striptease dancer is Patrica Medina, who beautifully looks and acts the part.
In short, listen to Callow, and ignore the critics who dismiss Mr. Arkadin as a minor work. Better yet, get a hold of the Criterion Collection’s three-disc edition, The Complete Mr. Arkadin, and judge for yourself.