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Monday, May 26, 2008

MR. ARKADIN (1955)

I tend to shy off re-viewing films on DVD when I’ve been lucky enough to have recently seen a good print on the big screen. But Criterion has created a beefed up cut of this problematic film, and the version I’d seen was the infamous, if physically handsome, American cut, CONFIDENTIAL REPORT. Even in that unfortunate edition, once you made it past the bewildering first two reels, it turned into quite a nifty puzzle film. Something along the lines of Welles’ LADY FROM SHANGHAI, but with a decidedly jocose European flavor. Imagine a cubist variant on one of those British Ealing 'black' comedies. Back when I last saw this, it all seemed weirdly prescient vis-a-vis Robert Maxwell, the Israeli/British newspaper publisher whose life was a series of Arkadin-like lies & scams, ending with his yacht staged suicide. Welles was always ahead of his time artistically, but how he got so close to figuring out this international scandal four decades before the actual events occured is a true mystery. This new cut avoids some of the initial confusion; there's a clearer structure to the flashbacks and it does a better job of weaving the plot lines together. But the film still flits about in an abrupt, illogical manner as Arkadin (that is, Welles) pops in and out of the proceedings just long enough to manipulate the faceless actor he’s hired to investigate his own past. The general idea is to bump off anybody who turns out to know too much about Arkadin's past lives. The vaudevillian acting turns by the likes of Mischa Auer, Michael Redgrave, Akim Tamirov, et al, make for quite a show, just don’t expect a precis on the way out. On this one, you're on your own.

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