Friday, May 15, 2009

Target #55: Mr. Arkadin / Confidential Report (1955, Orson Welles)

Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles (story & screenplay)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 Only]

Firstly, some administration issues: like most Orson Welles projects, Mr. Arkadin (1955) suffered from studio interference in post- production, and so there are numerous versions of the film available for public viewing. Among the possible options is the chronologically-cut print released in America, the European cut retitled "Confidential Report," and several versions released by the Criterion Collection that purport to represent, to varying degrees, Welles' original vision. For my first viewing of the film, I watched the version titled "Confidential Report," which can be found on a VHS released by distributor Connoisseur Video. The flashback structure maintained in most prints of the film, including this version, deliberately recalls the American film noir style. Of course, this comes as no surprise – Welles had already released The Stranger (1946) and The Lady from Shanghai (1947), and would soon return to Hollywood (albeit briefly) to direct his archetypal noir, Touch of Evil (1958). But Orson Welles was not one to do things by the book, and Mr. Arkadin is like no American noir you've ever seen.

If one must choose a film with which to compare Mr. Arkadin, it would probably be Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949). Both pictures transplant a familiar film noir plot into a European setting, and an eccentric camera captures the personality of the exotic locales and their inhabitants. Both, of course, also starred Orson Welles in a prominent role, and playing analogous characters. In Reed's film, Harry Lime is a smug, boyish racketeer whose thirst for ill-gotten profits takes priority over the faceless victims of his black-market crimes. Gregory Arkadin might be considered an extension of Lime's character, had he emerged unscathed from the Vienna sewers and lived years more. Arkadin is undoubtedly a criminal, but one whose incredible success has pushed him beyond such a characterisation. Despite having apparently eluded his youthful years in petty crime (after erasing his former identity, much as Lime attempted), Arkadin remains plagued by the shame of his past, unwilling to acknowledge that he is just as contemptible now as he ever was.

Despite the thematic influence of American cinema, Welles' direction, stylistically, more closely resembles the work of European artists like Federico Fellini. His dynamic camera-work and editing has an air of improvisation, and a certain flamboyance that might seem overindulgent if it weren't so brilliantly effortless. The film's most interesting sequence is an early costume ball in which guests are hidden behind grotesque masks, whose massive features crowd the frame like the creatures from Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are." Though it is Welles' presence that dominates the screen, Robert Arden is an intriguing noir protagonist: Guy Van Stratten is a small-time smuggler (once again drawing a parallel with Harry Lime) who epitomises the petty crook that Arkadin once was. Infatuated with nothing but money and self- preservation, Stratten continually exploits the affections of girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) and Arkadin's daughter Raina (Paola Mori). He destroys the lives of both women, and, unremorsefully, manages to save his own neck. Gregory Arkadin isn't the only villain on this cluttered continent.

Currently my #5 film of 1955:
1) Du rififi chez les hommes {Rififi} (Jules Dassin) *
2) The Ladykillers (Alexander Mackendrick)
3) Bad Day at Black Rock (John Sturges)
4) Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich) *
5) Mr. Arkadin {Confidential Report} (Orson Welles) *
6) The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis) *
7) Les Diaboliques (Henri-Georges Clouzot) *
8) Nuit et brouillard {Night and Fog} (Alain Resnais)
9) Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray)
10) The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton) *

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