(youtube.com) Mr. Arkadin, Vaso Atabadze, (first released Spain, 1955) is a French-Spanish-Swiss coproduction film written and directed by Orson Welles.
(jonathanrosenbaum.com) This essay, a revised and updated version of my article “The Seven Arkadins,” was commissioned by the Australian DVD label Madman for their DVD of Orson Welles’ Confidential Report, released last year. — J.R.
Mr. Arkadin “was just anguish from beginning to end,” Orson Welles told Peter Bogdanovich in their coauthored This is Orson Welles, and probably for this reason, Welles had less to say about this feature — known in a separate version as Confidential Report — than any of his others, either to Bogdanovich or to other interviewers. Editing This is Orson Welles in its two successive editions took me the better part of a decade (roughly, 1987-1997), and one of the biggest obstacles I faced throughout this work was the paucity of specific details that Welles was willing to offer about this film. It was plainly too painful a memory for him to linger on, and he even spoke of being blocked in remembering certain particulars.
Broadly speaking, the features of Welles fall into two categories: those he finished and released to his satisfaction and those he didn’t. In the first category are Citizen Kane, Macbeth, Othello, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, The Immortal Story, F for Fake, and Filming “Othello”. And in the second batch are The Magnificent Ambersons, It’s All True, The Stranger, The Lady from Shanghai, Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report, Touch of Evil, The Deep, The Other Side of the Wind, The Dreamers, and Don Quixote.
Is it correct to regard the second ten as unfinished? I believe it is — at least if we continue to regard them as films by Welles, and agree with Welles that the editing was crucial to what made them his. (Although he came relatively close to finishing half of the latter ten — Ambersons, The Stranger, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, and Quixote — we don’t have access to any of those cuts.) Yet the standard practice has been to regard all of the ones released when he was alive as finished, regardless of whether he approved them or not. This places the matter in the hands of distributors, and every version of Mr. Arkadin, including Confidential Report, in the category of a finished work by Welles. But I think Welles himself would have disagreed.
Trying to expand the minimal material I had about Mr. Arkadin and Confidential Report through independent research, I eventually wrote and published an article entitled “The Seven Arkadins” roughly halfway through my labors on the Welles/Bogdanovich book, during the early 1990s, an updated version of which can be found in my 2007 collection Discovering Orson Welles (Berkeley: University of California Press), a piece which I could then reference and draw from in my editor’s notes in This is Orson Welles. (Some portions of that article are reycyled here.) But it wasn’t until the French Welles scholars Jean-Pierre Berthomé and François Thomas, during research for their own book Orson Welles at Work (London/New York: Phaidon, 2008), uncovered the correspondence between Welles and the film’s executive producer, Louis Dolivet, that much of the checkered history of this film and its multiple versions was uncovered. (Based in part on this research, Thomas compiled a six-page chronology of Mr. Arkadin for the 2006 Criterion DVD box set, The Complete Mr. Arkadin.)