by Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & & r & Mr. Arkadin & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t heart, Orson Welles was an indie filmmaker. Too bad he lived in the big studio era. He fought the system to get Citizen Kane on the big screen in 1941; he won, and his take on William Randolph Hearst survived. But his reputation as trouble was cemented, and that was the last film he made without some meddling.
By 1955, he was making films in Europe, but the meddling continued. On Mr. Arkadin, his financiers kicked him off the project before he edited the film. Consequently, five different versions were made; Welles said it was his most compromised film. All of which makes it a perfect candidate for the Criterion Collection, which specializes in polishing forgotten gems.
Film historians at the Munich Film Museum used everything they could find to cobble together the "Comprehensive Version" of Mr. Arkadin. Just for fun, the three-disc set also comes with two other versions of the film. You have to really be into Welles to buy this baby.
So the story behind the story is compelling, but how's the movie? At times, it's bizarre and campy; at others, it's riveting -- all the excesses of genius with no filtering process. Like Citizen Kane and the snow globe, Mr. Arkadin starts with a mysterious image -- an empty plane flying over Spain. The rest is told through flashbacks, in which a con man (Robert Arden) tries to learn more about the ultra-rich Gregory Arkadin (Welles). As his investigation takes him across Europe and Mexico, you meet a crazy ringmaster for a flea circus, you recoil at the nastiest mustache ever filmed (on a Mexican general), and you get to join the revelry at one of the worst bad-acid-trip masquerade balls of all time, held in an old Spanish castle. Yeah, it's pretty weird.
And while the heavily made-up Welles is game, with a menacing gaze for every occasion, Arden, as Guy Van Stratten, fails to nail the noir-ish tough guy. Van Stratten's girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) succeeds at that rarest of feats -- being not only bad, but hilariously bad. Welles' third wife, Paola Mori, does a good job playing Arkadin's daughter.
Film students will find plenty to love, as Welles' knack for the perfectly framed shot is on display throughout Mr. Arkadin, with plenty of the skewed perspectives and low angles people still pay to see.