The Complete Mr. Arkadin AKA Confidential Report, Lemonade Joe
The Complete Mr. Arkadin AKA Confidential Report
The tangled story of this Orson Welles film, like so many things surrounding the man himself, is shrouded in a mystical fog. The many strands of the making of the picture and various versions of it which exist — each with its accompanying intrigue, mythology and disputed evidence — threaten to overwhelm the work itself. In the early portion of the 1950s, Welles was an exile from the Hollywood studio system, his last significant production being Lady from Shanghai in 1947. Forced to work independently, he made a couple of Shakespearean adaptations with his Mercury Company players then, cannibalizing his own story from the Harry Lime radio series met with first-time Romanian producer and former Communist agent Louis Dolivet. When Welles missed a deadline, Dolivet took the film out of his hands and released it as Confidential Report. The Corinth Version which appears is based on the best information about Welles’ intentions and overseen by Welles fanboy and film scholar Peter Bogdanovich. It was famously hailed by critic Andre Bazin and infamously ignored by the public.
A curious, curious artifact. In a way the film can be seen in a broader view as part of a Welles trilogy, which includes Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, and is probably the weakest of the three. Like Charles Foster Kane and Evil’s Captain Hank Quinlan, Arkadin is a man of towering reputation with a dubious past. In what is an ingenious twist, rather than paying to have his past buried he pays a venal American petty adventurer to have it unearthed, because, it seems as if Mr. Arkadin has no idea who he is or how he managed to obtain his fortune. The American Guy Van Stratten (an oddly grating but effective Robert Arden) goes on a dizzying international cook’s tour of rogues, blackmailers, eccentrics and the fallen remnants of European bourgeoisie. It’s an elaborately conceived masquerade of the grotesquely exotic which is so densely packed with narrative conceits and stylistic curlicues that it ends up in beautifully realized opposition with itself — as good a metaphor for Welles as any.
As usual Criterion provides a treasure trove of bonus material and even exceeds itself on this beautifully packaged disc. Aside from three versions of the film, it has an extensive stills gallery, three episodes of the Harry Lime radio series, which is the origin of the story, the novelization of Mr. Arkadin (which Welles supposedly disavows reading, let alone writing). There’s also vastly informative commentary by Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore in which they challenge the myth that Welles was a martyred genius. Plus alternate scenes and an interview with biographer Simon Cowell, all of which contradict and elevate the Welles mythology in equal measure.
At its heart the film itself is a deeply felt elegy for a world of privilege laid to waste by the unromantic egalitarianism imposed on Europe after the Second World War. It does little to advance Welles’ reputation as a filmmaker, but much to cement his place as a genius. Francois Truffaut, prophesizing an era when people would possess films in home libraries once wrote that whoever owned Mr. Arkadin would be a “Lucky Man.” Indeed.
If Sergio Leone was the biologically and chronologically improbable love child of Seijun Suzuki and Guy Maddin, and raised in an orphanage in Czechoslovakia, he might have grown up and made a movie like Lemonade Joe.
Director Oldrich Lipsky’s musical parody of the white-hat/black-hat morality of the early Hollywood Western indulges liberally in its own incongruity, mixing silent-movie tints and sped-up frame counts with jump cuts for a cutely deconstructionist effect. The plot, a tolerance fable pitting the forces of Trigger Whiskey against Kolaloka Lemonade, runs through Babelfish translations of saloon brawls, barrelhouse piano, and colorful character names — the showgirl with a heart of lusty gold is Tornado Lou, and the villain of the piece is the magician and gunslinger Hogo Fogo, alias of one Horace Badman.
The booklet locates the synthesis of quotation and send-up within the Czech popular culture of the time. And, although technically not a “special feature” per se, the fact that the disc is transferred from such an old, poorly subtitled print only adds to the garbled charm.
Aside from being a heck of a conversation piece, Lemonade Joe reveals sufficient generic and cross-cultural flavors to sustain interest past the wearing-out of its initial surprise.