Mr. Arkadin (1955)
Directed by Orson Welles
September 19-21, part of MoMA's "History of Auteurist Film"
Despite endless bits of evidence, we are still unable with any certainty to identify the elusive Mr. Arkadin. Even before the footage shot by Orson Welles in Europe, the character appeared in The Lives of Harry Lime radio series, which spun out tales of the charismatic sociopath Welles played in The Third Man; later, in a novel "by Orson Welles," which he didn’t write; and since 1955, there’ve been at least six versions of the film, none in the end edited by the writer and director, who likely lamented the loss for the three decades until his death.
Nevertheless there’s enough in the "Corinth version" of Mr. Arkadin to spot fingerprints, clues. Welles himself appears as the titular billionaire, behind barbed beard and visible foundation; petty crooks dart through canted shots in ominous geometry; we are again in search of a near-omnipotent giant’s past—and so is he. Guy von Stratten (Robert Arden), an American who clumsily attempts to blackmail Arkadin after the name is whispered to his girlfriend (Patricia Medina) by a dying man, is instead hired to investigate Arkadin’s past pre-1927, when he appeared amnesiac in Zurich with one suit and 200,000 Swiss francs. There’s a beautiful daughter, too, but this part feels shoddily pasted on when compared to the opening scenes: a desperate pair in a freezing room, one half-threatening, half-pleading, “if I’m going to save your miserable life, you’re going to have to understand the story, see?”
But if we finally understand Arkadin, it’s that if he’s anyone at all, he’s the part of Welles that always only existed as a reflection and refraction of light—here splintered, contested and, finally, without the power he most craved: the ability to control his own image.