Mr. Arkadin (1955)

Before I start on Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin, I have to admit three things. First: Orson Welles never really did it for me. And let’s be fair, I only gave him one chance, all those years ago, when I first watched Citizen Kane and thought to myself “what’s the big deal?” The only contact I’ve had with him since was his nasty portrayal in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly CreaturesSecond: Despite the few older movies I’ve recently watched, I don’t normally go for anything before 1963. Third: If my husband never suggested Mr. Arkadin, I never would have heard of it, let alone watched it.

It all starts with a name...

It all starts with a name…

All that being said, I surprisingly enjoyed Mr. Arkadin, a crime drama mystery thing with a hint of comedy here and there. The story starts when Guy Van Stratten, a good-for-nothing crook and his equally shady girlfriend Mily witness a murder. As the man, Bracco, dies, he whispers two names into Mily’s ear, one of which is Gregory Arkadin. Distracted by the police, Mily apparently forgets the second name.

This sets Van Stratten off on a chase for information: who is Arkadin, and what did he have to do with the dying man’s murder? Thorough research, tenacity and greed finally leads Van Stratten to Arkadin, a very rich man indeed, with just about everything within his reach. Van Stratten weasels his way into Arkadin’s latest shindig through Arkadin’s daughter, Sophie.

Van Stratten finally gets the opportunity to meet Arkadin, at which point Arkadin gives Van Stratten

Van Stratten, plotting as usual.

Van Stratten, plotting as usual.

a unique gift: a dossier detailing all of Van Stratten’s crimes. See, Arkadin is, apparently, very protective of his daughter. But Van Stratten isn’t easily scared off, and eventually Arkadin decides to hire Van Stratten for a very important job: find out who Gregory Arkadin really is.

See, Arkadin apparently woke up, years ago, with a bunch of money in his pocket, with which he grew his fortune. But he does not remember who he was before this happened, and needs Van Stratten to use his resourcefulness to figure it out for him. So Van Stratten trots his way around the globe finding out information about the mysterious man…

The thing about Mr. Arkadin that most impressed me was that, despite the fact that almost none of the characters are likable or relatable, it’s still an enjoyable movie. Perhaps that’s because I was curious to see exactly to what lengths Van Stratten was willing to go in order to hit the mother lode, or maybe it was just that I wanted to know what makes Arkadin tick?

Orson Welles was a seriously weird looking dude, right?

Orson Welles was a seriously weird looking dude, right?

And, about Arkadin… can I ask what exactly is the deal with Orson Welles? He’s a frightening looking man, and in this film it looks like he’s wearing 10 pounds of pancake make-up. He creepily looks just like the King from a deck of playing cards. Gives me the chills, and makes me understand the sentiments of our friends from Heavenly Creatures all the more! Despite this, or more likely because of, he’s a pretty convincing nasty rich guy.

With movies like this, I generally find myself getting lost, either because the globe-trotting mystery is boring to me or my walnut-sized brain can’t handle putting pieces together. But here, I was actually intrigued the whole time and really enjoyed watching the story unravel. I suppose now is the time to mention there are several different cuts of this film; we watched the “Comprehensive Version” from the Criterion Collection. Word around the campfire is the other versions are much more difficult to follow and convoluted, so if this sounds like your cup of tea, keep that in mind!

All in all, I think I actually really liked this movie. I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt while I was watching it, and immediately after I was pretty ambivalent. It seems as though Arkadin has grown on me now that some time has passed. Perhaps one day my curiosity will strike and I’ll pop in one of those other versions of the film, just to see how different it is. Either way, this version was pretty darn entertaining, and I’d recommend it to anyone with interest in such films.


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