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Film / Mr. Arkadin

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"Let's drink to character."

"A certain great and powerful king once asked a poet 'What can I give you of all that I have?' / He wisely replied 'Anything sir... except your secret.'"
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Mr. Arkadin, aka Confidential Report, is a 1955 film written and directed by Orson Welles, who also played the title role.

The plot of the film concerns Guy van Stratten (Robert Arden), a shady American black market dealer and smuggler who operates in Post-World War II Europe, in various run down docks and back alleys. One night he comes across an informant who in his dying words gives him the name "Gregory Arkadin", a Georgian arms-dealer and business magnate. Believing that Arkadin could be the key to a score of a lifetime, he chases after and infiltrates his house in Spain, while also chatting up with his daughter Raina (Paola Mori). Eventually Arkadin finds Stratten and offers him a mission. Arkadin has no memory of his past before 1927, and has forgotten all about it. He tasks Stratten with investigating his past. So Stratten pieces together clues and tracks down many of Arkadin's old associates who claim to know the man before he hit it big. Arkadin meets a series of shady characters (played by character actors like Michael Redgrave, Katrina Paxinou, Welles regular Akim Tamiroff), but a series of mysterious deaths and assassination follows his path.

The film began as a story that Welles had written for The Lives of Harry Lime, a spin-off radio serial inspired by the success of The Third Man by Carol Reed. Welles shot the film and funded it in Europe and made the film piecemeal. Unfortunately the producer Louis Dolivet, himself a shady figure in real lifenote  fell out with Welles and took the footage away from him. The film was released in a variety of cuts internationally, with its English language release being "Confidential Report". Welles dismissed all these versions. The Criterion Collection subsequently combined the multiple versions of the films in a single package, offering the original release, the "Corinth" version (which has more Welles footage), and the Comprehensive Version, which is a new cut (2006) that combines elements from multiple versions made for the Criterion release.

The film is best known as the Trope Codifier for the famous parable of "The Scorpion and the Frog" later popularized by The Crying Game. Gert Fröbe, who would soon become famous as Goldfinger, has a small part as a German policeman.


  • Almost Dead Guy: The plot kicks off with a fellow named Bracco collapsing on the wharf, yards from Guy's boat, with a knife in his back. He's a bit more chatty than your typical Almost Dead Guy, with time enough to muse about how he's making friends with Guy in his last moments, before passing on the names of Gregory Arkadin and "Sophie" as a way for Guy to get rich.
  • And Starring Robert Arden (Van Stratten) and Paola Mori (Raina) get the "and introducing" credit.
  • Anti-Hero: Guy van Stratten is barely better than his antagonist. He's an unscrupulous smuggler, part-time pimp of his girlfriend Milly, con-man and Social Climber.
  • Betty and Veronica: Van Stratten is in a relationship with Milly, a stripper and part-time call girl, who is friendly and devoted to him, and shares his low-down background, while Raina Arkadin is the wealthy socialite who charms him with her elegance and bearing.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Mr. Arkadin loved his daughter Raina more than anything. His entire plan is to wipe out his past so that his daughter would never know the kind of man he used to be. When Stratten tells her, and he learns that she found out, Arkadin commits suicide by crashing his plane out of shame.
  • Expy: Since it originated as a spin-off of The Third Man, one can easily see that Guy van Stratten is one for Harry Lime, albeit one who is a little younger, and not yet totally amoral (but getting there). In fact given his shady background, it's possible that "Van Stratten" is an alias, that he really is Lime, although for copyright reasons Welles couldn't admit that.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: The legendary parable of "The Scorpion and the Frog":
    Mr. Arkadin: "And now I'm going to tell you about a scorpion. This scorpion wanted to cross a river, so he asked the frog to carry him. No, said the frog, no thank you. If I let you on my back you may sting me and the sting of the scorpion is death. Now, where, asked the scorpion, is the logic in that? For scorpions always try to be logical. If I sting you, you will die. I will drown. So, the frog was convinced and allowed the scorpion on his back. But, just in the middle of the river, he felt a terrible pain and realized that, after all, the scorpion had stung him. Logic! Cried the dying frog as he started under, bearing the scorpion down with him. There is no logic in this! I know, said the scorpion, but I can't help it - it's my character. Let's drink to character."
  • Framing Device: The story is framed by Van Stratten telling it to a man named Zouk that he finds in a bombed-out building on Christmas Day. (The most widely distributed version of this movie dispenses with the Framing Device but the 2006 restoration keeps it.)
  • Hitler Cam: Orson Welles loved this trope, and it's found here in the opening Framing Device scene in which Van Stratten looms over a seated Zouk before starting his story. He uses it again when Arkadin towers over a very drunk Milly on the yacht as she confronts him about his nefarious past (among other things, Arkadin worked with a lot of fascists before and during World War II).
  • Honey Trap: Milly, is sent by Guy to hustle up Gregory, who of course sees this coming, and it's implied that he had his way with her anyway, either by rape or otherwise, before getting her drunk and tossing her off her yacht, where her body lands naked on the beach.
  • Humble Goal: All Jakob Zouk wants—and all he was dreaming of in his years in prison—was a dish of goose liver with apples and onions. He gets killed before he can have it.
  • Masquerade Ball: Stratten infiltrates one in Arkadin's castle in Spain, where all the guests are wearing sinister masks patterned off the work of Francisco de Goya's paintings.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Welles noted that Mr. Arkadin was inspired by a number of real-life arms dealers, including Basil Zaharoff. However he also noted that he saw Arkadin as a stand-in for Josef Stalin, both being Georgians who changed their names, and who sent out agents to track down his old friends so as to purge them and then complete it by killing his original agent, much as Stalin did to his friends and the NKVD chiefs Genrikh Yagoda and Nikolai Yezhov who helped him do the purging.
  • Police Are Useless: There's Bracco, knife in his back, bleeding out on the dock. The police run up, and...promptly swarm onto Van Stratten's yacht, where they bust him for smuggling cigarettes, Bracco still dying on the dock.
  • The Purge: Arkadin's plan with Guy van Stratten, send him around to dig up his past, which it turns out he knows and remembers perfectly well. Find out all his old friends, track them, and kill them one by one, and finish it by killing Guy and whoever else involved. He murders Milly, Stratten's stripper girlfriend, and Stratten upon cottoning on his plans protects himself by trying to turn Arkadin's beloved daughter against him.
  • Properly Paranoid: Jacob Zouk lives in a small place and in secret because he knows and suspects that Arkadin has it in for him. He turns out to be right.
  • Re-Cut: There are six different theatrical cuts of this film, and none of them can really be said to be definitive as none of them were assembled by Orson Welles.
  • Same Language Dub: Welles had all the dialogue recorded in post-production. There were several illustrious actors he was able to get for one day of filming, who were unavailable during post-production, so those male actors were dubbed by Orson Welles, and those actresses by other actresses. Paola Mori who played Arkadin's daughter was dubbed by Billie Whitelaw.
  • That Man Is Dead: Gregory Arkadin wants to wipe out all traces and memory of Wasaw Athabadze, aka his real name and identity, by tracking down and killing all who still knew that man.
  • Tragic Villain: Arkadin is an evil ruthless man whose hands are stained with the blood of countless people, but he does it all in the hope that eventually his daughter would have a better life and that by wiping out his past, it will go away. His actions to do so ends up making her find out anyway.
  • Video Credits: Welles liked this trope, using it in most of his films, and he did with this one.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Some of Arkadin's old associates still speak of him with some fondness, at least for the man he used to be.
    Sophie: "I was crazy in love with him, mister!"
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To Welles' two most famous films and performances:
    • Mr. Arkadin is essentially a B-Movie Citizen Kane, complete with a businessman living in a Xanadu like castle, played by Welles, and with the plot having a hero interrogate his old associates about his past, albeit Arkadin does it when he's alive.
    • The Third Man, it originated as a spinoff to it, and Guy van Stratten is a younger Harry Lime, and the denouement, where Van Stratten tries to get the girl he likes to betray and abandon the bad guy despite her personal feelings, and ends up being rejected for how he used her, mirrors the finale of The Third Man, with Guy van Stratten being the Holly Martins.