For cinéastes, the film event of the year thus far is surely "The Complete Mr. Arkadin" DVD set, loaded with great extras and issued by the indispensable Criterion Collection ($50, 3 discs). Orson Welles's 1955 baroque international thriller has had a tortuous history even by the director's usual tortuous standards. At least eight versions of the film exist, none of them approved by Welles, who was taken off the project by his producer before a final edit was completed.
Criterion has put together three versions of the rarely seen film. "Confidential Report," which was its title when first distributed worldwide by Warner Brothers, is the version that most people have seen on television or in revival houses. Then there is the so-called Corinth print, which was discovered by Peter Bogdanovich in 1960 while researching a Welles retrospective. It premièred in 1962 at the New Yorker Theater in New York and was later distributed in America by Corinth Films. And lastly, Criterion has included a spanking-new cut called the "Comprehensive Version" created by film archivists Stefan Drössler and Claude Bertemes, which combines all the film and sound elements that they determined were authorized by Welles, including transitional episodes and flashbacks.
In whatever form, "Mr. Arkadin," in which the director plays a shady tycoon who hires a small-time smuggler to investigate his past, is not prime Welles. And yet the film holds a perverse fascination as a kind of gonzo "Citizen Kane." Even hampered as Welles was by a lack of financing and adequate sound equipment, his genius is revealed in some passages. Of the three versions, I would probably vote for the Corinth, but as Drössler notes, "Eighty to 90 percent of the film is the same in each version." Grade: A