Recently an aeroplane has been found flying empty over Europe - was the cause murder or suicide? To attempt to answer that question we must follow small time crook Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) as he sat not so long ago with an elderly man named Jakob Zouk (Akim Tamiroff) waiting for someone to find him and perhaps kill them both. While they wait, Van Stratten explains to the man what has brought him to this stage, a story that takes in international intrigue with one mysterious figure at the heart of it: Gregory Arkadin (Orson Welles), a very dangerous fellow...
Famously, there is not one proper version of Mr Arkadin, or Confidential Report as it's otherwise known, rather at least five variations which may or may not conform to the plans of writer and director Welles. This was yet another of his projects that hit snags, here it was taken out of his hands before he had finished editing it which may explain why the end result, no matter which one you see, is something of a muddle. It's still recognisably a Welles film, with more playfulness than usual perhaps, but mainly that's down to it being a variation on Citizen Kane.
With a dash of The Third Man stirred in, as it was based on three episodes of the Harry Lime radio show which Welles contributed to. Like Kane, it has an individual delving into a powerful man's past, although Arkadin is more of a crook than Kane ever was, having pulled himself up by his bootstraps from being a petty criminal as Van Stratten is supposed to be and making a name for himself in the world. Van Stratten becomes involved with him when he gets a lead from a dying man and thereafter falls in love with Raina (Paola Mori, Welles' third wife), who happens to be Arkadin's daughter.
In a scene typical of the film, Van Stratten meets the title character at a masked ball where he is shown that a report has been made on him, much to his anger. Later, Arkadin telephones him with a proposition to uncover his past as he claims he is now an amnesiac and has forgotten where he once came from, which leads into a host of international locations where Arden interviews a selection of actors in the hope he will find out the big secret. Among those actors are the great Mischa Auer as a flea circus owner which seems to have been included for a bit of fun.
And in truth the whole experience is something of a romp through a puzzle, coming across as a put on, a jape, in which the answers to the question simply throw up more questions. For this reason many can lose patience with the caprices of the plot, which to some eyes can look as if Welles is creating a legend around himself through the difficult to pin down Arkadin character. The fact that none of it hangs together in the slightest oddly enhances that myth-making, as some characters barely appear to be in the same room as each other while holding their well nigh endless conversations, but the narrative is so dense that it's not surprising not one of the versions truly satisfy. It's just a shame that even by this point in his career Welles was trading on past glories. Music by Paul Misraki.