There were champions for Welles among the trade,
most devoted of these being Herman G. Weinberg, whose Variety column always had
favorable ink to spread where the embattled auteur was concerned. Weinberg kept
up mention of Mr.Arkadin/Confidential Report where others had forgotten. He'd
been among the very few in America,
after all, who'd had an opportunity to see the film, Weinberg's access thanks to
his being on the TOA selection committee in 1956. As of 1/6/60, he'd lament
that "no distributor could be found to take it," and quoted a letter
from Welles: What really pleased me was not so much that you liked Mr.
Arkadin, but that you liked it for what I take to be the right reasons. This,
of course, is the ultimate complement. Imagine how Weinberg swelled up when he
read that. He would, in fact, reprise the Welles letter in a 1/9/63 column.
Orson certainly knew how to flatter favored acolytes like Weinberg, who could
perform a real and ongoing service by boosting him in wide-read industry
The famine seemed to lift in January 1960 when
M. and A. Alexander Productions announced purchase of US and Canada "theatrical
distribution rights" to Mr. Arkadin (as reported in Variety),
Confidential Report apparently having been dropped as the film's title. M. and A.
Alexander was a prolific packager of movies for television, their efforts
focused on post-48 product most desired by broadcasters. Firm president Arthur
Alexander put it succinct for Broadcasting magazine: When stations can
offer big names ... they can be assured of top ratings and ready interest on
the part of sponsors. The Alexanders had just put a "VIP"
package together for fall 1960 including Pandora and The Flying Dutchman,
The Warriors, Seven Angry Men, and 32 others that had played theatres since
1950. Within two years, they would have 300 feature films and 100 cartoons in
circulation to local channels, a group to include Mr.Arkadin. There's no
indication, however, that M. and A. Alexander distributed Mr. Arkadin to
theatres prior to a deal made with Manhattan's
New Yorker Theatre to open the film on 10/11/62.
The 1958 lawsuit was meanwhile back to bite
Welles, newly filed allegations bringing it to The New York Times' attention. A
9/29/61 report cited allegations that OW's "repeated drunkenness" had
disrupted filming of Mr. Arkadin. Loyal champion Herman Weinberg posted
sarcastic reply in his 1/10/62 Variety column, quoting Lincoln's stance toward complaints over
Ulysses Grant imbibing: Find out the brand he drinks, and see that all my
generals are well supplied with it. Against this continuing drama, drums began
beating for US bow of Mr. Arkadin at the "unconventional" New Yorker
Theatre, one among Gotham sites that
celebrated classic fare. Daniel Talbot's venue had opened 3/17/1960, seating
900, policy geared toward oldies and foreign. After two years' modest success
at this, Talbot announced a series of special engagements of films by
major directors that have been ignored by American distributors, the
firstof these to be Mr. Arkadin.
The New York Times took interest and published
an interview with Talbot on 9/12/62, a few weeks ahead of his Arkadin booking.
Litigation had been cause for delay of the Welles film, said the New Yorker's
manager, who promised technique ... reminiscent of Citizen Kane, as
well as moral meaning (that) is ambiguous and fascinating. This was
pitching high to the art crowd as well as those who liked Orson's American
pics, these ladled heavy on Gotham TV in addition to sure-seaters around town.
Helpful too was OW himself declaring Arkadin to be his "most ambitious" pic
since CK. Variety's New York Sound Track column would follow Talbot's progress
and pass along good news: Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin reportedly cracked the
first-week b.o. record at the uptown New Yorker, said the trade on 10/24/62, It
stays, of course.
Reviews were mixed, none of which mattered to
patronage. This was fresh Welles and they were determined to see it. The Times'
Eugene Archer called Mr. Arkadin "in turn, baffling, exciting,
infuriating, original, and obscure." Variety came to a more commercial
point: "One for the cine-addicts," and a decided mixed bag otherwise. What made Variety's
face red was declaration that they had "unaccountably carried no review of
the pic originally," when in fact they had, as pointed out by a letter to
editors published 10/17/62 that alerted Variety to the fact of the paper having
covered Mr. Arkadin for the Cannes Film Festival in 1956. More embarrassing was
the same scribe pointing out that Mr. Arkadin had played US television prior to Dan Talbot's engagement
(a Miami run,
plus others). "It may be of small matter, but New Yorkers needn't think
they see them all first," said the obviously better-informed reader.
Variety wouldheadline the letter In Re Those Phoney 'American Premieres,' and
print a mea culpa column in the same issue.
Dan Talbot spoke frankly for a 4/17/63 Variety
interview summing up the New Yorker's experience handling so-called
"lost" and unreleased pix. Mr. Arkadin was the only one of the lot to
show a profit, he said, and there was brief considerationtoward distributing
the Welles feature beyond NYC environs, until Talbot got a gander at an
entirely new world of problems which he'd have to face as a distrib, and he dropped
the whole thing. Talbot estimated the cost of launching a
"virgin" title at the New Yorker at between $6,000 and $8,000 for
advertising/publicity, plus other expense borne by the theatre. This can be
costly for what remains, essentially, a nabe house which does not stand to
recoup its expenditure from any future profits of the pic, should it
subsequently get a conventional US
release. Variety had passed along rumor in its Mr. Arkadin review that Astor
Productions had an option to nationwide-release the film, that company already
vested in Orson Welles' latest, The Trial. Later coverage, however, would
reveal Astor's filing under Chapter Eleven for bankruptcy protection, which put
paid to wider circulation of Mr. Arkadin.
The few bookings that followed the New Yorker's
came and went hurriedly. The city's Little Carnegie (520 seats) played Mr. Arkadin for a
week in late October '62 on strength of press coverage and Talbot's success.
That run, said Variety, "landed (an) okay $5,000," while Chicago's Carnegie (495
seats) took $2,900 for a seven day's stand in December. As context to this, the
Carnegie's art house rival, the "Cinema" (500 seats), had a combo of
classics Mata Hari and Red Dustduring the same week and got $2,600. Mr.
Arkadin became tougher to see after this. An 11/15/85 engagement saw it
doubled with The Third Man at Manhattan's
new artie, the Thalia Soho, for a $5 admission, but schedulers for a 5/86
Welles retrospective at the Regency, "the most complete" since
Welles' death in October of the previous year, drew blanks when they tried
booking Mr. Arkadin, along with Othello, The Trial, and F For Fake. "I
wish we had them, but they were tied up in his estate, or there were rights
problems," said Regency manager Frank Rowley: "I had only a short time
in which to assemble this series, which I wanted to present even sooner --- and
I just couldn't wait around any longer." The foregoing are but academic
issues now, what with Mr. Arkadin available in a DVD box which contains
multiple versions of the film and extras galore. More than one reviewer has
ranked Criterion's among all-time best retrievals and presentation of a vintage