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Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Wrangles Over Arkadin

Part Two on Mr. Arkadin: A Report Kept Confidential From US Patrons

Bet there's more Arkadin info in court files than all the Orson Welles books so far written, but such legal paper, or what survives of it, is likely scattered wide like Mr. A's own Confidential File. Still, I'd like reading it, for Mr. Arkadin, the resolute, if truncated, movie meant by its maker to be a "roaring success" (Welles' words), would be as elusive and unknowable as the character of Arkadin himself. It was, for Welles fanciers from the 50's and decades after, an equivalent to what The Other Side Of The Wind continues to be for us, vivisected or unseen altogether. There'd be trade mentions from Arkadin's completion in 1954 through a decade's remainder, with always a question of when we'd get a look at it. Screenings took place in Europe and England, Warners arranging to release Mr. Arkadin in markets other than the US, and with a new title, Confidential Report.

A Cannes Festival showing in May, 1956 was covered by Variety, Confidential File the title reviewed, with a runtime of 95 minutes. Mentioned was fact that this was Welles' last Continental venture before "heading back to renew his US career." Too much flash and fantasy without enough flesh was how the trade saw Confidential File, even as reviewing Gene Moskowitz conceded it to be a "good programmer." Name cameos may help its chances in the US, he added, but this rather confused tale will have to be sold on its splashy action quality rather than anything else. Independent distributor and so-called "warrior salesman" Don Getz announced to The New York Times on 5-1-56 that he had "acquired rights" to Mr. Arkadin, and that it would be US issued as Confidential Report, but nothing further came of Getz's press release, as Welles' film does not seem to have ever had  American distribution as Confidential Report.

Gene Moskowitz followed up a month later (6/22) with a Confidential Report update for his "In Paris" column, saying that the film, handled now by Warners, was opening here (Paris) to good reviews and probably in for a fine run at one art house. Word got round to organizers of the Motion Picture Industry International Trade Show to be held in New York September 20-24, 1956. That event was sponsored by the Theatre Owners Of America, an exhibitors group, and a large contingent of foreign showmen were invited. TOA had hoped that the event, in addition to serving as an exhibitor forum, also would be the focal point for a gigantic all-industry public relations campaign, said Variety. Such ambition crashed upon shoals of indifference from US film companies, their failure to participate causing TOA to do an off-the-record burn. A huge Broadway parade, with leading motion picture personalities taking part could not take place without cooperation from majors ... only they weren't cooperating. US companies wouldn't even buy dealer space for the trade show. This would not be a public event (one thousand exhibs were expected to attend), but screenings at the Museum Of Modern Art were figured to acquaint guests with better imports so far unseen in the US, among which would be Confidential Report.

Foreign Fests Have Built-In Migraines --- Ask Any TOA Exec, said a 9/12/56 Variety headline. Conclusion was that there aren't a great many good imports currently in sight, on top of which, Indie distribs have a tough time cooperating on anything. Showman extraordinaire Arthur Mayer chaired a selection committee that included Herman Weinberg, who'd had years experience subtitling foreign pix and was a regular Variety columnist besides. The two sat through forty foreign titles "and had a rough time winnowing six for the fest." This was familiar reality for Mayer at least; he'd been years separating wheat from chaff among imports, and knew most was frankly chaff. Frustration got enhanced by the fact that hosting MOMA had not yet refitted for Cinemascope projection, cause for several pics to be dropped. The screenings, which would precede the TOA convention itself, kicked off with Confidential Report, which played in the MOMA's auditorium on 9/12/56. This then, was Mr. Arkadin's debut in the United States, even if not a regular commercial release. There would be a six year further wait for it to be shown again.

Variety's Gene Moskowitz was on the Rome beat a week ahead of Confidential Report's MOMA screening and spotted the film's Robert Arden floating around Piazzas, but out of place with a tie and jacket, Moskowitz pointing out that nobody dresses for the evening which starts in the Piazza, and then spills into the many (Capri) island restaurants and niteries. This was height of Euro deal-making and expatriate film folk gathered for business/pleasure on 24-7 schedule, a lifestyle dissected later by Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Was Arden on hand to boost Arkadin prospects? --- or maybe help secure a US release in addition to Warner-handling elsewhere? It's possible, of course, that he was merely there in hope of securing a next job for himself.

Stateside mention of Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report was spotty from here. The New York Times (5/19/57) reviewed the novelization credited to Orson Welles and called it "fictional twaddle," an overall pan made more so by "great things" one would expect from a talent of Welles' stature (OW maintained that he did not  write the book). The book as hardbound sold for $3.50. Inevitable lawsuits followed: Welles and a Spanish company, Filmorsa, were named defendants with $230K sought. Action was filed in New York Supreme Court, said Variety (1/22/58), the plaintiff being Cervantes Films. The latter claimed it had paid actors, and others, $50,000 which it never got back. There were allegations too that Welles/Filmorsa had failed to account for monies earned via Central/South America distribution, and that rights assigned to Warner Bros. by the defendants had not been properly accounted for. How could Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report hope to see US release amidst such rancor?

Part Three and Conclusion of Mr. Arkadin will go up tomorrow.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

I'm looking forward to Volume 3 of Simon Callow's massive bio of Welles to get to the bottom of Arkadin. Anyone interested in Welles should get their hands on the first two volumes, if only to get an idea -- if it wasn't clear already -- just how self-destructive he was. An incredible talent to be sure, but ultimately his own worst enemy.

9:19 AM  

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