I discovered by chance on Friday that the library owns a copy of the Criterion Collection edition of the Orson Welles film Mr. Arkadin. There’s a strange story (or possibly not so strange given that Orson Welles was involved) behind this film that I knew a little about, but not much. In short, Orson Welles never completed a cut of the film. At some point in the editing process, the film was taken away from him for the purpose of expediency and released in a form that Welles never authorized.

This is especially problematic, because Welles filmed the story in such a way that he would essentially be the only one who would know exactly how it was meant to be put together. For example, the framing sequence, itself, which ties it all together, was kind of a last minute change that–if I’m recalling correctly–isn’t reflected in the original treatment (or script?). Anyway, it’s all explained in the bonus materials within this set if you’re curious.

Additionally, I believe he shot all sorts of additional footage that never made it into any of the extant versions, and unsurprisingly, each version is at least a little different, to the point that there are scenes or bits that might exist in version A that don’t exist in version B, and vice versa.

In fact, there are something like seven different versions of the film floating around out there, and I realized after watching some of the supplementary features on the discs in this collection that the one I had seen was–I think–the American release, which excised the entire framing sequence and rushed the story.

This set actually contains a brand new edit of the film constructed by a couple of Orson Welles scholars, and even if you’ve seen the film before, I highly recommend renting this set to watch this new “Comprehensive Version”, which not only flows better than whatever version it was that I had previously seen, but also benefits from much better sound and picture quality.

This set, to be sure, contains two additional versions of the film, but there’s probably only one that you need to see. But you should see it, because Mr. Arkadin is vintage Welles–what with its larger-than-life subject, the disorienting and inventive camera positionings, and exacting shot framings–though because of it’s troubled history and some shoddily produced versions, you probably never heard of it…and that’s too bad.

Interesting bit of trivia, the story of Mr. Arkadin derived from a radio show that Orson Welles did called The Lives of Harry Lime, episodes of which are available on the first disc of this three-disc Criterion set. I haven’t listened to them yet, but I guess in the radio play, the Guy van Stratten part (from the film) is Lime.