Like most of Welles's directorial efforts post Citizen Kane, Mr. Arkadin had a tumultuous production history, and he eventually lost control of the movie, resulting in the release of a version that differed from his original vision. Currently, at least three different versions of the film exist, and to tell you the truth, I don't know which one I watched or how it differs from the other cuts. The version I watched is a complex, sometimes confusing narrative that wasn't always easy to follow, but thanks to Welles' filmmaking virtuosity and style, it proves a rewarding and fascinating experience.
Mr. Arkadin begins with Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) visiting the rundown lodgings of drunk, old Jakob Zouk (Akim Tamiroff). Guy, who says he needs to protect Zouk to save his own life, tells him his story, and the movie is told in a series of flashbacks about how Guy and his girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) heard two names from a dying man: Gregory Arkadin and Sophie. Arkadin (Welles) is a mysterious businessman in Europe, and Guy uses Arkadin's daughter Raina (Paola Mori) to get close to him. Extremely protective of his daughter, the amnesic Arkadin approaches Guy with an offer: investigate his past and prepare a confidential report.
Citizen Kane was a tragedy, charting the rise and fall of a powerful man by following an investigation into what he meant with his dying word. Mr. Arkadin is a thriller, and the revelation of his past isn't that Arkadin lost a beloved childhood sled, but that he ran with a criminal gang in Poland and double-crossed them, using their gains to build his empire. Where Mr. Arkadin gets its poignancy is Arkadin's relationship with his daughter.
The tragic nature of Arkadin is that he will do anything to keep his past hidden from Raina. He loves her more than anything, and the most important thing in the world to him is how she thinks of him. Anything, or anyone, that will make her think less of him must be eliminated.
Welles imbues the film with his directorial flourish. It's a good while into the movie before we even meet Arkadin, and until then, he's only talked about and depicted by his possessions, including the castle and his private airplane, and this builds anticipation. When Guy finally meets him, it's during an elaborate, dizzying masquerade inside the castle, and the effect makes the film feel like Edgar Alan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death." It's distorted, surreal, and borderline frightening, especially when we meet Arkadin, this massive, frame-filling man with the Mephistophelian eyebrows. He looms over the camera so much, filmed in wide, low-angle shots, that he resembles the Ogre his daughter calls him. That she's often shown between bars and frames, suggesting she's a prisoner of her father, only reinforces the notion.
The plot is a bit of mess, and it's hard to know whether Welles intended it to be oblique and elliptical or whether something got lost in post-production. It makes sense that Arkadin would have the witnesses found by Guy eliminated once he found them, but the movie creates the impression that Arkadin knew where they've been this entire time, so what has he been waiting for? Also, the frequent cuts back to Guy telling his story to Zouk, while stylishly filmed, interrupt the flow of the story and don't make much sense when you think about it; after all, Guy is supposedly urgent because Arkadin is coming to have the both of them killed.