Confidential Report (Mr. Arkadin) (1955): Orson Welles’ Brilliant, Troubled Film

Orson Welles wrote and directed Mr. Arkadin (first released in Spain, 1955), known in Britain as Confidential Report.

The story was based on several episodes of the radio series The Lives of Harry Lime, which in turn was based on the character that Welles portrayed in the 1950 masterpiece, The Third Man.

The main inspiration was the episode “Man of Mystery,” though some elements may have been lifted from an episode of the radio show Ellery Queen entitled “The Case of the Number Thirty-One,” chiefly the similar-sounding name George Arkaris, the mysterious birthplace, the French Riviera property and the Spanish castle.

Other key elements for Arkadin’s character come from a real-life arms dealer, Basil Zaharoff.

A French-Spanish-Swiss coproduction, it was shot in several Spanish locations, including Costa Brava, Segovia, Valladolid and Madrid.

Filming took place throughout Europe in 1954, and scenes shot outside Spain include locations in London, Munich, Paris, the French Riviera and at Château de Chillon in Switzerland.

Guy Van Stratten, a small-time American smuggler working in Europe, seeks out Munich resident Jakob Zouk to warn him about plot against his life.

As Zouk is terminally ill, he receives the news with apathy, so Stratten explains his reasons for wanting to keep Zouk alive.

His narrative unfolds by several scenes in flashback.

Stratten’s story begins in Naples, where he gets a tip that Gregory Arkadin, an international oligarch of Russian heritage, possesses dark secret centered on the name “Sophie.”

Stratten, his girlfriend and accomplice Mily travel to Arkadin’s castle in Spain, hoping to use meager information for blackmail. By striking up a friendship with Arkadin’s daughter Raina, the only person for whom Arkadin feels affection, Stratten gets himself invited too.

Arkadin has learned of Stratten and Mily’s interest in him, and of the couple’s criminal history. Instead of turning them away he openly offers to pay for information about his past, which has been blotted out by amnesia. Arkadin says that in 1927 he woke up in a square in Switzerland, with a large sum of money in his pocket and no memory of his identity or past career. He successfully rebuilt his life, but is troubled by not knowing how it began; Stratten impresses him as sufficiently discreet and enterprising to find out.

Arkadin takes Mily on yacht cruise, while Stratten travels searching for clues. He communicates with Raina and a romance forms between the two, much to Arkadin’s displeasure. From interviews with a strange series of people— the proprietor of a flea circus, a junk-shop owner, an impoverished noblewoman in Paris, and a heroin addict he tortures with withdrawal— Stratten learns that the pre-1927 Arkadin was involved in a sex trafficking ring in Warsaw, abducting girls and selling them into prostitution in South Africa. “Sophie” is the former leader of the ring and Arkadin’s old girlfriend, from whom he stole the money that he found in his pocket in Switzerland. She proves to be a relaxed, tolerant woman who remembers Arkadin with affection and has no intention of publicizing his past.

In the closing stages of the investigation, Stratten discovers that Arkadin has been following him and visiting all the witnesses. He confers with Raina, who startles him by saying that her father does not have amnesia; the entire pretext for hiring Stratten was a fraud.

Stratten attends Arkadin’s Christmas Eve party in Munich, where he learns the purpose of his investigation. Arkadin wished to cover up his criminal past, fearing that Raina might cease to love him.

He used Stratten to locate people with dangerous evidence, all of whom have been murdered. Mily is also dead and Stratten is framed for killing her, with the implication that he will be silenced before getting caught by the police.

Stratten hastens to find Jakob Zouk, the last surviving member of the sex trafficking ring, hoping to use him as weapon against Arkadin. Zouk grudgingly consents to go into hiding, but Arkadin traces and stabs him to death.

Stratten makes desperate new plan by buying the last seat on plane to Barcelona. Raina has agreed to meet him at the airport; there he intends to reveal her father’s secret, hoping it will break Arkadin’s spirit and make him abandon the plot.

Arkadin realizes Stratten’s plan and pursues him in private plane. At the airport, she is immediately summoned to the control tower to talk to her father on the radio. With no time to explain, Stratten convinces her to say, “it’s too late.”

The lie fills Arkadin with despair, and he commits suicide by hurling himself out of his plane. Raina cannot condemn Stratten for her father’s death, but their love affair ends.

In the concluding scene, she arranges for old boyfriend to drive her away from the airport, leaving Stratten alone.

Welles himself dubbed several vocal parts (including Mischa Auer’s lines), and actress Billie Whitelaw dubbed Paola Mori’s dialogue to cover thick Italian accent.

When Welles missed an editing deadline, producer Louis Dolivet took the film out of his hands and released several edits of the film, none of which were approved by Welles.

Adding to the confusion is novel of the same title that was credited to Welles, though Welles claimed he was unaware of the book’s existence until he saw a copy in a bookshop. Welles’s friend, French screenwriter Maurice Bessy, is considered to be the novel’s author.

In 1982 BBC interview, Welles described Mr. Arkadin as the “biggest disaster” of his life because of his loss of creative control.

The film was not released in the U.S. until 1962.

Countess Paola Di Girfalco, who played Arkadin’s daughter under her stage name of Paola Mori, would later become Welles’s third wife.

The film began Welles’s long relationship with Spain, where he lived for several periods in his life.

Released in some parts of Europe as Confidential Report, this film shares themes and stylistic devices with Carol Reed’s 1950 masterpiece, The Third Man.

Critical Status:

Japanese film director Shinji Aoyama listed Confidential Report as one of the greatest films of all time in 2012. He said, “No other movie is destructive as Confidential Report, which gives me different emotions every time I see it. Achieving this kind of indetermination in a film is the highest goal that I always hope for, but can never achieve.”

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) stated “No one could make much of a case for Welles’ abortive movie overall” but that the film contains “heartbreaking glimpses of the great man’s genius.”


Robert Arden in the American trailer.
Orson Welles as Gregory Arkadin
Robert Arden as Guy Van Stratten
Patricia Medina as Mily
Paola Mori as Raina Arkadin
Akim Tamiroff as Jakob Zouk
Grégoire Aslan as Bracco
Jack Watling as Bob, the Marquess of Rutleigh
Mischa Auer as the Professor
Peter van Eyck as Thaddeus
Michael Redgrave as Burgomil Trebitsch
Suzanne Flon as Baroness Nagel
Frederick O’Brady as Oskar
Katina Paxinou as Sophie Radzweickz Martinez
Tamara Shayne as the woman who hides Zouk
Terence Longdon as Mr. Arkadin’s Secretary
Gert Fröbe as a Munich Detective
Eduard Linker as a Munich Policeman
Manuel Requena as Jesus Martinez
Gordon Heath as the pianist in the Cannes bar
Annabel as the woman with a baguette in Paris
Irene López Heredia as Sofía (only in Spanish version)
Amparo Rivelles as Baroness Nagel (only in Spanish version)