Last year I was re-watching Orson Welles’ “Mr. Arkadin” aka “The Confidential Report”, one of his later (1955), maddening, wandering-in-Europe movies full of little imperfections, gaps in continuity & miscasting. Fortunately, it is also brilliant in concept, ideas & surprisingly, considering the difficulty he was having in pulling resources together at that time, craft.
Time Out’s capsule review goes:
“Mr Arkadin assumed an equivalent patina of myth and legend to that cultivated by its central character, non-naturalistically posited somewhere between Kane and God. Arkadin is the powerful financier who employs his own researcher to piece together his apparently forgotten past, to find a shabby Rosebud to dramatise his by-now bored puppeteering. Flamboyantly melodramatic, it’s a playfully egocentric display of egocentrism and a magician’s perverse revelation of his own trickery. Failure or not, it’s irresistible.”
For the record, my theory is that Welles, always the playful jester, created Arkadin as an avatar of Charles Foster Kane, if things hadn’t turned out so bad for him. He even has a Xanadu-like house & casts his wife Paola Mori as his daughter (!). And like Susan Alexander Kane, she is spectacularly bad at her art.
But back to the title. I was reading in the liner notes, rather booklet, inside Criterion’s lavishly produced 3-disc edition of Arkadin about the origins of the character. A few years back I had bought a collection of Orson Welles’ radio showswhere I found one of the episodes from 1952, further adventures of Harry Lime from the Third Man movie, was essentially an early version of Mr. A. So, like the way-over-his-head Guy Van Stratten of the movie, I was also searching for the murky origins of Mr. Arkadin. In the liner notes, according to Maurice Bessy, who wrote (or ghostwrote, or stole the writing credit for, depending on who you believe) the tie-in novel of the movie:
Arkadin was based on Basil Zaharoff… Born, according to his own conflicting accounts, in 1849, 1850 & 1851, in Odessa & Constantinople, Zaharoff was a wealthy, charming & sinister arms merchant, whose biographies carry such melodramatic subtitles as Peddler Of Death, High Priest Of War, &, shades of Harry Lime, Mystery Man of Europe.He transacted many of clandestine operations Van Stratten ascribes to Arkadin, such as secretly selling weapons to both sides of international conflicts, & buried his past under masks & myths… A few years before his transformation into Arkadin, Zaharoff also provided the original for the character of Basil Bazarov, who circles the globe in his private plane for Korrupt Arms GMBH, in the 1945 Tintin comic adventure ‘The Broken Ear’.
Aha, Tintin! Broken Ear! This was familiar territory. I vaguely recalled the character & quickly took out my trusted bound volume of Tintin adventures. In the two panels that I have scanned below, one can see Zaharoff/Bazarov’s business practice (which I am sure still survives in some form, at least in the Iron Man movie if nowhere else) & his private plane, which however he doesn’t pilot himself, unlike Mr. Arkadin.
“The Broken Ear is set in a fictional South American dictatorship, San Theodoros. However, it uses this setting to depict political issues that were important in the 1930s.
The mutually disastrous conflict between San Theodoros and the neighbouring state of Nuevo-Rico is called the “Gran Chapo War”, a reference to the Gran Chaco War of 1932 to 1935 between Bolivia and Paraguay (“Gran Chapo” is a pun on the French term “grand chapeau”, meaning “big hat”). Oil companies born from the Standard Oil and the Shell Oil company provoked that war (the Standard-derived companies backing Bolivia, Shell backing Paraguay) in order to get their hands on prospected oil fields. This view is reflected in the shady businessman Trickler who tries to bribe Tintin and, when that fails, resorts to attempted murder and false evidence to get rid of him. In another parallel, the Chapo plains, just like the real Chaco, turn out not to have oil after all.
The arms dealer Basil Bazarov, who sells weapons to both sides, is based on the real life Basil Zaharoff. In the English translation, he works for ‘Korrupt Arms’, a pun on ‘corrupt’, but also on Krupp, the German arms manufacturers. When a member of an airport groundcrew remarks that Bazarov has a private plane it is no idle comment. Air travel in the 1930s was in its infancy and extremely expensive and only the very wealthy (such as an arms dealer like Bazarov) could have afforded such a luxury as their own aircraft.”
Some more screenshots from Arkadin are here: