Orson Welles’ Favorite Film Idea Was Ruined In The Editing Room

Orson Welles always had specific ideas about how his films should be edited. He wrote a 58-page memo to Universal making shot-by-shot suggestions on how to cut together his 1958 movie “Touch of Evil,” which the studio outright disregarded. But the biggest editing debacle of his entire career came with his 1955 effort “Mr. Arkadin.”

Written and directed by Welles, who also starred as the titular billionaire, “Mr. Arkadin” was envisioned as a series of intricate flashbacks that reveal the plot’s various twists and turns. The narrative follows one of Orson Welles’ best characters, Russian Oligarch Gregory Arkadin, as he attempts to cover up his past as a sex trafficker in Poland. He convinces American smuggler Guy Van Stratten that he suffers from amnesia and needs help piecing his life together. As Strattan travels Europe on his mission, he uncovers the terrible truth and learns that the billionaire is having everyone he’s spoken to killed. When filming was complete, “Mr. Arkadin” went through a series of re-edits, resulting in multiple versions, all of which Welles was unhappy with, and one of which had removed the flashback element altogether.

Jonathan Rosenbaum, who edited the 1992 book “This Is Orson Welles” — a compilation of conversations between Welles and fellow writer/director Peter Bogdanovich — wrote an essay entitled “The Seven Arkadins,” in which he breaks down the seven versions of the film. Criterion maintains there are “at least eight ‘Mr. Arkadins’: three radio plays, a novel, several long-lost cuts, and the controversial European release known as ‘Confidential Report.'” There does seem to be some confusion over how many cuts of this movie there actually are, but Welles was certain that none of them measured up.

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