Confidential Report Review

Anthony Nield has reviewed the Region 0 release of Orson Welles’ Confidential Report, an unfairly neglected curiosity that has received a welcome budget release from ILC Prime.

Setting aside F For Fake, Confidential Report is perhaps Orson Welles’ most playful directorial effort. The story of Mr Arkadin, a man so elusive that even he cannot recall the events of his life prior to 1927, the film constantly toys with its audience by overloading them with information and producing sly twists and turns. Indeed, Welles himself delivers an opening voice-over which claims that the film is based on the true event of an unmanned aeroplane being discovered in the skies; yet ever since his 1938 radio adaptation of H.G.Wells’ The War of the Worlds, the man will forever be seen as the archetypal unreliable narrator.

Certainly, the elusiveness of Mr Arkadin seems to permeate the entire film (its alternative and much more fitting title is, of course, Mr Arkadin), and as such I did consider providing a complete plot synopsis to serve as a guide to the first-time viewer. And yet, the complexities and demands the film makes on its audience for their undivided attention are all part of its one-of-a-kind pleasures.

Despite this, there are a number of cinematic touchstones to guide the first-timer, the most obvious being Confidential Report’s connections with film noir. Yet even here complications arise, as the film is more in tune with Welles’ other forays into the genre (The Lady From Shanghai, Touch of Evil and, arguably, two of his Shakespeare adaptations, Macbeth and Othello) or those of émigré directors, such as Jean Renoir’s The Woman On The Beach or Anatole Litvak’s The Lady In The Car With The Glasses And The Gun (which similarly shares an amnesia plot-point) rather than the more typical likes of Anthony Mann’s Desperate or Raw Deal. Moreover, being made in 1955, Confidential Report occupies a place among the darker, weirder and bleaker likes of Kiss Me Deadly or Joseph H.Lewis’ The Big Combo, films situated at the tail end of film noir’s first cycle. Indeed, there is something wilfully modern and daring about the film, not to mention truly idiosyncratic.

Everything about Confidential Report seems to be slightly off-kilter. The queasy camera angles add a claustrophobic quality to even the brightest exterior shot, whilst the interiors utilising Welles’ famed low-angles to emphasise the ceilings still look remarkably unusual today, despite having been used since 1941’s Citizen Kane. Moreover, the decision to populate these areas with grotesques (the stunning masked ball, a flea circus) only adds to the displacement.

Welles also carries this idea over to the actors. His own role as Arkadin allows him to sport a remarkably angular quiff and beard combination, and Michael Redgrave as an antiques dealer is just as unhinged as his Maxwell Frere in the British horror classic Dead Of Night, yet here is unrecognisable from that or any other of his well-known performances. Elsewhere, Confidential Report offers a pre-Goldfinger Gert Frobe as a comical Russian policeman and various other international faces. Indeed, the only other American actor aside from Welles is Robert Arden, playing the lead role despite this being his first feature (perhaps further demonstration of the director’s sardonic humour which also permeates much of the dialogue).

It is this presence of the likes of Redgrave and Frobe that allows Confidential Report to serve as a precursor to the ‘international’ filmmaking that would become rife in the 1960s and 1970s; examples of which often starred Welles himself (The VIPs, Casino Royale, Waterloo). As said, this is not a film of its time, rather a true one-off.

The Disc

Sadly, Confidential Report arrives on disc in less than perfect form. The print is often blighted by scratches and on occasion certain shots seem a little too soft. Of course, this may in part be due to the way in which Orson Welles made films following his self-imposed exile from Hollywood; often filming over a number of years, and only when he had the required finance. The sound fares slightly better, though its flaws may also be due in part to the same reasons. That said, the monoaural DD 2.0 does allow the viewer to appreciate Paul Misraki’s wonderful score. As for extras, these are limited to a brief filmography for Orson Welles, which is identical to the one available on IMDB, and a gallery of 21 production stills. However, it is worth considering that Confidential Report is part of ILC Prime’s budget range, and as such £5 is more than reasonable for such a fantastic film, regardless of special features.

Anthony Nield

Updated: Oct 13, 2003

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