The whole thing sounds like a joke conceived and executed by one of the cinema’s most devilish pranksters. Orson Welles began shooting Mr. Arkadin in 1954 from a script adapted from a series of Harry Lime radio plays that Welles had produced for the BBC the year before. As was the case with so many of his other works — The Magnificent Ambersons, It’s All True, Touch of Evil — Welles never finished, or was never allowed to finish, a final cut. So now, through the often less-than-deferential efforts of various distributors, there exist five completed versions of the film, two of them dubbed into Spanish, with no way to determine definitively which one should hold primacy over the others. To further complicate matters, Welles also wrote a novelization of the film, or else hired French author Maurice Bessy to do one. Either way, the only version of the book that now exists is an English translation of a French translation of the original English text. Almost as a punch line, all this doubt and confusion swirl around a sprawling, baroquely shot, pulp crime story that opens with a desperate man imploring another, “You gotta get this straight: If I’m going to save your miserable life for you, you’re going to have to understand this story.” In an attempt to set the story of Mr. Arkadin straight — or as straight as is humanly possible — Criterion has put together a box set that doubles as an impressive work of film history. The three-disc release includes two previously extant versions of the film, along with a third, newly reconstructed one, dubbed “The Comprehensive Cut,” which draws from all available materials to present the longest released version yet. In liner notes, commentaries and interviews, J. Hoberman, Jonathan Rosenbaum, James Naremore, Simon Callow and Peter Bogdanovich all weigh in on the film’s storied production and their preferred cut. And as if that weren’t enough, Jim Thompson biographer Robert Polito contributes a new preface to the Mr. Arkadin novel, which comes as part of the release.

—Paul Malcolm

Other recommended new releases: The Chess Players (DVD); Cross of Iron: Widescreen Special Edition (DVD); Mother and Son (DVD); Out of Sight: Collector’s Edition (DVD); The Second Circle (DVD). VHS-DVD: Hostel; Mrs. Henderson Presents. DVD: Americano; A Bigger Splash; Breakfast on Pluto; The Buccaneers; Captain Beefheart: Under Review; Carbide and Sorrel; Farewell, Home Sweet Home; The Gleiwitz Case; The Laurel and Hardy Collection: The Devil’s Brother, Bonnie Scotland; Michael Palin: Sahar; The Mill on the Floss; Monday Morning; Moonstruck: Deluxe Edition; One Bright Shining Moment; Remington Steele: Season 3; The Sentinel: The Complete First Season; Syriana; Thundercats: Season 2, Volume 1; Velvet Underground: Under Review; Yes: 9012 Live.

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