I have been gradually making my way through the filmography of the great Akira Kurosawa. Thanks to some bargain eBay purchases, the public library, and a three month subscription to Hulu, I should be able to access just about every one of his films except, I think, Dersu Uzala. I recently watched his adaptation of Gorky’s play The Lower Depths. That was the first time seeing a Kurosawa film that I didn’t take much away from it. It contains a lot of scenes of miserable folks wallowing in a squalid tenement, with the only real plot elements coming from a love triangle (or maybe a love rectangle) between a thief, the landlord, the landlord’s wife, and her sister. To me, it was a great example of the difficulty even a master filmmaker like Kurosawa can have in translating a stage work into a successful film. Dramatic forms that seem so similar (plays and narrative films) are really far apart it seems in their means of artistic expression.
In 1949, the Warner Brothers cartoon studio was at their peak. They had established most of their enduring and beloved stable of characters, and were building on the legacy of legendary directors such as Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and Frank Tashlin. The post war years saw the establishment of a more settled arrangement of working relationships in the four (reduced to three in 1947) units under the direction of Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob McKimson, and Art Davis. They still had the fantastic decade of the 50s ahead of them, but around this time sees where the comic formulas, peculiarly witty dialogue, and animation designs really crystallized into the most recognizable feeling, before suffering a very slow decline through the late 50s and into the 60s. And the biggest star of the Warner stable, capturing all of these traits in the many films he starred in, was Bugs Bunny.
Mr. Arkadin, the film, may be regarded as a minor work in Orson Welles’s oeuvre, but his characterization of Mr. Arkadin provides a vehicle for some of his most subtle ruminations on the nature of evil. The film, released in various versions around the world starting in 1955 (and sometimes given the alias Confidential Report) is a convoluted potboiler, relatively unremarkable in the basic outline of the scenario, and steeped in the noir and crime fiction tradition. But through the distinctive editing, camera angles, and stylistic flourishes in the costuming and makeup, Welles gives us more than a first glance might afford. We find an exploration of sin, duplicity, and the grotesque that makes us question what makes a person a villain, and perhaps implicitly looks for a spiritual source for redemption.