If I count right (and it’s difficult), this was director Orson’s fourth of twelve released feature films. All the usual Wellesian eccentric production tales surround it, and the usual claims of studio mistreatment (an unapproved music track, an hour of footage removed), and the usual reports of poor reviews and low ticket sales. That stuff aside, we’re left with a great movie, full of idiosyncratic camerawork and acting (why oh why does Welles assign himself an Irish accent) and super dialogue.
Trophy wife Rita Hayworth (who’d just starred in Gilda) takes a fancy to Irish-Welles, sends her rich husband Arthur (becrutched Everett Sloane of The Patsy, The Enforcer) to hire Welles for their yachting expedition. Welles doesn’t mind being around Rita, but Arthur and his partner Grisby (Glenn Anders of Laughter, hamming it up) get under his skin with their power plays and upper-class bitchiness.
Welles tosses a sharks-eating-each-other metaphor at the rich folk, later is spotted smooching Rita at the aquarium as a visual tie-in. What distracted me from thoughts of the Steve The Octopus controversy from Citizen Kane was noticing that sometimes Welles and Hayworth seem to be conversing before real fish tanks, and sometimes before massive projection-screen blow-ups of fish tanks, so unrealistically out of proportion that it must have been intentional.
Back in the fold, Grisby offers a way out – he’ll give Welles enough money to run off with Rita in exchange if Welles helps Grisby fake his death, boasting about a murder for which the police could find no body. But the plan, as all movie plans must, goes wrong. Grisby kills Arthur’s private investigator (Ted de Corsia, killer who gets chased over the Williamsburg bridge in the climax of The Naked City) then turns up dead himself, Orson the obvious suspect. He escapes the cops and finds Rita, but she’s behind it all, stashes him in an abandoned funhouse – for no reason other than to provide outstanding visuals for the final mirror-room showdown. Arthur and Rita shoot each other down, and Welles is left behind.