Orson Welles’s tawdry, shark-infested noir is a fully mixed-up movie: You can’t call it his (even though he directed, cowrote and starred) since massive studio interference botched the filmmaker’s original plan. Harry Cohn and Columbia Pictures wanted a sexy noir starring Welles’s then-estranged wife, Rita Hayworth, hot off Gilda (1946). Welles, in turn, resisted close-ups and dialed the emotional temperature down to subzero. It’s hard to know who was right.
Sometimes these types of clashes produce genius. In this case, it led to an awkward, strained stalemate, out of which enough arresting weirdness survives to make it worth our while. The plot—about a drifting yacht crewman (Welles), a bent criminal attorney (Everett Sloane) and his bored wife (Hayworth)—isn’t especially brilliant, but Welles did notice something special about the deceptive nature of shiny surfaces. The thriller’s final sequence, set in a hall of mirrors, is cinema’s peak moment of overt style, impossible not to read as Welles’s smashing of his own celebrity. Be warned: This is a film that collects obsessives.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf