Bracco, the victim of a waterfront stabbing in Naples,
confides the names Gregory Arkadin and Sophie to Mily, the girlfriend of Guy
Van Stratten, an unscrupulous American cigarette smuggler. These
names, asserts Bracco, will prove the key to a fortune. Learning that
Arkadin is a wealthy financier, Van Stratten obtains an introduction through
the magnate's sheltered daughter, Raina.
Arkadin engages Van Stratten to reconstruct his life before
1927, at which time he lost his memory. So empowered, the American
sets out on a quest, during which he encounters a Copenhagen flea trainer,
an Amsterdam fence masquerading as an antiquary, a Polish baroness, a French
secret service agent, Sophie, Arkadin's former partner in a white slave
operation (now married to a retired general in Mexico), and Zouk, a Munich
tailor. All are subsequently murdered, as is Mily. Van Stratten
learns that they are the victims of Arkadin's henchmen and he himself is the
financier's dupe. To forever bury his unsavory past from his daughter,
Arkadin has used Van Stratten to locate all former associates.
Realizing that he is in imminent danger, Van Stratten contacts Raina, who
attempts to radio her father. Convinced that she has learned the
truth, Arkadin jumps from his private plane.