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International smuggler and jewel thief Aristides Mavros, who is a descendant of generations of thieves, lives a luxurious lifestyle in his exquisitely appointed Lisbon mansion surrounded by paid female companions, whom he calls "secretaries." He is assisted by two menservants, Serafim, who handles the more sinister duties required by his employer, and Edgar Selwyn, an effete house servant. Although Mavros maintains a friendly relationship with Lisbon's police inspector, Joao Casimiro Fonseca, the cautious policeman keeps an official file on him, along with other "aliens" living in the city. Fonseca also keeps an eye on Capt. Robert John Evans, an American he suspects of smuggling but has been unable to catch red-handed. When Evans docks his speed boat Orca carrying a lucrative haul of smuggled perfume, Mavros orders Serafim to bring him to the mansion. Evans is at first sidetracked by the sight of Maria Maddalena Masanet, a young woman in Mavros' employ, but Mavros gets Evans' attention by offering him $10,000 to do a job. Mavros explains that he has bribed Communist officials to release Lloyd Merrill, an elderly, American multi-millionaire who has been detained against his will behind the Iron Curtain for two years. Lloyd's much younger wife Sylvia has tired of waiting for the U.S. State Department to negotiate a release and has agreed to pay Mavros a large sum of money to free her husband. Aware that the Orca is one of the fastest boats in the area, Mavros asks Evans to pick up Lloyd and deliver him to Lisbon. Inspired by adventure and money, Evans agrees to assist in Lloyd's rescue, and Mavros sends him to meet Sylvia to complete the deal. Sylvia is checking in at Lisbon's Pallacio Hotel when she is confronted by Phillip Norworth of the U.S. State Department. He is unhappy to learn that she has privately arranged for Lloyd's release, fearing that she will disturb fragile international relations. Later that evening at a cantina, Sylvia tells Evans that she has never met Mavros in person and is uncomfortable about moving forward with the deal. Upon learning about her discomfort, Mavros invites Sylvia and Evans to dine with him. After dinner, Mavros meets privately with Sylvia to suggest delicately that, for an additional price, he could arrange for Lloyd to die during the trip to Lisbon, thus leaving her in control of her husband's fortune. Although Sylvia feigns offense at Mavros' offer, the older thief has correctly assessed her personality. Her real motive for freeing Lloyd is fear that he will perish without leaving proof of his death, thereby forcing her to wait the required seven years to inherit his fortune. While Mavros and Sylvia are together, Serafim jealously watches as Maria agrees to meet Evans for dinner the next day. Over dinner, Maria explains to Evans that she took the job with Mavros because she was destitute. As they walk through the city, Serafim, who bears an unrequited passion for Maria, tries to shoot Evans, but eventually gives up when he realizes that the police are also trailing the man. Maria and Evans continue conversing until early morning. Serafim, hoping to turn Mavros against Evans, informs his employer that Maria spent the night with the sailor. At Mavros' suggestion, Evans takes Sylvia boating to pass the time before he is to pick up Lloyd. Still hurting from a previous romance, Evans keeps an emotional distance from Sylvia, but as they tour various sites in the area, a mutual attraction develops. Sylvia tells him about her impoverished childhood in Ireland, from which Lloyd provided an opportunity for escape. On their return trip, Sylvia shows interest in continuing the romance, but Evans sees no point, as she is married. When she vaguely suggests that she could be free, Evans mistakenly thinks she means divorce. Sylvia, who has been thinking about Mavros' offer to kill Lloyd, mentions Mavros' plan to Evans. Shocked by her cold-bloodedness, Evans loses all interest in her, and Sylvia later arranges with Mavros to put the "alternative plan" into effect. On the night that Lloyd is to be rescued, Mavros orders Serafim to accompany Evans and carry out the murder. He also gives Serafim permission to arrange a fatal accident for Evans. Overhearing the conversation, Maria tries to warn Evans, but he refuses to change his plans. Even though Maria explains that she loves him and that the rejected Serafim wants to kill him, Evans condescendingly sends her away. After arriving at the boat, Serafim insists that Evans leave behind his crewman and the two set sail. Worried about Evans' safety, Maria reports to Fonseca, who has been explaining to Norworth that he has arrested a man who can identify Evans as a smuggler. Fonseca listens to Maria's concern that Serafim will kill Evans, but cannot take action without knowing where the boat is heading. At her suggestion, they proceed to Mavros' mansion, but the wily smuggler refuses to provide further information. After the frail Lloyd is delivered to them on the boat, Serafim attempts to poison the old man, but Lloyd refuses to drink the tainted brandy. Serafim almost succeeds in suffocating Lloyd with a pillow, but Evans catches him in the act and starts a fight. After escaping to the deck, Serafim tries to corner and shoot Evans in the cabin, but Evans shoots back with a blowtorch, causing Serafim to fall to his death in the sea. Later, Evans delivers Lloyd to the disappointed Sylvia, who is waiting at the mansion. Evans discretely warns Sylvia to keep Lloyd healthy by publicly announcing that he is taking a "strong personal interest" in Lloyd's future. Fonseca then brings in the arrested man to identify Evans as a smuggler, but the man instead points to Mavros. As Fonseca arrests the old thief, Mavros congratulates Evans for having "loyal colleagues." Evans, who plans to give up smuggling and return to a conventional life, asks Maria to join him.