An ambitious film producer helps a director, actress, and writer advance their careers; but he damages their personal lives so much that they refuse to work with him again.
Director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), and writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) refuse to talk with Jonathan Shields calling from Paris. Producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) asks them to make a picture for Jonathan.
Fred remembers 18 years before. He meets Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), who is paying people to attend his father’s funeral. Fred begins working for Jonathan. Harry wins $6,351 from Jonathan at poker and hires him. Jonathan and Fred make B-movies for Harry, and their fright movie is popular. They meet Georgia, who disliked her actor father. Fred suggests they adapt a novel. Harry says it will fail but agrees. They get Gaucho Ribera (Gilbert Roland) as a Latin lover, and Harry gives it a million-dollar budget. Von Ellstein (Ivan Triesault) will direct, and Fred feels betrayed by Jonathan.
Harry says Fred has done well since. Georgia recalls how she got a one-line part with Gaucho for Jonathan. He visits her and asks her to make a test. He challenges her to get over her father, and she cries. Others don’t like the test, but Jonathan gives her the lead. He works with her, but she starts drinking and does not show up. Harry replaces her. Jonathan finds Georgia drunk and throws her in a swimming pool. She tells Jonathan she loves him and was afraid. She asks him to marry her, but he says no. Harry calls, and she listens as Jonathan says he will use Georgia. Jonathan knows how to handle her and kisses her. During filming he coaches her. After a wedding scene the extra Lila (Elaine Stewart) quarrels with Gaucho. Georgia does her last dramatic scene. After a party she calls on Jonathan, who says he wants to be alone. Georgia sees Lila is there. Jonathan says he likes to be cheap sometimes and tells her to get out. She drives recklessly.
Georgia tells Harry she won’t ever work for Jonathan again. Harry says he made her a star.
James teaches history and writes novels, and he adores his sexy wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame). James gets a call from Jonathan, and Rosemary persuades him to go to Hollywood. Jonathan asks James to write the script and makes him feel at home. After a party James and Rosemary quarrel and make up. Jonathan sees that James is not writing and takes him to Lake Arrowhead. They work together on a treatment. James learns that Gaucho and Rosemary died in a plane crash. Jonathan gets James to work. James wants to cast Georgia and talks with her. Jonathan argues with the director Von Ellstein, who suggests that Jonathan direct his own picture. When it is done, Jonathan says his direction ruined it. He asks Harry to shelve it. James learns that Jonathan used Gaucho to distract his wife.
Harry says James won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel. When Jonathan calls from Paris, the three walk out; but they listen on another phone.
This drama explores how ruthless Hollywood can be in the risky business of making movies. Some say this story reflects the career of David O. Selznick. The skill that can be used to get the best performance out of people can also be used to manipulate them.