The Lady From Shanghai

1948, Movie, NR, 87 mins


This remarkably inventive if decidedly confusing film noir stars Welles as a wandering Irishman named Michael O'Hara. One evening he saves Elsa Bannister (Hayworth) from a couple of thugs and, as a result, she is drawn to him like a shark to a swimmer. Her husband, famed lawyer Arthur Bannister (Sloane), offers to hire O'Hara as a deckhand for an upcoming cruise. O'Hara--who begins the film by saying, "When I start out to make a fool of myself, there's very little can stop me!"--accepts the offer, trying not to succumb to Elsa's advances along the way. Pretty soon O'Hara is on his way to making an A-1 fool out of himself, entering into an agreement with Bannister's goony, sweat-stained friend George Grisby (Anders), who offers O'Hara a sum of money to stage Grisby's own murder. When things start to misfire, O'Hara becomes, in fatalistic noir fashion, a puppet under the reckless control of everyone around him.

Replete with humorous self-deprecating narration, marvelous performances, and typically Wellesian visuals, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI dazzles as much as it obfuscates. The most amazing visual effect is the climactic Crazy House/Hall of Mirrors location, which is a wonder of surrealistic set design. With its complex and occasionally incoherent narrative, the film will stump many of those viewers who think they can easily decipher a mystery. Fans of Rita Hayworth, then Welles's wife, were shocked--as was studio mogul Harry Cohn--when they saw her long, luxuriant russet hair cut into a blonde bob. The yacht on which the characters sail belonged to Welles's friend Errol Flynn, and it is Flynn (unseen) who is sailing the vessel during the trip. An uneven film, perhaps, but one which only seems to improve with age. leave a comment

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