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USA 1948
Directed by
Orson Welles
87 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Lady From Shanghai

Although screenwriter/producer/director and star Orson Welles loads his film noir with lots of baroque stylistic flourishes, most notably in a bravura scene at the end, shot in a carnival hall of mirrors, dramatically the film doesn’t quite come off,

Welles plays Michael O'Hara, a colourful adventurer who meets the beautiful Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) one night in Central Park. He saves her from being molested and she invites him to come work on her yacht.  It turns out that she is married to a famous criminal lawyer (Mercury Theater regular, Everett Sloane) Arthur Bannister, a cripple. Michael finds himself in a world of twisted emotions that nearly costs him his life.

Typical of Welles the production was a troubled one.  Designed as a vehicle for his then-wife Rita Hayworth (the marriage was over by the time the film was released), Columbia boss Harry Cohn didn’t like what Welles was doing with the material and the film was taken out of the director’s hands and extensively re-edited although that didn’t stop it from failing at the box office.

As we have it, the principal problem is that the relationship between Michael and Elsa is curiously distant and particularly given the climatic reveal at the end, Hayworth in her short blonde wig does nothing to suggest a femme fatale quality, her extreme close ups making her look more like a Garbo-esque innocent and Welles' jaded narration never quite jells with what we see on screen.  That the plot is rather schematic doesn’t help whilst Glenn Anders as Bannister's business partner must have one of the most irritating voices heard on screen since the early years of sound (one may also question the wisdom of Welles’s Oirish brogue). The film impresses in parts but disappoints as a whole.

FYI:  The yacht that is used, Zaca, belonged to Errol Flynn




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