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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 film's end, shot in a carnival hall of mirrors, dramatically the film doesn’t quite come off,

Welles plays Michael O'Hara, a colourful Irish 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 and rich criminal lawyer Arthur Bannister (Mercury Theater regular, Everett Sloane), a cripple in more ways than one. Michael finds himself in a world of mis-shaped emotions that nearly cost him his life.

Typical of Welles the production was a troubled one. Designed buy him 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, in typical fashion, 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 climactic 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 whilst Welles' jaded narration never quite jells with what we see on screen. That the plot is rather schematic, no doubt due to losing some sixty minutes in the re-edit,doesn’t help but on the other hand the court-room scenes are overly wordy and drawn out with the scenes in Chinatown seemingly contrived to fulfill the title's promise.

All up, 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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