The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

2009 #37
Orson Welles | 84 mins | TV | PG

The Lady from ShanghaiThe Lady from Shanghai is an Orson Welles film… which means his original 155-minute cut was forcibly cut down by over an hour, the studio insisted he include more beauty shots of Rita Hayworth, as well as a song for her to sing, and the temp score he provided to the composer was ignored in favour of something Welles hated. Yet for all that — not to mention Welles’ distractingly atrocious Irish accent — it’s still a highly enjoyable film.

The plot is thoroughly noirish and offers up its fair share of twists along the way, while the performances are able if largely not particularly memorable. The exception to this is Glenn Anders, giving a gloriously unhinged performance as Grisby, drawling his vowels with high-pitched lunacy. Though Welles was heavily criticised for cutting and dying Hayworth’s hair — to the extent that some blamed it for the film’s box office failure — it hardly matters (I thought she looked better anyway), and the enforced beauty shots actually work thematically toward the conclusion.

Even more attractive are the skills Welles brings directorially, on display throughout. Every key sequence provides something genuinely worth looking at while still relating the intricate plot, though the cruise offers many of the best bits — the hot, sweaty foreign climes are conveyed brilliantly, aided by sumptuous location photography, and these sunny scenes contrast nicely with the noir plot. Mention must also be made of the the famous finale in the Hall of Mirrors, a precisely shot sequence that provides a fitting close. Elsewhere, Welles’ sense of humour is pleasingly present, lending the trial scenes in particular a distinctive style that brings some ever-welcome variety.

Brisk (at under an hour-and-a-half) but engagingly complex, and rarely less than beautifully shot, The Lady from Shanghai may be a compromised version of Welles’ intentions, but his undeniable ability (at directing, not accents) means it remains a compelling film noir.

4 out of 5

The Lady from Shanghai is showing on BBC Four at 10pm on Saturday 22nd August as part of a Film Noir Weekend. See this post at From the Cheap Seats for more details.

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