The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

Obsessed with a beautiful woman, a seaman becomes embroiled in a murder plot.

Review by Jason Abbey

Directed by: Orson Welles

Starring: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia

Orson Welles and that other famed maverick Sam Peckinpah are directors who have made stone cold classics in their time but have also been dogged by arguments, studio interference and arrogance that have scuppered or at worst interfered with their striking individual visions.

The Lady from Shanghai is a case in point. It has a fairly generic bad girl meets patsy plot that has fuelled many a b-movie noir, but through the hot house prism of Welles' fervid imagination you have something twisted and corrupt as decadent and decayed as Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane), hot shot lawyer and crippled spouse of Elsa (Rita Hayworth). That any of Welles' original vision remains is something of a miracle. The film has a boringly generic score, and its radical editing reduced Welles' initial two hour plus running time into a 90 minute no frills programmer.

What was impossible to eradicate was Welles' bravura camera work and a way with set pieces that even the most scissor happy of studios could not completely compromise. Be it the hugely truncated but still woozy abandoned fairground climax or the surreal lysergic fairy tale court room scenes. There is also the sense of dislocation, taking place in multiple countries during the Bannisters' boat cruise, the relationship developing in a staccato manor always under the eyes of Bannister and his sleazy minions.

Welles seems less interested in the dime store plotting of The Lady from Shanghai (the only real shaking up of formula is to have both the patsy and femme fatale both two steps ahead of the cuckold) but more with playing with character. Making cinema's most famous red head a bleach blonde was either a way of ringing the changes or a 'fuck you!' to Columbia President Harry Cohn. Hayworth plays the ambivalent character well, neither stereotypically hard as nails or breathy sex kitten. She has settled for the easy option in life but you are never really certain of her motives. You also get first class sleazy support from Glenn Anders as George Grisby, a cohort of Arthur who sets the conspiracy up when he asks Welles' Michael O’Hara to fabricate his murder. Sweaty and wheedling and eating the screen every time he appears, he's the kind of person you would only trust on a Tequila and Mescaline bender.

In among all this high class thesping there is one weak link; unfortunately it’s the director, or else he would have sat him down and told him to be done with the bejesus and begorah Irish accent. It adds nothing to the drama, makes the narration irritating as all hell, and there is a nagging feeling that Welles himself thinks he's nailed it as the blarney spouting ne’er do well. Instead it’s rather akin to Father Dougal being parachuted into The Big Sleep as a last-minute replacement for Bogie. It may make it easier to sell the deceit but it makes it harder to sell the romance.

It’s to the film's immense credit that despite these shenanigans it still passes muster, if not as a classic then certainly a very respectful entry in Welles' B List. See it for the masterful control of mise en scene, and the gallery of character actors oozing sweat and corruption. Just ignore the elevator music and the accents, which make The Quiet Man look like the high point of neo realism.

It ain’t the quantity, it’s the quality. Here you get separate interviews with Welles expert Simon Callow and interviewee and friend Peter Bogdanovich spilling the beans on the rocky inception of the Lady. A fairly shallow interview with Rita Hayworth on French television as well as a Joe Dante trailer commentary. Add to the mix an audio commentary from Bogdanovich, and trailer and booklet, and you have something close to perfection considering that there are no longer many around to tell tales. Another quality release from Powerhouse with rich deep blacks and crisp whites befitting a 4k restoration. Also contains subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The Lady from Shanghai is available on blu-ray now from Powerhouse Indicator.