The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Although I found it to be a flawed film, The Third Man left me wanting more. More film noir, more Orson Welles. Hence, I decided to watch The Lady from Shanghai, as it's considered by many Welles's best film noir. 

The film follows Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles), a young Irish sailor who, after a fateful encounter with a seductive woman, Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth), agrees to work on the yacht of her husband, criminal lawyer Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane). Things get a sinister turn when Bannister's law firm partner, George Grisby (Glenn Anders), comes aboard and makes Michael an offer he can't refuse: $5,000 to help him fake his death.

Plot-wise, The Lady from Shanghai is a mess. The film feels off right from the start as it is highly improbable that Michael and Elsa would meet the way they do and that he would end up working for her. What follows is a plot so complex that it's hard to follow, that's filled with holes --the studios should be blamed for this as a huge part of the film was left in the cutting room-- and has some pretty ridiculous twists. It's not compelling and completely fails to engage. 

The characters are a little more interesting, mainly because of who is playing who. Orson Welles usually plays intelligent and charismatic men that also happen to be the bad guys, but not this time. In The Lady from Shanghai, he is the victim. His character is a dim-witted, na├»ve man who, as Welles voiceover says, doesn't use his brain very much except to think of Elsa. It's an unusual role and therefore it was interesting seeing him. Also, him portraying O'Hara is very believable. His Irish accent though, not only it's terrible but it's also distracting and at times it makes it hard to understand him.

Rita Hayworth gives an excellent performance as Elsa, the film's femme fatale. The character seems to be genuinely vulnerable and childish at times; at others, she is cynical, the queen of manipulation. Her chemistry with Welles though is horrific, which is not a surprise considering they divorced shortly after the film was released.

Columbia Pictures
Everett Sloane gives a good performance as the husband, but Gleen Anders absolutely steals the show as George Grisby. He is such a bizarre, weird figure and his performance is very entertaining.

The Lady from Shanghai is beautifully filmed too. The black and white cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr. is atmospheric and evocative; lights and shadows are always on point; Hayworth's sex appeal is delivered every time she is on screen. Also, the musical score is good and the film has some memorable scenes --like the unrealistic and kind of humorous courtroom scene toward the end.


  1. I also found this film a mess and his accent horrible. There are moments, in the film, that are sheer brilliance like the fun house mirrors scene. Orson was, by this time, really disenchanted with his wife never mind that he never thought she was up to par with his brain, so he showed her in this light and cut her beautiful hair and had it dyed blond to take away her “goddess” image. He wasn’t very nice. It is still a film worth seeing but it’s not his best.

    1. I read about that somewhere. So awful of him!

  2. For me, this is one of Orson Welles' better films as I love what he does visually as well as in his approach to the suspense. It's one of his more accessible films in his work as a director.