Friday, February 10, 2012

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)



“When I start out to make a fool of myself, there's very little can stop me. If I'd known where it would end, I'd never let anything start... if I'd been in my right mind, that is. But once I'd seen her, I was not in my right mind for some time.”

            There is no denying that Orson Welles contributed greatly to film history. The man knew how to pick and write a good story and create a fantastic world the story takes place in. It is just a shame that the studios he worked for never let his films come to full potential the way he envisioned them to be. One film Welles made where he was writer, producer, director, and star that suffered because of the studio system is The Lady from Shanghai.
            The story is told through a flashback through a narrative by the main character Michael O’Hara (Welles). One night while walking through the park he sees a beautiful lady taking a carriage ride by herself. Michael says he never would have talked to her if he had known she was trouble. But at the time he was so taken with how beautiful she was he did. When he leaves the carriage the woman and the driver get attacked by robbers in the park and Michael saves them. The woman’s name is Elsa (Rita Hayworth). He tells Elsa of all his travels around the world and how he had been in prison in Spain for killing a man. Elsa tells him “If you’re a sailor Michael I may have a job for you. Would you like to work for me? I would.”
            The next day while at an employment agency a man comes looking for Michael. The man is Arthur Bannister and he wants Michael to work on his boat. Michael is hesitant because Bannister is a well known criminal lawyer who gets his clients off no matter how guilty they are. The two men and some of Michael’s friends go out for drinks where Bannister winds up drunk. Michael does not want to leave the man alone so he takes him back to his boat. He sees that Arthur’s wife is Elsa and he cannot understand why he took the job only that he was a fool. Elsa and Michael begin a small affair. One day they are caught kissing by Arthur’s law partner George Grisby.  
            The plot is a little complicated and I am not about to go into an explanation. I understand it because it was neatly explained at the end but as I was watching it I was like, what the hell. Sometimes when a plot gets complicated and I cannot understand it I get bored and distracted but I could not stop watching this film. Orson Welles’s direction is brilliant he uses so many different camera angles and different kinds of close ups that just keep your attention.
            The world knows Rita Hayworth as a red head but in this film she is platinum blonde. I think she looked absolutely stunning in this film she is the reason why I could not look away and my attention was held. Harry Cohn the head of Columbia was furious that Welles was able to influence Hayworth to dye and cut her hair. He ordered Welles to go back and film close up “glamour shots” of her and I have to say they were some of the best shots of the whole film. She looked incredibly gorgeous in the close up on the boat and in the court room near the end. Hayworth to me is known more for her beauty than her acting but I thought she was excellent here this is the best film I have seen her in yet. I am not a fan of Orson Welles as an actor but he did a very good job. I have read some reviews that slam him for his bad Irish accent but I cannot fake one very well so to me he did a good a job. I find Welles to be too much of a ham but here he was just right. Also some reviewers said there is no chemistry between Hayworth and Welles, at the time they were still married but estranged. I think you can see some chemistry between them.
            Welles created one of the greatest film endings when his character gets thrown into a fun house at an amusement pier. At the end of his journey through the fun house Elsa is there waiting for him and brings him into a house of mirrors to talk. Arthur shows up and he and Elsa have a shoot out. The way this ending was filmed was incredible especially the way she filmed Rita Hayworth at the end was genius.
            The Lady from Shanghai flopped upon its release. Whenever Orson Welles would bring up the film people would go quiet or would change the subject. Harry Cohn delayed the release of the film a year and felt the reason for the flop was because Rita Hayworth dyed and cut her hair. I liked The Lady from Shanghai I did not find it slow at all as some reviewers will say the beginning is. The story and the double crossing are great. The Lady from Shanghai is one of the best directed films I have ever seen and one of the best noirs to have been made. This is a great testament to Orson Welles as a filmmaker.