johnlink ranks THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

I’m a fan of Orson Welles, though I am not as well-versed in his films as I would like to be. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is a movie which combines the Wellesian filming he is so iconic for with the noir style that was popular in Hollywood at the time. Add in his then-wife Rita Hayworth (she of Andy’s wall in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) who is an actress I’ve somehow never seen on film before, and this is a movie I was excited to finally get to.

I watched THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947) on 11.7.10. It was my first viewing of the film. TRAILER HERE

Like much of Orson Welles career, this film comes with a great backstory. Needing money to continue production on a play he was producing, Welles agreed to do this film for Columbia provided that producer Harry Cohn (who was not Welles best friend by any stretch) send him $55,000 that day. Welles had just finished the novel, and figured it was as good a choice as any, Cohn and Columbia wanted a guarantee of a Welles picture. All got what they wanted. Except they didn’t. Welles made his wife, Rita Hayworth, cut and dye her hair. She was Columbia’s most bankable star, and he wanted to stick it to them. Columbia responded by forcing extra Hayworth closeups be reshot, and by cutting the runtime of the film by more than 40%. But my favorite story is this one, via IMDB, if only for the puns:

“Near the end of shooting, Orson Welles told Columbia executives that he wanted a complete set repainted on a Saturday for shooting on Monday. Columbia exec Jack Fier told Welles it was impossible, because of union rules and the expense that would be incurred by calling in a crew of painters to work on a weekend. Welles and several friends broke into the paint department that Saturday and repainted the set themselves, and when they were finished they hung a banner on the set that read “The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fier Himself”. When the union painters arrived at work on Monday and saw that the set had been repainted by someone else, they refused to work, threw a picket line around the studio and threatened to stay on strike until a union crew was paid triple time for the work that had been done (which was why Fier had refused to authorize the work in the first place). To placate the union, Fier agreed to pay them what they wanted but put the cost on Welles’ personal bill. In addition, he had the union painters paint a banner saying “All’s Well That Ends Welles”.

But I digress. On to the movie itself…

Simply put, this is a wonderful movie to look at. Welles incorporated his usual visual flair in a way which has every scene making some sort of wonderful pictorial statement, most notably with an iconic fun-house mirror climax.

If there is one knock on this film, its that the pieces don’t always flow perfectly well together. Some of that has to do with studio cutting, I am sure, but the result can be disjointed. While the courthouse scenes are entertaining as heck, they feel more something out of DR. STRANGELOVE than this film. Welles, as always, throws visual and narrative jabs at an establishment, in this case trials and juries and judges and lawyers, but it becomes farcical in a way that doesn’t jive with the rest of the film.

This film is very noir in terms of its narration, femme fatale, and its murderous twists. But visually, Welles doesn’t follow the traditional norms. Mostly, there is much more daylight and brightness than occurs in your standard noir. That’s not a knock at all, in fact I found it refreshing to see a non-conformist noir.

Really, there isn’t too much to pick apart here. Some go after Welles’ Irish accent. It doesn’t bug me at all. Some knock the title because it doesn’t pertain to the story. I think it actually lends credibility to the theater scene, and hides the coming twist. In general, the acting is high quality. Welles and Hayworth play off each other wonderfully, and the tension they carried from their struggling marriage is translated wonderfully.

When people talk about Orson Welles, this isn’t always in the conversation immediately. But in my opinion, it should be. Sure, CITIZEN KANE is an amazing achievement and should be at the top of his list. But as a noir fan, I’d watch THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI before KANE anytime!





~ by johnlink00 on November 8, 2010.

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