Review: The Lady from Shanghai – Orson Welles

The Lady from Shanghai, written and directed by Orson Welles, is an arty film noir with a climax to die for.

Beginning in New York, Elsa (Rita Hayworth), one of the most beautiful femme fatales the cinematic screen has ever seen, has arrived from Shanghai, only to be attacked by a gang of hoodlums and subsequently rescued by the ever-enigmatic Orson Welles.

After a series of persuasive events, Michael (Welles) becomes a seaman aboard Elsa’s wealthy criminal defence attorney husband, Arthur Bannister’s, yacht. Of course the plot thickens when Bannister’s law partner offers Michael $5000 to kill him, but not really kill him.

The film spirals into a series of double-crossers double-crossing the double-crossed, or something like that. Though not the perfect crime scenario – owing to various plot holes and vague character motivations – interjections of black comedy and Welles’ strange attempt at an Irish accent definitely compensate.

What is most striking about The Lady from Shanghai is its artistic visual style. It may lack some of the stark contrasts of lighting that Welle’s picks up in his later film noir, The Third Man (1949), but it certainly holds its own in terms of beautiful and innovative shots.

The climactic shoot-out in a hall of mirrors, was distressingly cut from Welle’s original 20-minute sequence to less than 3 minutes, but is nonetheless a visual feast of gorgeously perplexing reflections and refractions.


The Lady from Shanghai, dir. Orson Welles (1947, USA)


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