The Lady From Shanghai (1947) – Orson Welles


Welles takes us in to the film noir world as he writes, directs and stars in this adaptation of Sherwood King’s novel; the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Citizen Kane.

Welles plays Michael O’Hara, replete with Irish accent, a rough and tumble sailor, who has made some mistakes and questionable actions in his past. He is intrigued by the alluring beauty of Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth), and quickly finds himself mired in danger, murder, and suspense.

When O’Hara is convinced to sign on to the Bannister’s ship, he meets Elsa, her husband, a brilliant, but off-putting, and honestly, rather creepy, lawyer, Arthur (Everett Sloane), and their entourage. All of whom seem to think they are better than O’Hara, but none of them are above using him, or attempting to manipulate him for their own ends.

In fact, as the film progresses, O’Hara gets pulled into a scheme to murder Arthur’s partner, George Grisby (Glenn Anders), even going so far as signing a confession. Grisby, who is the one doing the convincing, says he is doing it for the money, he’s going to fake his own death, claim the money and disappear. If there’s no body, there’s no murder, even if there is a confession.

But Grisby is caught up in events that he’s being manipulated by as well, and soon Michael is in too deep, can’t tell which way is up, and should definitely not trust anyone around him, especially a femme fatale like Elsa.

Lady From Shanghai Mirror

Welles has crafted a fascinating escape into the noir world, though admittedly one filled with plot holes and odd character reactions, one filled with people who the law can’t touch, a world that you can’t trust anyone, least of all a beautiful woman, and there’s no such thing as a good guy, because everyone has dark secrets in their past. The pacing, the editing, the film composition is all tight, and well-crafted, Welles is master in those senses, but I’m honestly not sure where I come down on his Irish accent, it’s either just bad, or outright horrid.

I do love the final funhouse sequence though, and the way all of that works out.

Apparently Welles’ original cut of the film ran two and a half hours, but the studio cut it down to an hour and half. That I think is too bad, because there are times when it feels disjointed, and a more expansive cut may have made a more immersive and beguiling journey.

Still, as part of watching a collection of Welles’ films, it allows me to keep it in context of the filmmaker himself, and honestly, I am quite looking forward to settling in and rewatching A Touch of Evil very shortly.

What’s your favorite noir film?







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