Sunday, 25 May 2014
Movie Review: The Lady From Shanghai (1947)
A ponderous film noir, The Lady From Shanghai enjoys some brilliant directorial touches from Orson Welles, but is otherwise saddled with dingy characters and blurry motivations.
As the journey progresses, the earthy Michael finds the Bannisters and Grisby distasteful and conceited. Nevertheless, Michael and Elsa are soon attracted to each other. But the trip takes a turn towards the bizarre when Grisby asks Michael to help fake his death for an insurance windfall, in return for $5,000. With his lust for Elsa heating up, Michael is unsure who to trust and what his next move should be, especially with private investigator Sidney Broome (Ted de Corsia) nosing around the affairs of the Bannisters.
A rushed production delivered by Welles to Columbia Pictures as part of a financial commitment, The Lady From Shanghai stutters its way through the fog of a poorly defined plot. Despite containing plenty to admire, the film is fundamentally lacking a gravitational focus. Elsa, Arthur and Grisby all seem to be plotting something, but their plans remain opaque for far too long, leaving a group of sordid people behaving badly towards each other and dragging the dim Michael into their wreckage.
The Lady From Shanghai does boast one of Rita Hayworth's most attractive performances. Welles transforms his wife into a short-haired blonde ready to deal in plenty of lust and even more lies, and Hayworth responds with a buzz of understated voltage, allowing Elsa to smoulder with frustration and intent, often in fetching swimwear onboard the Bannister's yacht. Everett Sloane as Bannister and Glenn Anders as Grisby benefit from Welles' close-ups and shadows, filling the screen with a nasty partners' feud heading towards a showdown.
And it's ultimately Welles' trademark camerawork and mastery of shadows that gives the movie its appeal. Most of the scenes that matter in The Lady From Shanghai happen at night, as darkness envelops Michael's world, and Welles plays with light, fire and crisp contrasts. The film ends with a famous gunfight staged in a disorienting funhall of mirrors, Welles adding infinite repetitive reflectivity to his repertoire. Michael O'Hara was not bright enough to steer clear of his shady new acquaintances, and his penance is to see them in a nightmare of multiples, guns blazing.
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