The Lady From Shanghai (1947) Directed by Orson Welles

Are there really people who conduct their lives as elaborate games? Are there platinum blonds who besides money and beauty, can get every human being to fall in love with them if they want to? And are these femme fatales in fact the murderers in life? I don't know, but it seems like I'm missing the point here.

The Lady From Shanghai looks fabulous and it has brilliant scenes with funny lines for the actors. Unfortunately it also fails to touch me. It is difficult to watch this film from 1947 as anything but a summer style guide. My attempts to fish for some content leave me with the notion that surface is content. Yet, here that's not so satisfying.

I guess there was a time when cinema was truly a reality of its own. The gold, silver, diamonds, champagne, sailing around the Americas on a clipper, the exotic Acapulco – all of it offered the audience an escape. This time around I remain too far-removed. I am only watching as a bored film-buff waiting for the classic mirror scene at the end – it was magic.

New ideas and originality are rarely rewarded. Once those ideas become common place and put into practice, often over a long period of time, acceptance and a general air of looking back in a more positive light is often regarded as the perceived wisdom of hindsight. Orson Welles is a case in point. Citizen Kane broke the rule book for cinema. It took many years after its release to be rightly acknowledged as THE game changer. Meanwhile Orson, so precocious, casually brilliant and increasingly obese, would have the Hollywood toys taken away from him. It is hard to imagine, but after Citizen Kane they should have given him anything he wanted. Instead, Orson often lost control of his films (if he even finished them), and looked elsewhere (Europe) to pursue his goals. A visionary, a liar (or exaggerating storyteller, depending on your view) and the essence of a certain kind of cinema, Orson Welles was punk rock incarnate.

The Lady From Shanghai was one of the last times Orson got to play with the toys. This could have been his commercial breakthrough as director. Rita Hayworth was Welles' real-life wife at the time of shooting, and one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the day to boot. The Lady From Shanghai was shot in 1946, making it one of the first Film Noir pictures. After studio meddling (60 minutes was cut from Welles cut prior to release), it wasn't just Welles' vision that suffered, his marriage to Hayworth was over by the time the picture was finally released. But still, this is an intense ride. Amazingly shot in various locations, this murder mystery is a mess. At the same time, there is enough imagination and never seen that before bravura from Welles that makes The Lady From Shanghai always interesting and on occasion brilliant.

The Lady From Shanghai is dark and heavy with atmosphere. Dialogue (written by Welles) is often confusing and clich├ęd. It's also autobiography. Welles was too much of an artisan to make this just simple entertainment. However badly this has been cut (and it has been) enough of Welles vision survives. Hayworth (blond here) has never been sexier on screen. Welles has a strange Irish accent as our innocent yet flawed narrating hero. It's double-cross and be damned and take the money and run. The fun house hall of mirrors at the end is nowadays regarded as one of the great movie scenes. Welles can divide opinion. I'm a big fan. The Lady From Shanghai only increases my awe for him.


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