The Lady from Shanghai
Directed by Orson Welles
A romantic drifter gets caught between a corrupt tycoon and his voluptuous wife.
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★★★★½ review by sydney on Letterboxd
as gorgeous, scandalous, and twisty as i'd hoped, much funnier than i ever could have expected. wild as hell. highlights: mirrors (duh), aquarium, hayworth hats, juror sneezing repeatedly for some reason, sweaty face close-ups, the second most harrowing shark monologue of all time delivered in one of the most irritating faux accents of all time.
★★★★ review by Thomas McCallum on Letterboxd
Performances : 7.2/10
Story : 9.3/10
Production : 7.7/10
Overall : 8.06/10
The Lady from Shanghaiis easily the worst Orson Welles production that I've seen. The camera work doesn't blow me away...which isn't necessarily fair, as it really is fine, I'm just used to so much more from Welles. The lighting doesn't quite work for the genre and the score was out of place. Also I didn't really love his performance as "black irish". The accent just seemed so awkward and forced. However, besides Citizen Kane this film is probably Orson Welles' best story. It twists around more than most Noirs dare to do and it features some of the most thrilling closing moments I've personally ever seen put to film.
There are moments when it feels like it's just not working, but by the time the closing credits are rolling you'll realize that the whole film is greater than the sum of its parts, making it one of Welles' best.
Lastly, every time I finish a movie I habitually go through the trivia section for the film on IMDB. Every time I finish an Orson Welles film and do this I ALWAYS see that there was some issue between Welles and the studio. This time it was something about repainting a wall and his distaste of the score provided by the studio appointed composer. As always, I thought about how awesome it would be to see the film as Welles intended it to be seen. However, a new thought crept into my head - as great as Orson Welles was as a filmmaker and even as an actor I've begun to suspect he was a bit of a bitch.
★★★★ review by ScreeningNotes on Letterboxd
Decades Project: 1/4 of the 40's
"Everybody is somebody's fool."
Everyone loves a good puzzle. The anticipation while you put it together, the satisfaction once it's complete; it's great. Mysteries are like puzzles (duh), except you have to watch someone else put the pieces together. You never know if they're hiding extra pieces up their sleeve or throwing out pieces that don't fit or making a different puzzle altogether.
So here's the deal with The Lady from Shanghai: it's definitely a puzzle (duh), but Welles puts the pieces together so many times and in so many different ways that by the end of it all you're not sure if you've got the final picture or if the edges of the pieces are just so worn away that they'll fit together any way you place them.
The pieces we've got to play with here include:
- Orson Welles in the spotlight, sporting a regrettable Irish accent;
- Rita Hayworth leading him on, channeling her best femme fatale outside Gilda; and
- Everett Sloane and Glenn Anders on the sidelines, playing deliciously caricatured corrupt lawyers.
It's a fair point to make that however these pieces come together, by themselves they're enough to make a well-paced 90-minute puzzle entertaining. One piece wants to kill another (something about making puzzles with his girlfriend), and alliances which were already fuzzy to begin with become even more shady and indeterminate. Between the backstabbing, double crossing, and betrayals, it's impossible to know where any piece belongs in the bigger picture. You know, typical puzzle stuff.
Personally, when it comes to stuff like this I'm a bit of an idiot. You could show me a completely unfinished puzzle with mismatched pieces from different sets clumsily glued together by your cousin's nephew and I would start coming up with reasons why it's a genius reinterpretation of the symbolic structure of puzzle-making ideology. So for me, Lady from Shanghai isn't a problem at all. I look at the last 15 minutes of the film and see the expressionist representation of a shattered mind and think, "That's why none of this makes any sense! It's about Orson Welles the director coming to terms with the contingent nature of reality through the experience of Orson Welles the character!"—as if that makes any more sense than what we had before. So when I say I thoroughly enjoyed the film, you should take it with an appropriate portion of salt grains.
The Lady from Shanghai is definitely good (duh), but whether it will rise to the level of greatness for you will depend on what kind of puzzles you like and how you like to see them put together. If you like your plots to be clear-cut and coherent, this might leave you scratching your head in confused disappointment. But if some great performances and a spectacular conclusion are enough to round the edges off some murky motivations, this might just be the film for you.
★★★★ review by Kevin Jones on Letterboxd
The Lady From Shanghai is my introduction to Orson Welles. As with every director I have just embarked on, I have no idea why it takes me so long to get to these classics. There is definitely some prejudice on my part, even if I know that I enjoy films from this era. Every time I watch one, I love it. Yet, it feels so demanding and different from modern film that I manage to talk myself out of watching one. When the DVD finally gets put into the player, however, it takes no time at all for me to realize just how stupid I had been. The Lady From Shanghai is yet another stellar example of this stupidity with a masterful film noir with a shocking ending, even if it does take a bit to get to the good, dirty scandalous bits. In hindsight, the beginning is equally terrific, but suffers in the moment.
Taking a long roundabout way to get to the murder, Orson Welles introduces us to Mike O'Hara (Welles). Quickly captivated by the beauty of Rosaline Bannister (Rita Hayworth), she manages to convince her attorney husband Arthur (Everett Sloane) to hire him as a servant. What ensues is a heavily implied love affair between the two. Sharing a natural chemistry due to the fact that Welles and Hayworth were married at the time, the two make for incredibly compatible lovers. However, the first half of the film is seemingly maligned by a roundabout method of speaking that is just entirely odd to listen to as a modern viewer. In particular, George Grisby (Glenn Anders) - Bannister's law partner - has a very odd way of talking. This odd method of speech mirrors Welles' lackadaisical interest in actually telling a conventional plot. This one is more about the characters, the aesthetic, and the set pieces. He will eventually get into the murder, but he needed to take the time to set the scene and really dump the viewer into the world to show that the ending, though seemingly unexpected, should not be unexpected at all.
From the very beginning, Rosaline cannot be trusted. She claims to not smoke, yet accepts a cigarette from Mike all the same when they first meet. She puts it in her bag, but took it anyways. Soon after, she is a massive smoker and is alleged to have recently taken up the habit. On top of all this, she cheats on her husband and plays the role far too innocently to be anything but a sneaky temptress. She is a dastardly femme fatale and Hayworth plays her so well, we never see it coming. Her acting and Welles' writing bury the lede and sell us so hard on their love for one another that we could never conceive she would double cross him. George is weird, he did it! Arthur is jealous, he did it! But no, Hayworth sells her so well as an innocent woman seeking a love affair and Welles' roundabout writing in the beginning was a mere ruse to make us look away from the real source of the plotting. Even if she had no turned on poor Mike O'Hara, she was still planning on axing both lawyers to collect the insurance money for herself. A dangerous femme fatale, she is one we never see coming, even if a femme fatale is required for a film noir.
Alongside the more classic noir elements of the film is terrific comedy in the courtroom sequence, which was unexpected. Arthur Bannister's trickery as Mike's defense lawyer and even questioning himself as a witness is more screwball than noir. It is an odd touch that really adds character to this film and makes a truly entertaining affair. It may make the film a bit tonally odd, but Welles swings it quite well and sells it to no end as merely an odd reality. Once again, just as with the truly oddball beginning and weird delivery of Glenn Anders as George, The Lady From Shanghai is hardly a straight forward noir film. Instead, its elements of comedy and showing the absurdity of life and the weird things that occur everyday make it a film with a unique bite.
A classic film noir for good reason, The Lady From Shanghai features incredible set pieces - especially the amusement park with some iconic cinematography and set pieces in that sequence - and great acting (even Welles). The plot is equally brilliant. Though it takes a bit to get into it heavily, Welles ensures it all comes together at the end with a finale that is unexpected, even if it should be anticipated. That said, this is hardly a film about the story and is more-or-less an experience and an sort of satire on the typically serious nature of noir films with the addition of black comedy, unusual characters, and truly odd interactions. Hell, even Orson Welles' accent is comical and adds to the absurdity of the entire proceeding. I fear that this film may not get the credit it deserves for being a completely weird film that seems to be relatively straight laced on the surface, but is really from straight out of left field.
★★★★½ review by Jake Bart on Letterboxd
"Killing you is killing myself. It's the same thing. But, you know, I'm pretty tired of both of us."
This wasn't for me when I first watched it as a teen. It was certainly striking and audacious, but I preferred noir that moved along clearer narrative lines-- DOUBLE INDEMNITY was a favorite.
Revisiting it now, though, reveals it to be a work of endless possibility. It takes up the usual noir tropes-- love, loss, haunted pasts, double-crosses, and so on-- and adds a few of its own. Apocalypse lingers over everything. And yet Welles keeps it a brisk, jumbled nightmare-- A story of a man who "knows nothing about wickedness" and the woman who teaches him.
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