The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)

Penniless sailor falls for the wife of a rich lawyer, intrigue abounds on a bizarre yacht cruise, lawyer’s despondent partner schemes with the sailor to fake his death, lots of betrayals, lots of things go wrong, sailor gets blamed for LOTS of bad things, conventional courtroom drama, pretty much everyone isn’t who they seem and have sinister motives.  That’s pretty much “Lady from Shanghai” in a nutshell…it’s very convoluted, sometimes too much so, and Orson Welles, fake Irish accent and all, was all wrong for the part of the sailor.  But otherwise, this was fun.  Everett Sloane, the original Marty Feldman, is very slimy and fun to watch (and hate) as the lawyer, and Rita Hayworth…well, isn’t it enough to just look at her?  A lot of this is just an excuse to show Rita Hayworth, the then-Mrs. Orson Welles, as seductively as possible in both shadow and high-key lighting, but really, is that a bad thing?  Her acting leaves something to be a desired – I wasn’t buying her duplicitous nature for a second, and by the end it seemed thrown at me all of a sudden – but you can see why a down on his luck sailor would be bewitched.  This would’ve been a throwaway, too-convoluted-for-its-own-good mystery story, but it’s at least a little more interesting than that ‘cuz of Welles’ usual penchant for gloriously self-indulgent shadows and camera angles and unsettling closeups (especially Glenn Anders as Sloane’s partner, practically crazed as he tells the sailor about his cockamamie scheme).  The big climax, the famous chase and shootout in the funhouse that’s been oft-imitated since, is overkill, sure, but still makes a fascinating use of the mirror motif that Welles used so well in “Citizen Kane” and is still an existentialist nightmare that serves as quite a coda to a visually near-stunning film that was nevertheless in danger of getting mired in its own convolutions, but manages to keep its head above the water.  Fun.



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