Wednesday, 26 August 2015

I've Just Seen: The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Director: Orson Welles

The visuals in The Lady from Shanghai are arguably more interesting than the film's plot. The film follows Welles' Michael O'Hara as he is used by a couple of rich San Franciscans who are all trying to bump each other off. There are several twists, but you get the feeling Welles was not really interested in them; when one character is killed instead of another, the logistics are never really explained.

The plot is really there to service Welles' vision, which includes recurring references to animals, water and mirrors. The aquarium scene, with Welles and Hayworth silhouetted against illuminated tanks, was a personal favourite. Not only did it look beautiful, it recalled O'Hara's early speech about sharks ripping themselves apart in a feeding frenzy. As it turns out, this is what happens in the film.

The scene the film is famous for is the hall of mirrors stand-off at the climax, and it is a great scene. Illusions have been shattered, and the double-crossing is finally dealt with. The broken glass carries on the idea of sharks, the shards the teeth that Elsa (Hayworth) and Arthur (Everett Sloane) use to kill each other.

The Lady from Shanghai gives you what you expect from Welles: a great visual set-ups with some good acting. Though not as great as Citizen Kane (what is!) or Touch of Evil, it is still worth watching.


  1. Yeah, Welles loved the images he could paint and to manipulate the medie, often at the expense of the storyline. This is not his strongest movie and what I remember mostly is the controversy around cutting and dying Rita Hayworth hair. Gutsy, but frankly a shame.

    1. Watching Citizen Kane as my first Welles film meant that all the others had a ridiculously high benchmark to try and meet. This certainly did not come close, though I have seen much worse.