Review: The Lady from Shanghai

Blu-ray and DVD: The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Irish seaman Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) bumps into the beautiful Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) and saves her from some muggers. They share a sexually charged carriage ride, and Elsa offers O’Hara a job on her yacht. He refuses when he finds out she’s married to a criminal lawyer. Strangely her husband Arthur (Everett Sloane) persuades O’Hara to take the job. O’Hara knows something isn’t right about the whole thing, decides to risk it and heads along on the couple’s cruise.

There are many stories associated with this film, about Welles and Hayworth’s marriage, his infidelity, her insecurity, his ‘genius’… then there are stories of the studio’s involvement; the lack of money and the film being drastically cut. So to give this a ‘proper’ review would take… an essay. So here’s the skinny.

This is a film with one famously memorable scene, the hall of mirrors, and of course one of the most famous cinematic auteurs of cinema Orson Welles. His writing and direction is a huge plus BUT it’s not all roses and Oscars. The plot of this film is as thick and confusing as a malted shake, and the decision to make Welles’ character Irish, with one of the worst fake “Oirish begorragh” accents ever, is so distracting and huge pitfall for a film like this.

However the ominous sense of foreboding is palpable and watching O’Hara take cautious, but completely stupid steps towards his own downfall, led on by some slimy, twisted characters is psychological thriller at its best. Throw in a beautifully ‘vacant’ Hayworth and this is nearly a stone cold classic. It’s a real departure for Hayworth, and despite me being a massive fan of hers (OMG ‘GILDA’!) unfortunately for me she doesn’t really work and it smacks too much of ‘Oh my God I’ve got to try really hard here because someone will realise I’m a dancing film star’ and knowing the backstory of the film, its a little tragic to see her knowing she was trying to keep hold of her then husband (Welles).

It’s an odd film in so many ways, and doesn’t have the power of Welles’ superior noir, Touch of Evil, or the critics choice Citizen Kane.

Again the huge selling point of this film is the wonderful extras included on these Indicator releases (Powerhouse Films has released some amazing Noir titles lately, so make sure to check them out too).

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:

• 4K restoration from the original nitrate negative
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with filmmaker and Welles expert Peter Bogdanovich
• Simon Callow on ‘The Lady from Shanghai’ (2017, 22 mins): a new filmed appreciation by the acclaimed actor and Welles scholar
• An Interview with Rita Hayworth (1970, 4 mins): an archival interview filmed for the French TV programme Pour le cinéma
• A Discussion with Peter Bogdanovich (2000, 21 mins): the renowned filmmaker and author talks about Welles and The Lady from Shanghai
• Joe Dante trailer commentary (2013, 3 mins): a short critical appreciation
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by film critic Samm Deighan, a chapter from William Castle’s memoirs about the making of the film, and Welles’ 9-page memo to Harry Cohn
• UK Blu-ray premiere
• Limited Dual Format Edition of 5,000 copies

Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Powerhouse Films.