Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Lady from Shanghai

The Lady from Shanghai; Crime-drama, USA, 1947; D: Orson Welles, S: Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia

New York. Young Micheal O'Hara, once convicted for murder, meets a beautiful blond, Elsa, in a carriage and goes on to save her from a bunch of thugs. She invites him to work for her. After much thought, Micheal agrees: he gets hired as a sailor on her yacht and finds out she is married to Arthur Bannister, a crippled lawyer. The yacht travels to San Francisco through the Panama Canal and picks up Arthur's partner George, who offers Micheal 5.000 $ if he kills someone. He is surprised George wants him to kill him, but just for show, because he plans to disappear and since there won't be a body, Michael won't get convicted. Michael agrees and fires a few blank shots, but then George's body really shows up and he is arrested by the police. In the court, Micheal escapes and discovers Elsa planned to actually kill Arthur, but postponed the trick when Broom, a potential witness, died. Elsa and Arthur kill each other.

"The Lady from Shanghai" isn't one of Orson Welles' best films - quite frankly, the first 30 minutes are so disjointed, clumsy, shaky and chaotic that many unfamiliar viewers will probably dismiss it quickly - but it's still a very good experimental achievement, non the less. Sadly, the studio executives mutilated Welles' vision by cutting down the film from the original 155 minute cut to only 87 minutes, dropping a lot of important subplots and details. As often, Welles decided to create an unusual film filled with daring camera angles and bizarre moments, and that resulted in an experimental film: in the opening shots, the film seems as an typical goofy romantic drama from the '40s when the hero Michael meets and flirts with Elsa in the carriage, but later on it turns out that he was just used since she turns out to be a femme fatale. It isn't even a crime movie since Michael doesn't kill anyone but just gets double crossed so that the police thinks he is a murderer. It isn't a mystery film, either, because even though the basic plot is complicated, the story has logic and loosely blends in into the traditional stories about wives who want to kill their husbands. The story contains a few quirky details, like the scene where Michael and Elsa kiss in front of an aquarium just as some elementary school children show up, which causes the teachers to quickly push the kids back behind the corner to not see such "adultery", or when Arthur humorously "interrogates" himself in the court (!), yet the whole film is surreal enough and becomes truly intriguing in the second half once it introduces the nontransparent murder plot. Underrated and attractive actress Rita Hayworth is excellent in the leading role as the blond Elsa and the phantasmagorical showdown in the mirror house is stunning. Sadly, "Shanghai" is a lesser Welles, not fully satisfying, but it still has enough quality.


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