Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Lady From Shanghai (1947) A Noir Nightmare

The Lady From Shanghai is like a train wreck. 

If it's on I'll watch it, its sort of trance inducing, some sequences are downright creepy, others (like the opening carriage ride meet of Welles and Hayworth) silly especially with that Irish brogue accent.

Written and directed by Orson Welles. Based on the 1938 novel "If I Die Before I Wake"  by Sherwood King. The cinematography was by Charles Lawton Jr., the  music was by Heinz Roemheld.

The film stars Rita Hayworth as Elsa "Rosalie" Bannister. For the film Welles cut Hayworth's long red locks and dyed what was left blonde. I hate it, funny thing is in the novel "If I Die Before I Wake" by Sherwood King, that the film is based on, the character has flowing red hair.

Orson Welles stars as Michael O'Hara, Everett Sloane as Arthur Bannister, Glenn Anders as George Grisby, Ted de Corsia as Sidney Broome, Erskine Sanford as Judge, Gus Schilling as "Goldie" Goldfish, Carl Frank as District Attorney Galloway, Louis Merrill as Jake, Evelyn Ellis as Bessie, Harry Shannon as Cab Driver.

The story is narrated by Welles and shown in a long flashback.

East River, Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
Irish able bodied seamen Michael "Black Irish" O'Hara (Welles) is walking in Central Park when he becomes mesmerized by a blond woman Elsa "Rosalie" Bannister (Hayworth) riding in a handsome cab. Each likes what they see. Michael offers her a cigarette.

Central Park

Elsa Bannister (Hayworth)

Michael O'Hara (Welles)
Welles does suck as an Irishman, (the character in the book is Laurence Planter, an ex-sailor working as a chauffeur). This "Irishman" change to the story was apparently all Welles' idea. It adds nothing.  He could have just it played normal. As it is he sounds as if he's looking for his "Lucky Charms" (referencing a TV commercial about an overly sweet breakfast cereal with marshmallow bits called Lucky Charms where a leprechaun is stating in the same Irish brogue that he is looking for his "lucky charms").

Back to the story: A short while later after the cab with Elsa and O'Hara part company, the cab gets waylaid by three hooligans who drag Elsa off to the bushes (apparently for a faith worse than death). Michael hears her screams and runs towards them, en-route he finds her pocketbook in the grass inside it there is a small automatic. Why did she throw it away?

He fights off the three men and rescues Elsa. He gives Elsa back her bag. Curious he asks why she didn't use the gun. She replies, incredulously, that she doesn't know how to use it. What if Michael didn't hear her cries for help? So do we infer from that bit of dialog that Elsa has a rape by multiple partners kink/fantasy? The film gets weirder.

Michael tells her that he is a seaman. She asks if he wants a job on her yacht he declines at first. But Michael is smitten by Elsa and constantly thinks of her.

Michael O'Hara: ...from that moment I did not use my head, except to think about her.

A few days later at the Seaman's Hall Arthur Bannister (Sloane) hires Michael to crew their yacht on their seagoing part of their trip down through the Panama Canal back to San Francisco.

Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane) 

Seaman's Hall

On the yacht

Also on the ship is Sydney Broome (Ted de Corsia) who is actually a private detective hired by Bannister to keep an eye on Elsa. Along the way Bannister's law partner George Grisby (Glenn Anders) joins the yacht. Grisby is a piece of work, Anders makes the most of the part. Grisby has a weird proposal for Michael.

Grisby (Glen Anders)

George Grisby: Mr. Bannister tells me you once killed a man. You are Michael, aren't you?
Michael O'Hara: That's right.
George Grisby:  I'm very interested in murders. Forgive me if I seem inquisitive, but where'd it happen?
Michael O'Hara:At Murcia.
George Grisby:  How'd you do it? No, let me guess... You did it with your hands, didn't you? Does it ever bother you when you think about it? What did he do to you?
Michael O'Hara: Nothing.
George Grisby:  You just killed him for the fun of it, eh?
Michael O'Hara: He was a Franco spy. There was a war on at the time.
George Grisby:  Then it wasn't murder, I suppose. Tell me, would you do it again? Would you mind killing another man?
Michael O'Hara: I'd kill another Franco spy.
George Grisby:  I was on a pro-Franco committee during the Spanish War. Would you kill me if I gave you the chance?... I may give you the chance.  How'd you like 5,000 dollars?
Michael O'Hara: What?
George Grisby:  That's what I said. 5,000 dollars, fella.
Michael O'Hara: What do I have to do for it?
George Grisby:  I'll fill in the details later. Meanwhile, think it over, Michael. 5,000 dollars. It's yours. All you have to do is kill somebody.
Michael O'Hara: Who, Mr. Grisby? I'm particular who I murder.
George Grisby:  Good boy!
Michael O'Hara: You know, I wouldn't like to kill just anybody. Is it someone I know?
George Grisby: Oh, yeah. But you'll never guess.
Michael O'Hara: I give up.
George Grisby:  It's me. I'm perfectly sober, Michael. I'm willing to pay 5,000 if the job is well done. This is a straightforward business proposition. I want you to kill me. So long, fella!

Grisby explains to Michael that he wants to fake his own death. He tells Michael that he wants out of his marriage but his wife wont give him a divorce. Since he would not really be dead and since there would be no corpse, Michael could not be convicted of murder. Michael believes him. The other side to the coin is the insurance policy the law firm has. Since Michael will sign a fake confession saying he murdered Grisby the insurance company will have to pay off. With that money Grisby can start a new life. Michael agrees thinking he'll use the $5,000 to run away with Elsa.

On the night of the fake murder Broome overhears Grisby and Michael plotting but he figures out that Grisby is actually planning to murder Bannister and frame Michael for Bannister's murder and his own fake murder. Grisby shoots Broome. Michael proceeds with the plan, only to step off into Noirsville when he finds out that Grisby really was killed, his gun killed Broome, and the police have his fake confession.


Trivia: the yacht "Zaca" was rented from its owner, Errol Flynn

Errol Flynn's own pet dachshund Chula

Sausalito, California

Steinhart Aquarium in Golden Gate Park

Broome (Ted de Corsia)

Mandarin Theater, San Francisco

Mandarin Theater, San Francisco

Walhalla Bar & Cafe, Sausalito, California

Playland At The Beach, San Francisco


The film gets a bit rushed once the story reaches San Francisco. The whole "Lady From Shanghai" angle seems to get short shrift since there is barely any lead up to Elsa suddenly speaking fluid Chinese and being able to call upon a Chinese Tong to assist her. There is no Chinese angle in the novel, that seems to be all Welles screenplay. The whole novel actually takes place on Long Island, NY.

I've read that studio boss Harry Cohn didn't like the look of the location sequences in Welles completed film, nor the lack of glamour shots of Hayworth, and ordered extensive editing and re-shoots. This heavy editing ordered by Cohn took over a year to complete.Viola Lawrence a veteran Columbia Pictures editor cut about an hour from Welles's rough cut. They probably edited out some sequences that probably would have explained Elsa's Shanghai connections better. Missing also seem to be any convincing visual fireworks from the Michael/Elsa relationship. The final product's got a surreal nightmare quality.

The film has some great visual sequences (the Steinhart Aquarium in Golden Gate Park, the Playland at the Beach amusement park's Magic Mirror Maze, and San Francisco's Chinatown). Sloane's bizarre over the top Bannister character steals the show, He's got a two canes which he uses to propel himself with a swinging cripple walk. He has an often demeaning obnoxious voice. Anders' portrayal of Grisby is as equally over the top as Bannister. Anders's got a sing song delivery with exaggerated pronunciation combined with a cackle that's offsetting. It's a shame Anders didn't make more movies his career was mostly on the stage. His only other noir was M (1951).

I don't care for Hayworth's short blond locks either, or as I've mentioned before Welles' Irish brogue, but that doesn't keep me from watching. 6.5/10

The Italian Poster has the visual spark that the film lacks.

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