Orson Welles in memorable acting performance
Monday, August 20, 7pm Davis Theatre, Whanganui Regional Museum
The Lady From Shanghai Orson Welles • USA • 1947 87 mins • HD, B&W • PG violence
In this insanely lurid film noir, director Orson Welles plays an Irish sailor ensnared by a sirenlike Rita Hayworth when he signs up to navigate the yacht of her crippled husband, “the greatest criminal trial lawyer in the world”.
Thanks to studio interference, the plot is borderline incomprehensible, but the film’s baroque visual style, its hard-boiled dialogue, and its coterie of sleazy ocean cruisers add up to something weirdly coherent. A fabulous new restoration gives us the perfect excuse to clamber aboard and gape.
There’s such outrageous brilliance in Orson Welles’ brash and sexy noir melodrama from 1947. There are some opaque plot tangles, perhaps due to 60 minutes being cut from Welles’ original version by the studio, but the sheer brio and style make it a thing of wonder, whisking the audience from the streets of New York City, to the open seas, to a tense courtroom and then to a bizarre house of mirrors.
This is arguably Welles’ best acting performance: theatrically romantic, with warmth, wit and a gust of pure charisma. He plays O’Hara, an Irish merchant seaman induced to sign on as part of the crew of a luxury yacht belonging to wealthy lawyer Bannister (Everett Sloane), having fallen in love with his young wife Elsa (Rita Hayworth) — a beautiful woman with a shady past whom Bannister evidently blackmailed into marrying him. Soon O’Hara is mixed up in a murderous plot cooked up by Bannister’s partner Grisby (Glenn Anders). Welles creates a dreamlike (though never surrealist) fluency and strangeness, along with a salty tang of black comedy and an electric current of doom and desire between O’Hara and Elsa. It has an irresistible energy.
— Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
It’s been called everything from an outright disaster to ‘the weirdest great movie ever made’. Like The Magnificent
Ambersons before it, Orson Welles’ glittering 1947 thriller was subject to swinging studio cuts (up to an hour was sliced from the finished picture). But what remains of The Lady from
Shanghai is remarkable enough. Made as the director was in the process of breaking up with his star, the breathtaking Rita Hayworth, this is less a film noir and more a divorce case writ large, steeped in irony, self-loathing, love, hate, fascination, recrimination, mistrust and
sexual longing. It’s the story of an Irish roustabout — played with wandering accent and waistline by Welles — and his relationship with a troubled society beauty (Hayworth) after he takes a job on her yacht. The plot is a magnificent mess of switchbacks and revelations, climaxing with one of cinema’s most outrageously inventive sequences: a shootout in a funfair hall of mirrors. The result may not have the crystalline perfection of Citizen Kane, but that’s a flaw it shares with every other film in history. — Tom Huddleston, Time Out
A glittering film noir! Everett Sloane is an entertainingly outre´ villain — a two-legged tarantula on crutches — and there are several bold, flashy set pieces in San Francisco, including a chase through a Chinatown theatre, a love scene at the aquarium in Golden Gate Park, and a fun-house shoot-out . . .
In the title role, Rita Hayworth [the soon to be ex-Mrs Welles], her hair coloured platinum, has both bathingbeauty allure and an exciting sadistic streak — there’s a stiletto hidden in the cheesecake. — Michael Sragow,
Publicity still from The Lady from Shanghai.