“The Lady from Shanghai” (1947)

August 12, 2009 at 10:08 pm (Cinema, Reviews & Articles)

This Orson Welles-directed film didn’t get very good reviews at the time of its release, but it has been reconsidered over the years due to some brilliant direction on the part of Welles. This review comes from Variety magazine, April 14, 1948, by William Brogdon…


The Lady from Shanghai is okay boxoffice. It’s exploitable and has Rita Hayworth’s name for the marquees. Entertainment value suffered from the striving for effect that features Orson Welles’ production, direction and scripting.

Script is wordy and full of holes which need the plug of taut story telling and more forthright action. Rambling style used by Orson Welles has occasional flashes of imagination, particularly in the tricky backgrounds he uses to unfold the yarn, but effects, while good on their own, are distracting to the murder plot. Contributing to the stylized effect stressed by Welles is the photography, which features artful compositions entirely in keeping with the production mood.

Story tees off in New York where Welles, as a philosophical Irish seaman, joins the crew of a rich man’s luxury yacht. Schooner’s cruise and stops along the Mexican coast en route to San Francisco furnish varied and interesting backdrops. Welles’ tries for effect reach their peak with the staging of climatic chase sequences in a Chinese theatre where performers are going through an Oriental drama, and in the mirror room of an amusement park’s crazy house. He has satirized human foibles in the courtroom scenes of the murder trial, getting a sting into depicting justice and the people who gather to watch human drama unfold on the witness stand.

There’s a complicated murder pattern involving Welles, Miss Hayworth, latter’s husband, Everett Sloane, and Glenn Anders, crazy law partner of Sloane’s. Plot is often foggy of purpose and confusing to follow, but apparently deals with Welles’ yen for Miss Hayworth. That leads to his acceptance of scheme to stage a phony murder of Anders which turns into a real killing, a trial and final, poetic justice for the evildoers.

Welles has called on players for stylized performances. He uses an Irish brogue and others depict erratic characters with little reality. Hayworth isn’t called on to do much more than look beautiful. Best break for players goes to Everett Sloane, and he gives a credible interpretation of the crippled criminal attorney.

The excellent lensing is by Charles Lawton, Jr., in the mood of Heinz Roemheld’s music score. There’s also one song, “Please Don’t Kiss Me,” used in shipboard scene.

William Brogdon

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