For, Friday, March 20, 2015

Orson Welles stars in, produced and wrote “The Lady From Shanghai” (1948, b/w), a film noir thriller that he also directed with great flourish — which is especially evident during the climactic maze of mirrors shootout, which remains one of the movies’ great suspense sequences.

The film gets a boost from a new inexpensive high-def release from the budget label Mill Creek Entertainment, which has a deal with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment to reissue many of its classic Columbia Pictures titles, including Blu-ray debuts like this one.


   Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, 'The Lady From Shanghai'

The story has an Irish sailor (Welles) rescuing a beautiful blonde (Rita Hayworth) from an altercation in Central Park. She offers him a job on the yacht owned by her husband (Everett Sloane), a disabled New York defense attorney. With some reservations, Welles signs on.

During the journey, however, Sloane’s partner (Glenn Anders) proposes that Welles help him fake his death for a $5,000 payday. Welles looks at this as a way to get money to run away with Hayworth, ignoring Anders’ convoluted plan and his obvious ulterior motives.

Double- and triple-crosses follow, leading to Welles being tried for murder and Sloane defending him, although perhaps not as vigorously as his reputation would suggest.

All of which builds to a courtroom escape to a San Francisco theater and then a crazy house closed for the season, culminating in a shootout in the aforementioned maze of mirrors.


“The Lady From Shanghai” was conceived by Welles as something very different from the film noir template that was in place by the late 1940s. But his arty and perhaps indulgent long takes, lack of close-ups, and shooting on location in Acapulco and San Francisco didn’t sit well with Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, who made Welles do reshoots on the studio lot, and then took the film away to have his editors trim and reshape it.

The result is a plot that’s odd, unfocused, confused and a bit too talky in places, but which nonetheless benefits from Welles’ stylish camera work and an array of excellent performances — led by Hayworth, Welles’ wife at the time, whom he convinced to cut her long red hair short and bleach it blonde (giving Cohn one more thing to complain about).