Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Lady from Shanghai

Based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King, The Lady from Shanghai is the story of a man who finds himself in trouble that involves a tycoon and his seductive wife. Written for the screen and directed by Orson Welles, with additional screenplay contributions by William Castle, Charles Lederer, and Fletcher Markle. The film is an exploration into a man who finds himself intrigued by a couple only to get himself into deep trouble. Starring Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, and Everett Sloane. The Lady from Shanghai is a chilling yet rich suspense film from Orson Welles.

What happens when an Irish sailor comes across a beautiful woman who is married to a famed lawyer as he falls for her and later finds himself in trouble when he’s involved in an embezzlement plot? That’s the idea of the film as it explores this man named Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) who meets this beautiful woman named Elsa (Rita Hayworth) as she is intrigued by him where he becomes a sailor on a yacht owned by her husband Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane). An attraction ensues between Michael and Elsa as it gets the attention of Bannister’s partner George Grisby (Glenn Anders) who conspires to fake his own death with Michael receiving $5000 to do the deed. Yet, things become complicated when Michael realizes that something didn’t go right when a private detective named Sidney Broome (Ted de Corsia) is involved trying to figure out what is going. Notably as it leads a chilling climax for Michael to realize what’s really going on.

The screenplay does create a lot of schematics that would become part of the formula that is expected in the world of film noir. There’s this drifter who finds himself attracted to this gorgeous blonde who is married to a disabled criminal defense attorney. There’s the woman herself as she exudes all of the qualities that can get men to do her bidding as she is also troubled by the fact that her marriage is failing and she is in love with this sailor. There’s this defense attorney who is unaware of what is going as he becomes a target for an embezzlement scheme. Then there’s his business partner who wants to fake his death as a way to use it as a ruse so he can plot something else and blame this drifter for the crime.

It’s all part of the set-up that Welles and his contributing writers would do in this story as it involves all sorts of genres into the story. Romance, suspense, and crime all involving this Irish sailor who is reflecting on everything he’s been through in this journey. From the first meeting he has with Elsa to his meeting with Grisby where Michael finds himself taking the deal in the hopes that he and Elsa will be together. Michael is unaware that he is being played for a fool where he finds himself in big trouble where Bannister has to defend him in court where there’s some revelations that occur. Notably where Michael realizes what has been done to him and why as it’s up to him to piece everything together.

Welles’ direction definitely has an air of style in the way he presents the film though he does manage to keep things straightforward in second unit shots and vast location shots in San Francisco and nearby locations as well as some shots in Acapulco, Mexico. Welles still maintains that air of style in the close-up and medium shots to establish the tense mood that is happening as well as the romance between Michael and Elsa. Welles also plays up the air of suspense that occurs where he knows that audiences will expect something but he’ll find a way to build up that momentum very slowly and do something either expected or unexpected.

Welles also plays into this element of style in the way he sets a mood for some tense scenes involving the suspense where it does become intense. Notably in the courtroom scenes where it’s all about Michael O’Hara being the target for all that is happened and what could be unveiled. Even as it leads to this very surreal yet dazzling climax where O’Hara not only unveils the mystery but also what it was all about. It’s one of the most thrilling moments of the film as well as something that is really unexpected in terms of the way Welles presented with a large degree of style. Overall, Welles creates a very fascinating yet mesmerizing thriller that plays to the attributes of film noir.

Cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr., with additional work from Rudolph Mate and Joseph Walker, does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the beautiful scenery in some of the film‘s beach locations to the stylish interior shadings in some of the film‘s nighttime scenes. Editor Viola Lawrence does amazing work with the editing as it‘s very stylized with its use of dissolves as well as dazzling cuts in the film‘s climax. Art directors Sturges Carne and Stephen Gooson, along with set decorators Wilbur Menefee and Herman N. Schoenbrun, do terrific work with the sets from the look of the courtroom and places the characters go to as well as the place for the film’s climax.

Costume designer Jean Louis does wonderful work with the gowns and clothes that Elsa wears to complement her unique sense of style. Sound recordist Lodge Cunningham does terrific work with the sound from the tense moments in the courtroom to the more low-key atmosphere in the scenes on the yacht. The film’s music by Heinz Roemheld is superb for its intense orchestral moments that is filled with lush string flourishes to play out the drama as well as eerie bombast for its suspenseful moments.

The film’s cast is brilliant as it features some notable small performances from Carl Frank as the district attorney, Erskine Sanford as the judge, and Ted de Corsia as the private detective Sidney Broome. Everett Sloane is terrific as Arthur Bannister who is unaware of Elsa’s attraction towards Michael while he tries to defend him in court where he realizes what has been going on. Glenn Anders is excellent as the scheming George Grisby who tries to get Michael involved in a plan to steal money from Bannister. Rita Hayworth is marvelous as Elsa where Hayworth is just intoxicating to watch as a woman who is clearly falling for Michael as she also deals with the consequences they’re dealing with. Finally, there’s Orson Welles in a remarkable performance as Michael O’Hara where Welles plays him as a man trapped by his surroundings and the situations he’s in. While some of Welles’ Irish accent isn’t perfect, it is still engaging for the way he tries to piece out everything that’s been happening.

The Lady from Shanghai is an incredible film from Orson Welles that features a fantastic performance from Rita Hayworth. The film isn’t just one of Welles’ finest films but also one of the key films of the film noir genre of the 1940s and early 1950s. Notably in how it creates the air of suspense while engaging the audience into figuring out what is going on throughout the film. In the end, The Lady from Shanghai is a rich yet phenomenal film from Orson Welles.

Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming OthelloThe Other Side of the Wind

Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - The Eyes of Orson Welles - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2

© thevoid99 2013


Unknown said...

I started seeing this last November but fell asleep 10 minutes in. Not due to the movie, however, so I need to borrow the DVD again. It looks great cinematography wise, as your review indicates.

thevoid99 said...

The cinematography is one of the reasons why I liked the film. I knew it was going to take a while yet I managed to be engaged by the film.