Classic Movie Of The Week 2017

Classic Movie Of The Week: The Lady From Shanghai (1947)


Starring: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane

Director: Orson Welles

Michael O’Hara (Welles, with a dinky Irish accent) is a cynical seaman who helps out a beautiful ice blonde in distress one night (Hayworth), as he takes her home to safety, she offers him a job on board her husbands yacht, and a strange game starts to play out between her, her husband, the detective he’s hired to watch her and O’Hara, who is falling in love with her. It’s a game that will end in double crosses and murder.

Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth had been married, and something about this film makes it a hard fact to forget. Welles is famous for having seen a photograph of her and decided to marry her based on that alone, and Rita is well known for having said that people went to bed with Gilda (one of her most famous and sensual roles) and woke up with Rita. It seems like a doomed relationship, really, and quite an interesting point. In this film, Hayworth’s image is fetishised, I think perhaps she was never more beautiful than in this film, and yet there is something about the way that she is shot in this film that’s quite uncomfortable. Particularly in the final scenes, a famous and incredible sequence in which a shoot out takes place in a hall of mirrors, fracturing the image of the characters and their likenesses being shattered over and over again. So obvious was this violence towards the female image in this that Orson Welles was became named by some as a suspect in the violent Black Dahlia murder.

In this film, the lead falls for a beautiful woman only to find that her true character is not at all what he expected, and though in the final scenes she calls out for him to help her, he slowly but determinedly walks away. This is is both how the film and the marriage ended. Which makes me feel very sad for Hayworth, who certainly was not at all like the femme fatales she played.

It’s also amusing to note that she was famous for her red hair, so Orson Welles choice to dye her hair platinum blonde, though excellent aesthetically, got him into huge trouble with the studios.

Setting aside the historical back story, this is also a wonderful film in it’s own right. Welles hated the way it was hacked up by the studio, who needed to make it shorter, but it hardly detracts from the film, which is one of his best, and I think more accessible than Citizen Kane, which is quite a cold, though brilliant film. Hayworth gives a wonderful performance as Elsa, a desperate woman mired in a weird marriage and who seems to long to escape. She is by turns strong and vulnerable, but always feels real, which is wonderful as the film develops and you start to question what everyone’s motives are. The small location of the boat makes everything a little claustrophobic for the portion of the film that takes place there, making it all feel more enclosed and intense as the plot unwinds like a snake. And boy does it twist, leaving you guessing.

See It If: this is a must for any film noir or Orson Welles fan, especially with that brilliant final scene, but Rita Hayworth is the absolute star of this film. Sparkling.


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