Written & Directed by Orson Welles
Orson Welles is a Hollywood legend who got his start in radio with his wonderful voice, fooling thousands with his gripping presentation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. But he made his mark in 1941 when RKO Radio Pictures basically gave him free reign to make whatever movie he wanted to. The product? Citizen Kane, which is often considered by many the best motion picture ever produced. The types of things he did in that picture were extremely new and influential in film and as such he was branded a genius for the rest of his illustrious career, which saw significantly less well known productions in terms of the casual film viewer. One of those films was The Lady of Shanghai, which is considered one of his best.
Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) is a well traveled seaman who meets the woman of his dreams in Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) in Central Park. He comes to her rescue and a job on her husband’s yacht as they take a pleasure cruise through the canal to San Francisco. He soon grows tired of the job, but when Mr. Bannister’s law partner, George Grisby (Glenn Anders), comes to Michael with a strange way to make money, and allow him to run off with Mrs. Bannister, the plot thickens. And upon their arrival in San Francisco someone ends up dead, putting Michael in a position he would have never expected.
One of the major appeals of Orson Welles for me is his fantastic voice, which is arguably my favorite of all-time, a strange category to have a favorite, but if you’ve never heard the man’s voice you wouldn’t understand. However, here he plays an Irish lad who has traveled the world and as such he has an Irish accent, which, in my opinion, ruins his character because he is not able to utilize his voice to the full. One of the other problems I had with the film was the editing, which really was quite choppy and seemed to ruin the pacing of the film. While the story is not sprawling, it still became much too brisk for its own good. There were just too many peculiar cuts.
And building off the poor editing was the fact that the film didn’t seem grounded in reality. As a film noir, the story is spectacular and really affords a fun mystery, but along with the editing, the little things within the story didn’t seem to be things which the characters would actually do, I didn’t believe it, despite the overall story being very plausible. That being said, the film is quite a bit of fun and that all starts with the fact that the plot is a great premise for a noir. The camera work, as is always the case with Welles, is also unique and interesting. Welles uses his camera in a very distinct way which makes for a fun viewing, especially given the genre.
In fact, there are a handful of amazing sequences, most notably the ending, which is, I’m sure, memorable to all who have seen it. I think this film succeeds because of the screenplay more than anything. I can already see now that when I look back at the film I will probably focus on what it was about and the imaginative plot and forget all about the many problems I had with the film, which is, I imagine, why it has a fairly good reputation. I really do think this could have a been a great film because what Welles has here is a great idea. However, I fear his genius may have gotten in the way a little bit in the execution of the final product, and as such what we receive is merely a good, entertaining film, and nothing more. Wow. Somehow I managed to go the whole review without mentioning the beautiful Rita Hayworth.