This week the Best of Film Noir features The Lady From Shanghai, a 1947 film featuring Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloan and Orson Welles (who also directed the film). In some ways, The Lady From Shanghai is a hard movie to put in a best of film noir category, as the movie has a lot of holes, a bad score, and a hatchet-job of re-editing (some say because Hayworth’s evil character was so, well, evil). But it’s confounding plot twists and sub-plots are worth watching (and studying). As film noir blogger Steve Eifert says, such flaws only add to the film’s mythic status.
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
In The Lady From Shanghai we have some very stereotypical characters, and the noir hero is no exception. Seaman Orson Welles plays Michael O’Hara, a gullible guy who decides to help fake a man’s death for $5,000 and the chance to run away with that man’s wife (guess who?). But things take a wrong turn when the man is actually murdered, and O’Hara takes the fall for it. Even though he’s criticized for a bad accent, Welles does an admirable job of playing the dupe, a quintessential noir hero who feels that everything rolls out of his control, all because he fell for a beautiful woman.
The Best of Film Noir – The Femme Fatale
Rita Hayworth (best known for her performance in Gilda) plays Elsa Bannister, and she is definitely sexy and sadistic. She really goes beyond what most femme fatales seem to in her lack of conscience and willingness to manipulate the poor noir hero. Many see Hayworth’s performance here as a reflection of her own sad life and marriages to men who abused her. She is quite the seductress in The Lady From Shanghai, so much so that the studios wanted her role revised (tampering with what might have been another Welles masterpiece).
The Best of Film Noir – The Ending
As authors, we strive to write an ending that will stay with our readers, an ending that will certainly want our readers looking for more of our works. For all of its plot faults, The Lady From Shanghai has an ending that definitely stays with you. The famous Hall of Mirrors scene leaves many wondering how Welles filmed it. Along with the scenes at the fun house and the theater, we are left feeling unsettled by this film noir. In a noir world, no one seems to be in control of their own fates, and their fight against a doomed ending is futile. This is brilliantly shown in the ending.
The Best of Film Noir – The Reception
Ah, don’t we authors wish everyone liked everything we wrote? But it’s not the case. The Lady From Shanghai did not fare well in America at the time of its release. However, over time the film has taken on a mythic status. The closing scene in particular has since become one of the touchstones of film noir. Many influential modern critics, including David Kehr, consider it a masterpiece, with Kehr calling it the weirdest great movie ever made.
The Best of Film Noir – Film Flubs And More
In the Crazy House, Mrs. Bannister’s lips do not match the line we could have gone off together.
Rita dives off the cliffs. However, in the following scene as she boards the boat her hair is dry.
When Mr. and Mrs Bannister are talking on a bench in the courthouse, he is taking a drag on a cigarette. A moment later, the cigarette is resting in his hand on top of his cane.
The yacht on which much of the action takes place belonged in real life as the Zaca to Errol Flynn. Flynn skippered the Zaca between takes, and he can be spotted in the background in a scene outside a cantina.
Orson Welles runs past an old Mexican movie poster of Resurrection during a chase scene. The film stars Dolores del Rio, a former girlfriend of Welles’.
Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth were married at the time of the film’s shooting, however they divorced afterward.
Thanks to IMDb for those.
So get that popcorn popping, get your favorite drink, and settle in for a twisting, turning fun film noir ride.
If you love film noir, you should read This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, a Reader’s Favorite Finalist for mystery.
What a reader says:
Reed Ferguson is the newest cool detective on the bookshelves. Reed is the best kind of detective; he’s one of us. He hasn’t got massive muscles and wields a gun with ease. He takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. He uses good old fashion brains to solve cases. This is a great series that I am sure will garner many fans and hopefully we’ll be reading for years to come.