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Culture Corner: Classic Noir Lady From Shanghai Is a Rita Hayworth Gem

Directing genius of Orson Welles sets this ‘40s film apart.

“Like the sharks, mad with their own blood, chewin’ away at their own selves.”

So says Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) to Rosalie Bannister (Rita Hayworth) at the end of the superb 1947 motion picture, The Lady From Shanghai.

Based on the book If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King, this film noir directed by Welles is incredible from start to finish. There is a reason why it was chosen in 2018 for the U.S. National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The noir classic contains all the characteristics of this unique cinematic and literary genre: nihilism, double-crosses, a beautiful blonde, greed, and murder. The Lady From Shanghai certainly joins the class of other epic noirs, such as Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, This Gun for Hire, and Out of the Past.

But while John Huston and Billy Wilder were two of the greatest filmmakers of all time, they did not share the same creativity with the camera as Welles. This is evident by the classic mirror maze scene in the end featuring Welles, Hayworth, and Everett Sloane.

This movie is sublime because the acting talents of Hayworth are finally on display. Not to mention she is pleasing to the eye, with her transition from the redheaded seductress to the stunning blonde femme fatale. She had routinely been cast as a sympathetic and heavenly love interest, whether it was in the great Gilda or The Lady in Question. This film allowed her to spotlight her thespian skills, which were later seen in The Story on Page One and Separate Tables.

Welles’ Irish accent is hilarious, but it can be forgiven. The one attribute of this film that cannot be overlooked is the dreadful soundtrack that sometimes ruins the experience. But is Welles to blame? Not at all; the legendary filmmaker did not want one. It was the studio interference by Columbia Pictures that inserted a disappointing score, although it should be credited with cutting down the film’s runtime from nearly three hours.

Well, on second thought, three hours of Rita Hayworth …?

That said, The Lady From Shanghai is certainly one of the top films of the 1940s, and that is an impressive feat in itself, considering the long list of great pictures that were released in the decade.

“Give my love to the sunrise.”


Read more from Andrew Moran.

Read More From Andrew Moran

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