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The Lady from Shanghai (1947, Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles)



It’s safe to assume that Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn was not ORSON WELLES’ biggest fan, particularly after the auteur made The Lady From Shanghai at his studio. Cohn was already peeved that Welles had married his studio’s sex symbol and number one box office draw RITA HAYWORTH, and it’s said the mogul offered a reward to anyone who could fathom the plot after viewing The Lady From Shanghai. Indeed, anyone expecting a conventional film noir may be disappointed by this film. What it is, instead, is an enduring testament to Welles’ idiosyncratic genius, containing some of the finest scenes the director ever filmed. Although it received a lukewarm reception when first released, it is now recognised as a major accomplishment, Time Out calling it ‘complex, courageous and utterly compelling’.

Welles stars as Michael O’Hara, an Irish adventurer seduced by Elsa Bannister (Hayworth) into joining the yachting crew of her husband, Arthur (EVERETT SLOANE), a crippled yet wealthy lawyer. O’Hara is offered $5,000 to assist in the faked disappearance of the lawyer’s partner, Grisby (GLENN ANDERS), but when Grisby is actually murdered, O’Hara is arrested for the crime. With shades of Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, he finds himself caught in the web of a duplicitous femme fatale, who is engaged in a game of murderous intent with her husband. The film’s stunning denouement, in which the husband and wife try to kill each other, occurs in the hall of mirrors at a deserted fairground.

Shot on location in New York, Mexico and on board Errol Flynn’s yacht off the coast of Acapulco (Flynn is the uncredited pilot of the boat), The Lady From Shanghai deserves a place outside the shadow of Citizen Kane. Stylish, witty and gripping, it’s full of fine performances, particularly from Sloane as the malevolent lawyer. The film is often claimed to be a metaphor for Welles and Hayworth’s marriage. If so, it’s an accurate one: Hayworth filed for divorce straight after filming was completed.

production details
USA | 87 minutes | 1947

Director: Orson Welles
Writer: Orson Welles (based on a novel by Sherwood King)

Rita Hayworth as Elsa Bannister
Orson Welles as Michael O’Hara
Everett Sloane as Arthur Bannister
Glenn Anders as George Grisby
Ted de Corsia as Sidney Broome
Erskine Sanford as Judge
Gus Schilling as Goldfish
Lou Merrill as Jake
Carl Frank as District Attorney Galloway
Evelyn Ellis as Bessie
Harry Shannon as Cab Driver
William Alland as Reporter (uncredited)
Alvin Hammer as Reporter (uncredited)
Byron Kane as Reporter (uncredited)
Mary Newton as Reporter (uncredited)
Jessie Arnold as Schoolteacher at Aquarium / Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
Tom Coleman as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
Theresa Harris as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
Tiny Jones as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
Arthur Tovey as Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
Jack Baxley as Guard (uncredited)
Edward Peil Sr. as Guard (uncredited)
Steve Benton as Policeman (uncredited)
Eddie Coke as Policeman (uncredited)
Al Eben as Policeman (uncredited)
Milton Kibbee as Policeman (uncredited)
Harry Strang as Policeman (uncredited)
Norman Thomson as Policeman (uncredited)
Philip Van Zandt as Policeman / Thug (uncredited)
Joseph Granby as Police Lieutenant (uncredited)
Wong Chung as Li (uncredited)
Edythe Elliott as Old Lady (uncredited)
Dorothy Vaughan as Old Woman (uncredited)
John Elliott as Court Clerk (uncredited)
Charles Ferguson as Man in Courthouse (uncredited)
Errol Flynn as Man in Background Outside of Cantina (uncredited)
Maynard Holmes as Truck Driver (uncredited)
Charles Meakin as Jury Foreman (uncredited)
Philip Morris as Port Steward / Officer Peters (uncredited)
Sam Nelson as Captain of Yacht Circe (uncredited)
Joe Palma as Cab Driver (uncredited)
Gerald Pierce as Waiter (uncredited)
Joe Recht as Garage Attendant (uncredited)
Mabel Smaney as Woman (uncredited)
Blackie Whiteford as Big Coke Drinker with Vest (uncredited)
Richard Wilson as Assistant District Attorney (uncredited)
Grace Lem as Chinese Woman