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Not one of Welles's greatest works

  • Sep 2, 2010
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Orson Welles’ 1947 film-noir “The Lady From Shanghai” is one of Welles’s greatest works. Besides directing, he produced, wrote the screenplay and co-stared with his wife of the time, Rita Hayworth in this suspense thriller. 
Welles it seems never got a project in a normal way after “Citizen Kane.”  So, here is the interesting story of how Welles became involved in this movie.  In the summer of 1946, Welles was directing a musical stage version of “Around the World in Eighty Days,” with a comedic and ironic rewriting of the Jules Verne novel by Welles, incidental music and songs by Cole Porter and production by Mike Todd, who would later produce the successful film version with David Niven.

When Todd pulled out from the lavish and expensive production, Welles financed it. When he ran out of money and urgently needed $55,000 to release costumes which were being held, he convinced Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn to send him the money to continue the show and in exchange Welles promised to write, produce, direct and star in a film for Cohn for no further fee. As Welles tells it, on the spur of the moment, he suggested the film be based on the book a girl in the theater box office happened to be reading at the time he was calling Cohn, which Welles had never read.
“The Lady from Shanghai”was filmed in late 1946, finished in early 1947 and released in the U.S. on June 9, 1948. Release was delayed due to heavy editing by Cohn's assistants at Columbia, who insisted on cutting about an hour from Welles's final cut.

Welles cast his wife Rita Hayworth as Elsa and caused controversy when he made her cut her famous long red hair and bleach it blonde for the role.  They divorced in December of 1948 and many people believe Welles, out of spite, made Hayworth cut and dye her hair.

Welles’s movie was not well received.  When he saw the rushes, Cohn detested the picture; he couldn't figure out what it was about and offered $1000 to anyone who could explain it to him. Even Welles could not explain the plot to him.  Reviews of the film were mixed. Varietymagazine found the script wordy and noted that the "rambling style used by Orson Welles has occasional flashes of imagination, particularly in the tricky backgrounds he uses to unfold the yarn, but effects, while good on their own, are distracting to the murder plot."

Plot Summary:
Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles), against his better judgment, hires on as a crew member of Arthur Bannister's yacht (Everett Sloane, a life long friend of Welles From his Mercury Theater days that he cast in several of his movie), sailing to San Francisco. They pick up Grisby (Glenn Anders), Bannister's law partner, en route. Bannister has a wife, Rosalie (Rita Hayworth), who seems to like Michael much better than she likes her husband. After they dock in Sausalito, Michael goes along with Grisby's weird plan to fake his (Grisby's) murder so he can disappear untailed. He wants the $5000 Grisby has offered, so he can run off with Rosalie. But Grisby turns up actually murdered, and Michael gets blamed for it. Somebody set him up, but it is not clear who or how. Bannister (the actual murderer?) defends Michael in court.
One of the great quotable lines from this movie is: “Personally I don't like a girlfriend to have a husband, if she'll fool a husband she'll fool me.”

Another is: When I start out to make a fool of myself, there's very little can stop me. If I'd known where it would end, I'd never let anything start... if I'd been in my right mind, that is. But once I'd seen her, I was not in my right mind for some time.

Not one of Welles's greatest works Not one of Welles's greatest works Not one of Welles's greatest works

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About the reviewer
Michael Neulander ()
Ranked #43
Recently graduated with a Masters in Humanities degree from Old Dominion University reading in philosophy and history. I graduated from the Univ. of Miami in 1980 with a B.A. in Political Science; specializing … more
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