Friday, November 21, 2014
The Lady From Shanghai is a superb film noir released in 1947 by Columbia Pictures. It was written by Orson Welles, William Castle, Charles Lederer, and Fletcher Markle, and directed by Welles. It starred Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, and Ted de Corsia. In the highly convoluted plot, down-and-out sailor Michael O'Hara (Welles) helps foil a mugging aimed at Elsa Bannister (Hayworth). She's the wife of invalid criminal defense attorney Arthur Bannister (Sloane), who invites O'Hara to sail from New York City through the Panama Canal to San Francisco with them. O'Hara, infatuated with Elsa, agrees. Joining them on the trip is Bannister's law partner, the sleazy George Grisby (Anders). It's clear there's something horribly wrong with the Bannister marriage, as Elsa can barely stand to be touched by her husband, who is sarcastically over-solicitous of her. Bannister seems very aware of his wife's attraction to O'Hara, and yet is oddly tolerant of it. When they reach Acapulco, Grisby makes O'Hara a proposition: Grisby is tired of the law, and has a $10,000 life insurance policy. He proposes that O'Hara "murder" him (it'll be a fake murder). Since no corpse will be found (Grisby is still alive), O'Hara could never be convicted of murder. (Murder laws at the time required a corpse as proof of murder.) Grisby will name O'Hara as his beneficiary, and they will split the money. To ensure that the life insurance company pays out, Grisby has O'Hara sign a paper confessing to the murder.
They arrive in San Francisco. At this point in the film, a private detective named Sidney Broome shows up. He's been hired by Arthur to follow Elsa, and find out if she's adulterous. Instead, he confronts Grisby......... I don't know why. There's this confused scene in the Bannister kitchen, and Grisby shoots Broome. Elsa arrives before Broome dies, and tells her that Grisby is setting her and O'Hara up....... somehow.
O'Hara, unaware of this, arrives at Bannister's law office to find Grisby dead. The police haul O'Hara off -- having found his confession -- and put him on trial for murder. The district attorney hypothesizes that O'Hara wanted to kill Bannister and marry Elsa, but shot Grisby by mistake. Bannister decides to defend his wife and O'Hara. It's clear, however, that he is aware of his wife's infidelity with O'Hara and ensures that his defense is full of holes: He's sending them both to the gas chamber!
I've never quite understood the middle of this picture, and it's quite confusing to me.
However, the ending is nothing shot of an astonishing visual tour-de-force in a Hall of Mirrors at a carnival.
The Lady From Shanghai is out on blu-ray, in case you wanted a copy.