Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai earns a wonderful dual format DVD/Blu-ray release from Powerhouse Films. Martin Carr reviews yet another masterpiece from the Citizen Kane writer, director and star.
This is one of the great film noirs made by one of the greatest film directors who ever lived. A theatre impresario at twenty six, given the keys to Hollywood for Citizen Kane, then following that up with The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady From Shanghai and Touch of Evil earned Orson Welles a lifelong legacy before his thirtieth birthday. His fall from grace, loss of interest or reputation for trading on early successes are well documented, primarily by English actor, novelist and documentarian Simon Callow in two books. However the release of this finely crafted noir to Blu-ray is perhaps good enough reason for re-examination of Welles in his heyday.
From its opening set up to closing funhouse finale The Lady From Shanghai is a lesson in screenwriting economy, cinematic flair and acting finesse. Displaying a measured approach Welles incorporates clever close ups, challenging camera work and a mastery of pace as befitting someone with theatrical blood. Taking the tenets of noir then condensing them down until there is zero fat turns The Lady From Shanghai into a sultry, sexy, salaciously sordid affair.
Everett Sloane’s Arthur Bannister to Rita Hayworth’s adulterous spouse is a copybook example of conniving husband, successful businessman and white collar thug. A stalwart supporter of Welles from the early days, Sloane gives his invalid attorney breadth and reality by making Bannister both chief manipulator and subtle villain. Hayworth likewise gives us one of the great femme fatales of cinema in Elsa Bannister. All pouting lip gloss, smouldering looks and sinister motive wrapped in a movie star beauty which still manages to draw sympathy from her audience.
Welles as director, screenwriter and star manages to successfully spin all the plates, giving his O’Hara a fragile, stoically forthright presence and awareness of self-preservation. Sporting an Irish accent which is possibly the only chink in his armour, he holds the screen like few before him. That genius as an instinctive director comes through in flashes whether within the confines of a court room scene amongst peripheral characters, or in his analysed-to-death moment at the funhouse.
There is an interview I watch every few years done with Welles in 1974 on the Michael Parkinson show. It is fortuitously the year of my birth but beyond that holds no bearing on events. My reason for bringing it up is as a heads up to any Orson Welles fan anywhere who wants to know more. Not really about his films, for he never liked to talk about those, but more interestingly the man who is both commanding, respectful, erudite and still infinitely watchable. In it you can see the intelligence, sense the fierce character and bear witness to his infinite determination.
For anyone interested in cinema and filmmakers, Welles is not only essential but pivotal in getting us where we are today. A raconteur, teller of tales and maker of legends he may be but there was more to him than just films. Modern theatre owes him a debt as well but that discussion is for another time and another place. If you own nothing by him go and buy this before moving onto Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil and then the newly restored The Magnificent Ambersons. He may have built a life and career on smoke and mirrors but there are worse things to be remembered for.
The Lady From Shanghai is presented on Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray from Powerhouse Films as part of its Indicator series. The release features an audio commentary from film historian and acclaimed filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and a newly filmed documentary featuring actor and Orson Welles scholar Simon Callow reminiscing about the film. The limited edition release, which showcases a 4K restoration of the film from the original negative, includes an exclusive booklet with a new essay from Samm Deighan.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Starring: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane
Released: 1947 / Genre: Documentary
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed The Lady From Shanghai on Blu-ray. Powerhouse Films released the film on DVD/Blu-ray Dual Format edition on April 24, 2017.