Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The Lady From Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)

Michael O’Hara: That's how I found her, and from that moment on, I did not use my head very much, except to be thinking of her.

Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) meets Elsa Banister (a really beautiful short-haired Rita Hayworth) in Central Park.

O’Hara is hired as a sailor by the Bannister family and soon they set off for a pleasure cruise to Acapulco (a getaway setting for many noir films).

Irish sailor O’Hara soon realises that Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane), his partner George Grisby (Glenn Anders) and his wife are like sharks ready to destroy each other: you could smell the death, reeking up out of the sea. I never saw anything worse... until this little picnic tonight.

Later Grisby makes a strange proposition to O’Hara. Grisby himself should be killed and the sailor would receive $5000. O’Hara is willing to accept so he could run away with Elsa but in fact she is the femme fatale behind the plot…

The film is certainly a masterpiece with many of Welles’ trademarks (camera angles, a complex story, baroque settings… - the scenes at the aquarium and at the amusement park are unforgettable). Some critics may argue that the plot is complicated and nonsense but as Francois Truffaut once wrote: "The only raison d'etre for The Lady from the cinema itself".

The final scene in the hall of the mirrors is one of the best remembered in film history… Bannister is killed and Elsa is also left to die alone… Like the sharks, mad with their own blood. Chewing away at their own selves.

Michael O'Hara: Maybe I'll live so long that I'll forget her. Maybe I'll die trying.

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