A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
The Moorish general Othello is manipulated into thinking that his new wife Desdemona has been carrying on an affair with his lieutenant Michael Cassio when in reality it is all part of the scheme of a bitter ensign named Iago.
Michael O'Hara, against his better judgement, hires on as a crew member of Arthur Bannister's yacht, sailing to San Francisco. They pick up Grisby, Bannister's law partner, en route. Bannister has a wife, Rosalie, 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. Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
These are excerpts from a nine-page "Memo to Mr. Cohn from Mr. Welles", written after Orson had seen studio mogul Harry Cohn's edited version of the picture (he took an hour out):
"...The preview title music was written by a first rate composer, George Antheil. Although not written for our picture at all, this temporary title music had an atmosphere of darkness and menace combined with something lush and romantic which made it acceptable...The only musical idea which seems to have occurred to this present composer (Heinz Roemheld) is the rather weary one of using a popular song--the "theme"--in as many arrangements as possible. Throughout we have musical references to "Please Don't Kiss Me" for almost every bridge and also for a great deal of the background material. The tune is pleasing, it may do very well on the Hit Parade--but Lady from Shanghai is not a musical comedy...Mr. Roemheld is an ardent devotee of an old-fashioned type of scoring now referred to in our business as "Disney". In other words, if somebody falls down, he makes a "falling down" sound in the orchestra, etc., etc...If the lab had scratched initials and phone numbers all over the negative, I couldn't be unhappier about the results...Just before I left to go abroad, I asked Vi (Viola Lawrence, the editor) to make a cut which would involve dropping the near accident with the taxi-cab and also quite a bit of dialogue. I am convinced that this would have been an excellent cut...saving much needed footage in the slow opening sequence (this was not done, accounting for the main weaknesses of the film's opening reel)...There is nothing in the fact of Rita's diving to warrant a big orchestral crescendo...What does matter is Rita's beauty...the evil overtones suggested by Grigsby's character, and Michael's bewilderment. Any or all of these items might have inspired the music. Instead, the dive is treated as though it were a major climax or some antic moment in a Silly Symphony: a pratfall by Pluto the Pup, or a wild jump into space by Donald Duck...There is no sound atmosphere on the boat. A little wind and water is sorely missed. There's no point in photographing a scene on a real boat if you make it sound as though it all happened in front of a process screen...At the start of the picnic sequence...in the temporary score, we used a very curious, sexy Latin-American strain...This has been replaced with a corny "dramatic" sequel--bad stock stuff...This sort of music destroys that quality of strangeness which is exactly what might have saved Lady from Shanghai from being just another whodunit...There is a big musical outburst after Grigsby's line, "I want you to kill him." This is absurd...The Hawaiian guitar music which comes out of the radio...was supposed to be corny enough to make a certain satirical point. As it stands now, it's on about the same level as the rest of the scoring. Nobody in the audience could possibly suspect that we're kidding...The aquarium scene needs more echo. "Please Don't Kiss Me" is in again!...A bad dubbing job and poor scoring has destroyed the character of Michael's run down the pier. From the gunshot through to the phone call, a careful pattern of voices had been built up with the expenditure of much time and effort. For some reason, this has all been junked in favor of a vague hullabaloo. As a result, the whole sequence seems dull...The audience should feel at this point, along with Michael, that maybe they are going crazy. The new dubbing job can only make them feel that maybe they're going to sleep...The gun battle with the breaking mirrors must not be backed with music...The closing music again makes reference to "Please Don't Kiss Me"...This finale is obvious to the point of vulgarity, and does incalculable injury to the finish of the picture."
All of these edits from Orson were ignored
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