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>
Orson Welles originally wanted the film to have the sound be a disruptive element, a device to unsettle the viewer (such as keying voices in at such a low level a viewer would have to strain to make out what was being said). Except for a few minor instances of this effect (the grating voices of Bannister and Grisby, the overdubbing of the final dialogue in the Hall of Mirrors), almost all were "corrected" by the Columbia sound department. See more »
The narrator mentions they arrive back in San Francisco in early October, but in the document (prepared by Grisby) that Wells signs verifying his killing of Grisby, it is dated August 9th, supposedly the next day. See more »
Michael O'Hara is a charming Irish sailor, a drifter who encounters a beautiful woman in Central Park, saves her from attackers, and finds himself drawn inexorably into her eerie world.
Orson Welles wrote this screenplay, and adaptation of of a Sherwood King novel. He had great difficulty getting it past Joseph Breen, the overseer of the Motion Picture Production Code, and in the end had to drop the ending in which O'Hara persuades Elsa to kill herself. Welles also directed the film and played the key role of O'Hara, a character with strong Wellesian resonances. As Higham, Welles' biographer, puts it, "Like Welles, O'Hara rejoices in being eccentric and poor ... and sees through and condemns all corruption."
The great Rita Hayworth was estranged from her husband Welles in mid-1946, and agreed to take the role of Elsa Bannister as part of a final bid to save the marriage. Elsa is the Lady From Shanghai, the temptress whose sexual allure ensnares O'Hara. Arthur Bannister, the complaisant cuckold, is played by Everett Sloane, stalwart of the Mercury Theatre and long-time Welles collaborator. The disturbing role of the deranged George Grisby is taken by Glenn Anders, his face distorted by wide-angle lenses to suggest the psychotic menace of the law partner with the bizarre death-wish. It has been claimed that Welles based Grisby's character on the real-life Nelson Rockefeller.
As one would expect from Welles, there are some stunning visuals in this film, and some hauntingly memorable screen moments. Hayworth sings the love song beautifully, and the Acapulco interlude is visually delightful. The cast works brilliantly as an ensemble, delivering the Wellesian dialogue with purring efficiency. The Central Park sequence involves the longest continuous dolly-shot ever filmed. Later, we see the arches of the Calle del Mercadero slip by moodily as the camera tracks down the street, and then the angle is reversed and we see the colonnade from inside. Only Welles could come up with the aquarium idea, with shots of a different, better, aquarium matted in to give the exact effect that he wanted - a silent commentary on predators. The rounded tops of the fish tanks link the aquarium thematically with the Calle del Mercadero. The famous final sequence in the fun fair was butchered by the studio, reduced to a mere sherd of Welles' original scheme, but still terrific. Our spatial perceptions are toyed with, much as O'Hara's moral bearings have been skewed by Elsa.
One part of the film which fails badly is the trial scene. Absurdities proliferate. A defence attorney finds himself called to the stand as a prosecution witness, and if that is not silly enough, he then proceeds to cross-examine himself. The surprise subpoena is nonsense.
Verdict - A relatively lightweight offering from Welles contains good things, but is marred by the risible courtroom scene.
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