“They don’t make ’em like that anymore,” is a phrase that applies to the film noir favorite The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Based on Sherwood King’s novel “If I Die Before I Wake” (1938), this thriller is best known for its legendary stars, artsy black-and-white shots, masterful sets, and climactic hall of mirrors shootout scene in a (not-so) fun house.
The film begins with a cynical voiceover by Irish sailor Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles). Almost immediately, he meets a bleached blonde beauty (Rita Hayworth) with short hair. This is the mystery’s first twist since the actress was famous for her long red mane.
At the time of production, Hayworth was married to Welles who co-wrote, produced and directed the film. Despite the creative control he had on his classic Citizen Kane (1941), Welles didn’t agree with the post-production decisions made on this picture, specifically the score and editing, which may explain why he chose to forego his credit as director.
Also uncredited is cinema’s celebrated swashbuckler Errol Flynn as a man in the background of a cantina. Of course, the movie belongs to Hayworth. As Elsa “Rosalie” Bannister, the iconic screen goddess plays the cool and complex titular character who bewitches O’Hara, the nihilistic fall guy willing to fall for a married femme fatale.
When exposing their vulnerabilities to one another, the two have an appealing onscreen chemistry. Indeed, viewers can’t help but root for them even when the plot is difficult to follow. While the script may not be as witty as Hayworth’s signature flick Gilda (1946), the dialogue is always engaging. Add the fact that the visuals are amazing and this is one highly recommended pic.
The Lady from Shanghai can be seen on the big screen at Music Box Theatre on Aug. 25 as part of its Noir City: Chicago 2023 celebration. For tickets and a full schedule, visit musicboxtheatre.com. The film can also be streamed for free on YouTube and for a small fee on Amazon Prime.