Review of “The Lady from Shanghai” (1947)

trailer from YouTube

Svengoolie was, alas! a rerun yet again, so we watched a noir for Saturday pizza and bad movie night. This little flick has Orson Welles speaking an (occasional) brogue and allowing himself to be lured into a circle of unpleasant people after a pretty girl winks at him.


“When I start out to make a fool of myself, there’s very little can stop me,” begins the voiceover with a shot of a boat going under the Brooklyn Bridge. Michael O’Hara sets his eyes on a beautiful woman in a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park and offers her a cigarette. “But once I’d seen her, once I’d seen her, I was not in my right mind for some time,” the voiceover tells the viewer.

The voiceover is read by Orson Welles in the character of Michael O’Hara, an Irish merchant marine in the United States. The object of his adoration is Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth).

Once the carriage is out of view, thieves descend upon it. Elsa screams. A regular donnybrook arises between Michael and the three attackers, with the three bad’uns lying on the ground, groaning. Elsa and the driver are fine.

For no clear reason, Michael strands the driver and takes the reins of the carriage back to Elsa’s car, where he learns that Elsa is Mrs. Bannister. Bummer that. She offers him a job on her yacht. He declines.

Not as dumb as he looks.

The next day, Mr. Bannister (Everett Sloane) comes to the seaman’s hiring hall, where Michael has come for work on departing ships. Bannister offers him the job in gratitude for saving his wife.

Against his better judgment, Michael accepts the job.

It’s an unhappy cast and crew. Michael senses Elsa’s unhappiness. The two of them could run away together, except he has no money. Things go from bad to worse when they pick up Bannister’s law partner, George Grisby (Glenn Anders). Grisby offers Michael $5000—a lot of money in 1947—to sign a confession saying he killed Grisby. Grisby will then disappear. No body, no murder conviction (which was how the law read at the time). Michael sees the money as a chance to start over again with Elsa.

What could go wrong?


This was based on the 1938 novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King. It also portrays a hapless main character getting caught up in the machinations of unpleasant and unscrupulous people with money.

Elsa wants to leave her husband, but he won’t let her. He hints that he used something in her past in China to coerce her into marriage. She lived and worked in dubious places. She may have worked as an entertainer, for she sings the movie’s signature song, “Please Don’t Kiss Me” (dubbed by an uncredited Anita Ellis). She may have worked as a working girl—which of course, didn’t exist, and if they did, they wouldn’t get a mention in a respectable movie.

The plot can get a little confusing. (“Now, who’s he again?”) Orson Welles talks a lot. A lot. Few scenes are without his face in them. Those nifty little twists and turns, unpleasant people, and femmes fatale appear, but this is Orson’s baby.

An amusing courtroom scene is followed by a chase through San Francisco’s Chinatown. I missed this, but when Elsa Bannister buys a ticket at a Chinese theater, the cashier greets her by saying, “Konnichiwa!” a Japanese greeting.

The most bizarre scene of the film is the final shootout, which takes place in a fun park hall of mirrors. It plays with the viewer’s sense of reality: Is this a dream?

Overall, I liked this movie. However, it would have been better if there had been less Orson Welles.

The movie can be watched here.

Title: The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
Directed by
Orson Welles…(uncredited)

Writing Credits
Sherwood King…(story based on a novel by)
Orson Welles…(screenplay)
William Castle…(uncredited)
Charles Lederer…(uncredited)
Fletcher Markle…(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Rita Hayworth…Elsa Bannister
Orson Welles…Michael O’Hara
Everett Sloane…Arthur Bannister
Glenn Anders…George Grisby
Ted de Corsia…Sidney Broome (as Ted De Corsia)

Released: 1947
Length: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: