Wednesday, September 3, 2008

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (Orson Welles, 1948, USA) A shiver of sharks, sensing the urgency of blood soon devours each other in an orgy of gluttony. Orson Welles directs and stars in this violently comic noir masterpiece with his then wife, the sexpot Rita Hayworth. Welles plays the fall guy, Irishman Michael O’Hara and nails the accent and guileless incompetence of the protagonist who is led astray by the wicked Femme Fatale. An almost incoherent murder plot results in a farcical trial that stretches believability but delivers absurdity and humor: defense attorney Arthur Bannister takes the stand under the DA’s direct questioning, then cross examines himself! A surprise subpoena for Mrs. Bannister forces her to withstand the accusations of the prosecution and assure the conviction of O’Hara, her suspected lover. The story is far-fetched and outrageous but that becomes part of the charm. The true value is in the technical compositions and direction: though Welles didn’t retain Final Cut, his surviving vision is wonderful to experience. The fast paced overlapping dialogue adds narrative immediacy and wonderful wordplay, while the thick sweaty close-ups exude porous immorality. Of course, Rita Hayworth is shot with soft filters that add an angelic glow to her countenance, a devilish contradiction to her true nature. The cinematography includes twisting high angle vertiginous shots, and characters that are hidden in shadows that conceal their moral identity. The carriage scene at the beginning breaks editing convention with a continuous shot, panning up and down in focus, as the two strangers discover their fatal attraction. The shattering climax is a technical achievement that is as beautiful to watch as Ms. Hayworth. (B)

1 comment:

smarthotoldlady said...

Welles has a thing for mirrors and reflection. The ending of Citizen Kane , with Kane reflected in a seeming infinity of mirrors as a hollow shell of a monster is paralleled by the reflections in the shattered mirrors which foils the characters' actions as well as reflects their own shattered morality.