B&W, 1947, 87 mins. 30 secs.
Directed by Orson Welles
Starring Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted De Corsia, Erskine Sanford
Indicator (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), TCM (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Mill Creek (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

The Lady from ShanghaiThe Lady from ShanghaiThe legendary and highly uncontrollable Orson Welles kissed his big studio career goodbye for many years thanks to this strange, splashy film noir designed as a vehicle for his wife at the time, red-haired screen siren Rita Hayworth. The circumstances of the film's genesis (as a money-raising project for Welles' Mercury Theater) and its very troubled history with Columbia Pictures have since become legendary, with Welles clashing with studio suits and his lengthy film ordered to be chopped down by over an hour and outfitted with an unapproved music score. Of course, it's a miracle the film ever got released at all, especially when you see how futile any efforts were to hammer out its strangeness. Packed with great scenes and baffling little touches, it easily joins Welles' other turbulent projects as a mystery that keeps bringing viewers back over and over to unravel a project that seems to offer something new every time you look at it.

While visiting in New York, Michael O'Hara (Welles), an Irish sailor, makes a fateful life choice when he saves mysterious blonde Elsa (Hayworth) from some street punks who ambush her tourist horse-drawn coach in Central Park. She offers to hire him to sail herself and her husband, attorney Arthur Bannister (Citizen Kane's Sloane), through the Panama Canal and around to San Francisco, which Michael accepts. During the boat trip an additional passenger, law partner Grisby (Anders), makes a surprising offer to fake his murder for money to the cash-strapped Michael, The Lady from Shanghaiwho reluctantly agrees and The Lady from Shanghaithinks it might be a way to win Elsa away from her husband. However, another surprise arrival and several double crosses emerge by the time they arrive in San Francisco, where Michael finds that being hounded by the law is the least of his worries.

Given a lukewarm reception at the time, The Lady from Shanghai has since gone on to become one of Welles' most famous films, largely in part to its dazzling and often imitated hall of mirrors shoot out finale (which was originally much longer and even more ambitious). Any chance to see a pairing of Welles and Hayworth (who divorced soon after filming) has to be worthy of interest, and seeing her cast as a dangerous film noir dame with her trademark red hair turned blonde is a peculiar sensation on first viewing for most classic movie buffs. She's excellent though, and though her screen time is actually fairly limited (especially in the middle third), there's little doubt why she got star billing.

Readily available on home video since the VHS days, The Lady from Shanghai was issued on DVD in several countries by Sony but, oddly enough, never by them on Blu-ray. An extensive 4K restoration of the film was The Lady from Shanghaiconducted that resulted in a pristine new master, though the first release from Turner Classic Movies in early 2014 was blasted for its substandard VC-1 encoding, The Lady from Shanghaipaltry bit rate, and generally weak appearance, not to mention a lossy Dolby Digital track. That edition contained one extra from the general 2000 DVD edition, an audio commentary by Peter Bogdanovich (your mileage will vary on this one depending how much of a tolerance you have for his usual "I was good friends with Orson Welles" routine) and dropping a 20-minute Bogdanovich interview that covered most of the same ground. New to the first TCM edition are an intro by the late Robert Osborne, a half-hour Noir.net podcast, separate stills and poster galleries, production and publicity photos, and talent bios and TCM articles. An advertised "comments" feature by film noir expert Eddie Muller also failed to materialize. Complaints about that release led to a TCM reissue six months later, featuring a superior and significantly darker presentation with a Dolby TruHD track and much better encoding -- not to mention that elusive Eddie Muller material, which is chopped up into three new featurettes ("An Epic Noir Poem," "Back Story," and "It's Film Noir Distilled"), all up to his usual high standards. (Not surprisingly, he went on to become a regular film noir host on TCM in 2017.) The Lady from ShanghaiWeirdly, a year later a budget Blu-ray release with zero extras was released by Mill Creek, featuring a DTS-HD MA English mono track and a very similar but slightly brighter transfer The Lady from Shanghaifrom the same restoration source.

In 2017, Indicator brought the film to Blu-ray and DVD as a dual-format UK release. The presentation is closest to the second TCM edition with deep black levels and the greatest sense of depth, which is likely the best way to watch the film without the brighter and paler bump of the Mill Creek. The LPCM English mono track sounds excellent and comparable to those prior releases, with English SDH subtitles provided. Carried over from the Sony DVD are the Bogdanovich commentary and video interview. The main new extra here is a video interview with actor and writer Simon Callow (21m20s) in which the self-professed Welles fanatic chats quite eloquently about how Welles the actor and Welles the director converged most unusually on this film, which put his theatrical mettle to the test under unusual circumstances within the studio system -- with digressions along the way including Cole Porter. Quick but intriguing is a 1970 French TV interview with Hayworth (4m1s) from Pour le cinema in which she speaks (in French!) about her collaboration with Welles and her latest film, The Road to The Lady from ShanghaiSalina (where's that special edition?). The theatrical trailer is also included, while Joe Dante appears for a Trailer from Hell version of it as well with an intro about his views on Columbia's overreaction to The Lady from ShanghaiWelles' rough cut. An extensive and quite beautiful HD image gallery of promotional and production stills is worth a look, too, as is the insert liner notes booklet with an excellent piece by Samm Deighan about Welles' transition to this film from The Stranger, the changes from Sherwood King's source novel If I Die Before I Wake, the ties to Greek mythology, and the film's (and Welles') perspective on Asian characters. Also included is an extract from the one and only William Castle's (spectacular) autobiography, Step Right Up!... I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America, in which the longtime Columbia vet talks about his own involvement in the film from writing an early treatment to serving as associate producer, including extensive production diary entries with a focus on the boat, the Zaca, which belonged to Errol Flynn. Finally you get a lengthy memo from Welles about his extreme displeasure with the film's score, plus brief remarks from Sony's Grover Crisp and David Bernstein and MTI Film's Larry Chernoff about the special challenges posed by restoring this film to its absolute best condition possible.


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Reviewed on April 13, 2017.