The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI

(1947)

Orson Welles – Michael O’Hara / Rita Hayworth – Elsa Bannister / Everett Sloan – Arthur Banniser / Glenn Anders – George Grisby / From the Novel ‘If I Die Before I Wake’ Sherwood King / Screenplay Orson Welles / Produced & Directed Orson Welles

Till all about, the sea was made of sharks..

Lured by the sensuous Lady from Shanghai (Rita Hayworth), Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) is drawn into a web of malicious back-stabbing & a heady combination of Raymond Chandler film noir and dizzying German expressionism. Welles convinced the Studio bosses to let him make this ‘simple little murder movie’ , but the poor fellows must have screamed blue murder when they saw the finished product. It’s not a film that runs all that smoothly, but the quality and sheer oddness of the piece elevates it high above it’s formulaic contemporaries. Welles & Hayworth only had one more year of their marriage to go in 1947, but the lingering intensity of Hayworth’s close-ups betray nothing short of giddy adoration. The gorgeously inventive opening scene has Welles & Hayworth seemlessly rolling from literary narration to bantering dialogue, in a fashion reminiscent of Richard III. Sergio Leone made a whole career out of imitating Welles sweaty close-ups on Glenn Anders, and other influences on modern filmmaking are too numerous to list. Orson’s decision to give his lead character an Irish brogue is a little jarring at first, but before long it makes perfect sense, especially when we come to his mesmerizing ‘shark monologue’, which more than finds echoes in Quint’s chilling Indianapolis tale in Jaws.

BANNISTER – Well, Michael!

MICHAELWell, Mr. Bannister?

BANNISTERMy wife´s lost her sense of humour, and you´ve lost your sense of adventure. Sit down and have a drink. Give him a drink, George. And don´t look so shocked. Michael may not be in the Social Register, but then neither are you…anymore.

MICHAELIs this what you folks do for amusement? Sit around toasting marshmallows and call each other names? If you´re so anxious for me to join the game, l´d be glad to. I have a few names l´d like to be calling you myself.

BANNISTER Oh, but, Michael, that isn´t fair. You´re bound to lose the contest. We´ll have to give you a handicap, Michael. You should know what George knows about me…if you really want to call me names…

BANNISTERAnd, Michael…if you think George´s story is interesting… you ought to hear the one about how Elsa got to be my wife..

ELSADo you want me to tell him what you´ve got on me, Arthur?

MICHAEL Do you know…once, off the hump of Brazil… I saw the ocean so darkened with blood it was black… and the sun fainting away over the lip of the sky. We´d put in at Fortaleza… and a few of us had lines out for a bit of idle fishing. It was me had the first strike. A shark it was. Then there was another. And another shark again. Till all about, the sea was made of sharks… and more sharks still. And no water at all. My shark had torn himself from the hook .. and the scent or maybe the stain it was, and him bleeding his life away… drove the rest of them mad..

MICHAELThen the beasts took to eating each other. In their frenzy.. they ate at themselves. You could feel the lust of murder like a wind stinging your eyes. And you could smell the death reeking up out of the sea. I never saw anything worse.. until this little picnic tonight.

MICHAELAnd you know there wasn´t one of them sharks in the whole crazy pack that survived. l´ll be leaving you now.

BANNISTERGeorge, that´s the first time anyone ever thought enough of you to call you a shark. If you were a good lawyer, you´d be flattered.

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PRODUCTION

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 QUINT’s INDIANAPOLIS FISH TALE

‘Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte… just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know, was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’, so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like you see in the calendar named “The Battle of Waterloo” and the idea was: shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes the shark go away… but sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark… he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be living… until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and they… rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon, the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us… he was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened… waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.’

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2 comments on “The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

  1. Jules Greer says:

    Looks like Yelapa, Mexico where I lived for 5 years, now in Puerto Vallarta – love your site.

  2. chaplin says:

    Thanks Jules. Lovely location, must have been a pleasure to live there for a spell.

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