Orson Welles' classic, The Lady of Shanghai, is the quintessential film noir. You have all the basic elements: the femme fatale, the unsolved murder, and the innocent man unable to extricate himself from the labyrinthine sequence of events that trapped him, or from the woman who drew him in. From the first sequence, when almost indistiguishable faces dart through bright lamplight and deep shadow, this film knows no shades of gray.
Welles himself plays Michael O'Hara, an Irish adventurer who becomes entangled in the lives of the mysterious Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) and her invalid husband. The first few lines--a flashback narrated by O'Hara--lets the audience know from the start what they're in for:
"When I start to make a fool of myself, there's very little that can stop me. If I'd known where it would end, I'd never let anything start, if I'd been in my right mind, that is. But once I'd seen her...I was not in my right mind for quite some time...Some people can smell danger; not me."
Welles' camera finds darkness where we expect nothing but light: Acapulco, the Caribbean, and of course in Rita Hayworth, with her red hair short and bleached to scarily white platinum blonde at Welles' insistence.
The stylistic mastery and fascinating camerawork he shows in this movie alone prove it's hard to go wrong when you're talking about Orson Welles. Though several of his earlier films, such as Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, are undisputed classics, sometimes it's hard to figure out why when you can only watch them on the cramped space of a television set.
The boxed-in TV format was not what Welles had in mind when he came up with scenes like the hall of mirrors sequence at the end of The Lady from Shanghai. On the big screen, the forever-repeating images of the three doomed characters trapped in a maze of mirrors are impressive and disturbing; on TV, they may just be confusing. So when the USA Film Festival offers a chance to view a new print of this 1948 release in its proper big-screen dimensions, you don't think about it: You just go.
The Lady of Shanghai will be shown on Monday, January 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the AMC Glen Lakes Theater, 9450 N. Central Expressway at Walnut Hill. Tickets are $7 general admission and $6 for USA Film Festival members and are available at the theater one hour before the show. For more information, call (214) 821-