The Lady From Shanghai

The Lady From Shanghai (1948)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Vintage Advertising, Trailers

"The Lady From Shanghai" was Orson Welles’ last film in Hollywood before he decided to continue his illustrious career in Europe. Certainly the harsh criticism the film was facing in the US played a significant role in his decision, but as we all know, his move was not necessarily for the worse. In their "Columbia Classics" series, Columbia TriStar Home Video is now releasing "The Lady From Shanghai" on DVD, giving everyone a renewed chance to take a look at the film that shocked audiences with Rita Hayworth’s appearance as a blonde bombshell – she used to have fiery red hair.

Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) is a naive and credulous sailor when one night in the park he meets Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth). Her radiant appearance and charm has a magnetic attraction on the young man and he immediately falls in love with the attractive young woman – until he learns that she is married to one of the country’s most influential lawyers, Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane).

The disabled Bannister soon hires O’Hara to work on his private yacht, upon request by his wife, and a strange game ensues. While Elsa and Michael have a fling for each other, her husband and business partner George Grisby (Glenn Anders) seem to be well aware of the situation – and enjoying it for some reason. Increasingly uncomfortable in his position O’Hara plans to leave the ship and the crew on the next possible occasion, the Grisby approaches O’Hara.

Years ago, O’Hara had killed a man, and Grisby is looking for someone to do a similar job for him. When he makes O’Hara an offer to kill someone for $5000, the young sailor cannot resist, but a paradox situation arises when it turns out that Grisby himself will be the victim.

A story of mysterious twist and turns, filled with great characters and picturesque settings, Orson Welles’ "The Lady From Shanghai" is a masterfully crafted piece of art just as much as it is a thriller. Despite the bright and picturesque settings, Welles manages to create a dark and ominous atmosphere whenever necessary to create the brooding scenario for this unconventional murder mystery. With imaginative image framings and magnificent camera work, it is immediately obvious that "The Lady From Shanghai" is not a standard noir thriller following an established template. Making the most of his locations, coaxing memorable expressions from the actors and creating a visual feast for the viewers, "The Lady From Shanghai" is a true Orson Welles film from beginning to end. The film may have been a disappointment and box office flop 50 years ago, but retrospectively viewed today, Welles’ genius is undeniable and present in every frame of the film, showing just how much ahead of his time this magnificent filmmaker really was.

Columbia TriStar Home Video is presenting "The Lady From Shanghai" in its original <$PS,full frame> aspect ratio on this DVD. Given the film’s age, some signs of wear are evident in the print used for this DVD transfer. Film grain is quite prominent in a number of scenes and especially at the beginning of new reels, scratches and dust marks and other blemishes are visible, which tend to recede a few seconds into the reel however. All n all it is a decent presentation, but it is obvious that the transfer could indeed have used some additional clean up. The black and white print also shows some signs of discoloration and seems to have a noticeable green push at times. This is limited to certain parts within the frame – most of the found around the center of the screen. At times this over-saturation of green almost gives the film a tint, rather than its original black and white look. The contrast of the transfer is generally good, although a bit inconsistent. While most scenes have a good balance of blacks and highlights, in others the fall-off is extremely sharp, giving the image a hard-edged lithographic quality without image detail. The compression of the film has been done well and only occasional compression artifacts in the form of <$pixelation,pixelation> are evident, mostly limited to areas of significant movement in the frame.

"The Lady From Shanghai" comes with monaural audio tracks in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The English and Spanish tracks are the most natural sounding, where as the others have an incredible thin and tinny quality. The frequency response of the audio is generally rather narrow without much of a bass response and very sharp high ends. Sibilance and slight distortion is evident in a number of instances, but fortunately the track is very clean otherwise. No notable background noise or hiss has made it into the presentation while the noise reduction that has obviously been applied leaves all the high ends intact, resulting in very understandable and clear dialogues.

The DVD also contains an <$commentary,audio commentary> by director/film historian Peter Bogdanovich, who has also been a friend and collaborator of Orson Welles. The <$commentary,commentary track> is highly educational and entertaining, as Bogdanovich analyzes and explains the entire film and its production. Unlike many other historians’ commentaries, Bogdanovich’s commentary always has a free flowing quality and never appears scripted, giving it much more impact and spontaneity. The commentary is very detailed at times and gives the viewer a good impression how the film came together and what kind of filmmaker Orson Welles was. As such, this commentary is extremely valuable to everyone interested to learn more about the Orson Welles genius.

To complement the <$commentary,commentary track>, the disc also contains a small featurette featuring Peter Bogdanovich, in which he unravels some of the background information surrounding the production of the film and the problems Orson Welles was facing at the time. 20 minutes in length, this featurette uses selected scenes from the movie to showcase Welles’ work and talent and in conjunction with the commentary, this featurette adds immensely to the release, to paint a fairly complete picture of the context within which this film has been produced.
A selection of trailers, cast biographies and a gallery of vintage advertising makes this DVD a well-rounded release for this classic film.

"The Lady From Shanghai" is certainly not Orson Welles’ best film, but it has matured very well with age. Not only does it show some interesting and influential visuals and styles, the film itself is told in a very cinematic way, full of symbolism and interesting camera angles. The atmospheric lighting and the well-written script add to the overall quality of the film, making this a truly classic film of the noir genre that carries the Orson Welles signature proudly on its sleeves. While the video presentation could have used some restoration, this DVD is still a great addition to the DVD catalog, especially for all fans of classic movies, so take a trip into this nightmarish thriller and meet "The Lady From Shanghai."