The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

Can a movie that is a mess also be considered genius? Well, that is the perpetual debate about Orson WellesThe Lady from Shanghai. Based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King, this film takes all of the noir essentials and twists them in such an entertainingly strange way that you cannot help but sort of love it. You’ve got the eternally gorgeous Rita Hayworth as the femme fatal (not sporting her signature red locks, but as a short-haired blond, no less), Orson Welles as the stoic and wise sailor that gifts us with a not-so-convincing Irish accent that comes and goes as it pleases, and Glenn Anders in a performance that filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich perfectly coins as “diabolically weird” that absolutely makes our skin crawl. And all of these things are wrapped up in a chaotic story under the genius-like vision of Welles.

"a beautifully composed mess that is a whole lot of fun"


Upon a chance meeting in Central Park, Michael O'Hara (Welles) ends up saving Elsa "Rosalie" Bannister (Hayworth) from a mugging. O’Hara escorts her home and through a series of events, he starts working for her husband, famed and crippled criminal defense attorney Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane), as a helping hand on their yacht while joining them on their pleasure through the Panama Canal. And of course, O’Hara and Elsa are quick to strike up a love affair, and to make things even more interesting, Bannister’s law partner, George Grisby (Anders), somehow tricks O’Hara into a deal that smells like nothing but trouble.

Grisby wants to be murdered. Well…not murdered, but “murdered.” He proposes to give O’Hara $5,000 for helping Grisby fake his own death, promising that O’Hara will get off scot-free since a body will not be found. O’Hara agrees and signs a confession that he is to hand into the authorities. But of course, on the night of the planned “killing,” things go awry – very awry.

What follows includes but are not limited to: an attempted suicide, a chase sequence, a heartbreaking betrayal, and a fatal shootout in a fun house.

Squeezing all of these things into a compact 88 minutes is no easy feat, and at times, it is a bit hard to make sense of it all. The plot, the character’s motivations, etc. all leaves us with more questions than answers. Hence, the film’s reputation as being non-sensical. But even with that, you cannot deny Welles’ visual brilliance. The last five minutes alone with the striking shots of the shootout in the funhouse are probably five of the best minutes to ever be caught on film because of its innovative use of mirror shots, overlays, and sound design. Even for a film that Welles only did to get money for another project, he still marks it with his unique fingerprint rather than being lazy about it.The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

The only problem with this film is that while watching this, I did have the unfortunate thought of “this feels rushed.” (Not to say that a movie that flies by is bad because that is certainly not the case.) But The Lady from Shanghai feels a bit choppy. It felt like there is a lot missing. And from watching the special features, I found out that, in fact, there IS a lot missing. The original cut of the film is said to have been two hours and twenty minutes long, but after test screenings, the film got chopped up, barely making it an hour and a half (almost a whole hour taken out!). Welles, of course, was not too please. But despite that, this version of the film is still admired by many today. And rightfully so. There is still a lot to be impressed by! But I can only imagine how much smoother and satisfying the original cut probably was compared to this truncated version. But alas, that is a cut we will never see. Lost on the cutting room floor forever.

Despite the issues, despite the mess, despite all of the stories and rumors that lure over the picture, and most importantly, despite Columbia’s handy work at truncating the film, The Lady from Shanghai is still great. Welles’ singular vision cannot be diminished in a film full of expertly composed shots, memorable performances, and a story with twist after twist. It is what a would call a beautifully composed mess that is a whole lot of fun.

The Lady from Shanghai is now newly restored and available on Blu Ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

4/5 stars


The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Kino Lorber
Available on Blu-ray
- January 31, 2023
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
: English
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Baffling murders, fascinating plot twists and remarkable camera work all contribute to this spellbinding, time-honored film noir written, directed by and starring Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil). Hired to work on a yacht belonging to the disabled husband of femme fatale Rita Hayworth (Gilda, Separate Tables), Welles plays an innocent man drawn into a dangerous web of intrigue and murder. The subject of great controversy and scandal upon its initial release, The Lady from Shanghai shocked 1948 audiences by presenting Hayworth with her flaming red hair cut short and dyed champagne blonde. Decades later, The Lady from Shanghai is considered vintage Welles, his famous hall of mirrors climax hailed as one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history.


For their new 2K restoration, Kino Lorber gives us a good but not great cleaning up of the film. The deep blacks are a wonderful sight with a greyscale that is very pleasing. The sharpness of the picture is great. Everything from the incredibly gross beads of sweat dripping down Ander’s face to the picturesque landscapes of the beach are all see with great clarity. But the biggest issue with the picture is the stabilization of the film. There is a constant flickering that can be see on-and-off throughout the film and it almost becomes annoying.


With the new 2.0 lossless track, Welles’ signature sound design can be heard with a nice force. All dialogue, music, and everything else comes in crisp and clear. No complaints here.


Stories, stories, stories. This film is one that perhaps the endless stories and rumors about the nightmare of shooting might be more interesting than the film itself. With interviews and no less then THREE commentary tracks to choose from, you get all of the analysis and many juicy stories of everything in and surrounding the film. It is a film nerd’s delight.


  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Imogen Sara Smith
  • Audio Commentary by Novelist and Critic Tim Lucas
  • Audio commentary by Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich

Special Features:

  • A Conversation with Peter Bogdanovich: 2000 Interview
  • Three Comments by Film Noir Historian Eddie Muller
  • Theatrical Trailers

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 4/5 stars
  Video  3/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 5/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

4/5 stars


Film Details

The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
87 mins
: Orson Welles
Orson Welles
Rita Hayworth; Orson Welles; Everett Sloane
: Crime | Drama | Noir
The Story Of A Reckless Woman!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Killing you is killing myself. It's the same thing. But, you know, I'm pretty tired of both of us."
Theatrical Distributor:
Columbia Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
April 14, 1948
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 31, 2023
Synopsis: A seaman becomes involved in a complex murder plot when he is hired to work on a yacht. He soon finds himself implicated in the murder, despite his innocence. The film is best remembered for it's climax "hall of mirrors" scene with a shoot out amidst shards of shattering glass.


The Lady From Shanghai (1947)