Why is The Lady from Shanghai so good?
(Why is it so much better than The Prince and the Showgirl, which was made10 years after it? Had cinema regressed?)
- Orson Welles acts the whole movie with an Irish accent which he wint and picked up in Double-in in the early Thorties.
- Rita Hayworth lies on a boat in the Caribbean and sings Please Don’t Kiss Me, the camera giving us just her plaintive face, her voice accompanied by a piano and an acoustic guitar.
- It’s like the germ of future film scenes – it nearly ends in Chinatown; Welles delivers a monologue about sharks that foreshadows Quint’s in Jaws; Lovers meet – Romeo and Juliet – backed by an aquarium. It ends, like Strangers on a Train, in an amusement park. Even the Oscar Pistorius case is told (Welles, sceptical that anyone goes to jail for murder in American, tells the story of a man whose wife “went to the icebox for supper…he shot her five times in the head, said he thought she was a burglar.”)
- The dialogue, which Welles adapted from a Sherwood King novel, is great (“Some people can smell danger; not me.” “Personally, I don’t like a girlfriend to have a husband” – Do you drink? – “Whatever’s put in front of me: it doesn’t have to be wholesome it just has to be strong” – “I was taught to think about love in Chinese” – “The only way to stay out of trouble is to grow old so maybe I’ll concentrate on that.”)
- Hayworth plausibly speaks Mandarin and dives from high rocks.
- So much happens – even just in the first sixteen minutes – and scene after scene looks beautiful (the opening shot of the tugboat passing under the Brooklyn Bridge; when they “dawdle around the West Indies, getting into trouble”; when they spend some time in the “bright and guilty world” of Acapulco; when they watch a show in Chinatown).