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The Lady From Shanghai

Only a lunatic would argue that this is Orson Welles’ best film. I am not that lunatic. However, often I feel that it’s my favourite. It’s the first of his films that I saw (after watching him in Jane Eyre at an impressionable age and imprinting him as Rochester forever). I knew nothing about the Rita Hayworth Hair Bleaching Publicity Shocker, in fact I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t know who anyone was. 

But Orson! Has he ever been more swoonsome? No fake noses (yay!), just all scruffy hair and rumpled suits and sailor cap and wonky Irish accent. But it’s not just for Mike O'Hara that I love this. It’s Orson at his crazy best, stuffing this noirish world with delirious background colour and queasy characters. It’s hard to find a shot in this that isn’t beautiful, or arresting, or fascinating. He is incapable of framing a boring view, but it never gets in the way of the story, just bubbles away at the edges.

Nighttime. A guy and a dame and a voiceover about being a patsy. So far, so noir. Mike rescues the lady from a mugging, and in the course of driving her home lets slip that he killed a man once. And is a sailor. And wants to be a writer. And…well it was a long conversation. He is somewhat disappointed when she turns out to be a Mrs, though. 

Next day the Mr turns up to hire Mike for his Speedboat Of Compensation. The Mr is Everett Sloane, rocking a boater and sticks and an insinuating voice. Look at Mike’s mate Goldie with his monkey. Goldie is ace.

Mr Bannister has a swanky boat because he’s the best lawyer in the world. Lawyers and sailors, not your usual noir cast. Everett Sloane should get an award just for the way he says “lover” in this film. Rita, I’m not sure that’s a regulation uniform.

So Mike, despite not wanting to, is mixed up with these idle rich on their boat. For someone who’s clever he’s remarkably dumb. 

Elsa is somewhat desperate and trapped in general and resorts to uncomfortable sunbathing to keep Mike’s attention.

She keeps the attention of Grisby, Bannister’s partner too. In a film not light on arresting characters, Glenn Anders turns in a memorable performance. Grisby is an insinuating sweaty nutjob. 

Time passes on the boat of discomfort. Elsa sings a bit, and has learn to smoke in a way that makes you think of other things. Then they moor and have the world’s largest picnic. Mike tells the folks a cheery allegorical tale about sharks eating each other. I am distracted by the lovely hamper.

Next, Grisby offers Mike five grand to kill him. We discover that the other guy Mike killed was a Franco spy. Mike really is one of the good guys. However, idiot that he is, he doesn’t immediately say no to Grisby, just stands there attractively like a fool. 

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