The Lady from Shanghai (Kino) – Blu-ray Review

4.5 Stars Welles noir masterpiece returns to Blu
The Lady from Shanghai Screenshot

After the mixed reception – critically acclaimed yet financially unsuccessful – of his landmark debut Hollywood film Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles followed with The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Journey Into Fear (1943) (the latter he produced and appeared as an actor only) before a brief hiatus – not entirely of his choosing – until his next directorial effort The Stranger (1946). For the follow up to that movie, Welles (by his own account) cut a deal with Harry Cohn – the studio boss of Columbia Pictures – to create a motion picture out of a pulp novel in exchange for $50,000 to help finance a stage production – or at least fund the costumes – of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days; the result would be The Lady from Shanghai. Previously released on DVD by Sony and on Blu-ray by TCM, Mill Creek and Powerhouse Films (Indicator), Kino has licensed the movie for its latest Blu-ray incarnation.

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
Released: 14 Apr 1948
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 87 min
Director: Orson Welles
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Cast: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane
Writer(s): Sherwood King, Orson Welles, William Castle
Plot: Fascinated by gorgeous Mrs. Bannister, seaman Michael O'Hara joins a bizarre yachting cruise, and ends up mired in a complex murder plot.
IMDB rating: 7.5
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Sony
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 28 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case with reversible cover and slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 01/31/2023
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 5/5

“When I start off to make a fool of myself, there’s very little (that) can stop me.”

Thus begins the story of Irish sailor Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles), whose trouble begins when he helps Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) out of a jam in Central Park. Hired by her husband – the celebrity defense lawyer Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane) – to work on their private yacht en route to San Francisco, Michael finds himself swept up in an ever-growing maelstrom of romantic intrigue, deception and murder. Michael’s growing attraction to Elsa is complicated by a bizarre get rich quick murder scheme hatched up by Bannister’s business partner George Grisby (Glenn Anders), who enlists Michael in the plot; when Grisby is found dead, it’s Michael who could be facing prison, but a climactic confrontation in the Hall of Mirrors brings all deceptions to light…

A fever dream of a noir, The Lady from Shanghai might just be one of the best the genre has to offer as well as its most bizarre. Adapting from Sherwood King’s pulp novel If I Die Before I Wake (with uncredited contributions from Fletcher Markle, Charles Lederer and even future master showman of schlock William Castle, who served as an associate producer here), Orson Welles fashions a non-conventional way of telling the tried and true conventions of noir while even adding a dash of darkly ironic humor to the proceedings. The film also benefits from the strong camerawork of cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. (with uncredited contributions from Frank Capra’s longtime cinematographer Joseph Walker and Rudolph Maté, who would go on to be a director in his own right), who creates an intoxicatingly lurid atmosphere hovering over the Acapulco and San Francisco locales – the film was one of the first Hollywood productions to be shot almost entirely on location. There’s not much to complain about here, but one does wonder what Welles originally had in mind for the movie: originally delivering a rough cut around two and a half hours, extensive reshoots and editing ordered by Columbia boss Harry Cohn meant that over an hour of footage was left on the cutting room floor; while the missing footage here is not as well-known as the lost footage of Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, barring a future discovery somewhere, it’s highly unlikely modern audiences will ever see what was originally envisioned for this movie. Even in its existing form, The Lady from Shanghai is still a watermark movie in the film noir genre, one whose influence and impact is still felt today.

In addition to directing, producing and writing the script, Welles also turns in one of his best performances as Michael O’Hara. Shedding her signature auburn locks for a short, platinum blonde haircut – which horrified Harry Cohn, believing Welles “ruined” his studio’s prized actress – Rita Hayworth gives one of her best post-Gilda performances as Elsa; shortly before the film’s theatrical premiere, Hayworth and Welles – who were married during the film’s production – divorced. Everett Sloane, a member of Welles’ Mercury Theatre, gives arguably his best film performance here as the eccentric Bannister, while Glenn Anders – chewing every scene he appears in with sweaty grandeur – gives the film performance of his spotty Hollywood career (he was mostly a distinguished Broadway stage actor) as George Grisby. Rounding out the cast here are Ted de Corsia as the private eye/blackmailer Sidney Broome, Erskine Sanford as the ineffective judge at O’Hara’s farcical trial, Gus Schilling as fellow shipmate “Goldie” who also has one of the best lines in the movie regarding a drunken Broome in Acapulco (“I don’t speak their language, see, and they want me to identify this guy. What’s the Spanish for ‘drunken bum’?”), Harry Shannon as a cab driver and Evelyn Ellis as the Bannister’s maid Bessie; look carefully for Errol Flynn – whose yacht Zaca was used in the movie – in the background outside the cantina in Acapulco.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio for this release. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are faithfully presented with only minor instances of scratches, dirt and tears present. This release is a definite improvement over the Columbia/TriStar DVD release and TCM Blu-ray release, but only slightly better than the previous Indicator and Mill Creek Blu-ray releases, both of which had used the same strong HD transfer as this release.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Heinz Roemheld’s score are all presented faithfully with only minor cases of distortion, crackling, popping or hissing present on the soundtrack. All in all, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video, besting the previous Columbia/TriStar DVD and on par with the previous TCM, Mill Creek and Indicator blu-rays.

Special Features: 4.5/5

Commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith – The first of the two new commentaries recorded for this release, Smith dissects the themes prevalent in the movie and separates the myth from the facts as to the film’s convoluted production history.

Commentary by film historian/critic/novelist Tim Lucas – The second of the two new commentaries recorded for this release, Lucas delves into the cast and crew biographies while also pointing out differences between the movie and the Sherwood King novel which it was based on.

Commentary by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich – Originally recorded for the 2000 Columbia/TriStar DVD release, Bogdanovich goes into impressive detail about his conversations with Welles, his own personal experience with the movie as well as how Welles wanted the movie to be edited in a lesser-known memo.

A Conversation with Peter Bogdanovich (20:52) – Also carried over from the 2000 DVD release, Bogdanovich goes over the film’s legacy in this on-screen interview; much of the information here overlaps with the commentary track.

Comments by Eddie Muller – Carried over from the 2014 TCM Blu-ray release, film noir guru and TCM host (Noir Alley) Muller offers up his take on the movie in these three comments: Film Noir Poetry (2:34), Back Story (12:59) and It’s Film Noir Distilled (4:52).

Theatrical Trailer (1:30)

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Stranger, Touch of Evil, Man in the Shadow & Separate Tables

Notably missing here are an appreciation by Simon Callow, an excerpt from a 1970 French TV interview with Rita Hayworth, an image gallery and a Trailers from Hell commentary by Joe Dante, all of which are present on the Region Free Indicator Blu-ray release and an introduction by the late Robert Osborne on the TCM Blu-ray release.

Overall: 4.5/5

Despite confusing audiences and critics on initial theatrical release, The Lady from Shanghai has been reappraised over the years as a gem of a film noir as well as one of the most enigmatic entries in the genre. Kino has turned in another quality release here, with a sterling HD transfer and a solid selection of special features – with two new commentary tracks – carried over from previous releases (though not all can be accounted for here). Very highly recommended.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Robert Crawford

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Thank you for your fine review. I bought this movie four different times on Blu-ray. :blush: If it comes out again on 4K/UHD, I'll buy it again. :rolleyes:

The main reason I purchased this on Blu-ray for the fourth time is because of the new audio commentaries, particularly, Imogen Sara Smith's. Besides Eddie Muller, she is my favorite film noir expert and I can listen to her talk about noir all day long.
 

Angelo Colombus

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There’s a review of the new El Cid blu ray from Japan in today’s TheDigitalBits that sounds promising. Wonder how it compares to the Remini version.

Thank you for your fine review. I bought this movie four different times on Blu-ray. :blush: If it comes out again on 4K/UHD, I'll buy it again. :rolleyes:

The main reason I purchased this on Blu-ray for the fourth time is because of the new audio commentaries, particularly, Imogen Sara Smith's. Besides Eddie Muller, she is my favorite film noir expert and I can listen to her talk about noir all day long.
I also have all the releases on disc since i am a big fan of Welles and a great film to watch. Can't wait to hear the new commentary.
 

cda1143

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Thank you for your fine review. I bought this movie four different times on Blu-ray. :blush: If it comes out again on 4K/UHD, I'll buy it again. :rolleyes:

I also have all the releases on disc since i am a big fan of Welles and a great film to watch. Can't wait to hear the new commentary.
You guys are not alone. What time is our support group meeting this week?
 

J. Casey

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Same here...both of the TCM releases, the Mill Creek, the Indicator, AND the Kino! Glad to see that I'm not alone or crazy.....
 

Noel Aguirre

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I just purchased this for the first time today unbelievably for $12.49 on Amazon. It was recently on TCM and I caught it midway and was instantly hooked. This movie is twisted! In the best way! I remember once like 40 years ago in my 20’s trying to watch it and shut it off. I guess like a fine wine before it’s time some things get better with age or I just wasn’t ready for it at the time!
 
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