It’s been called everything from an outright disaster to ‘the weirdest great movie ever made’. Like ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ before it, Orson Welles’s glittering 1947 thriller was subject to swingeing studio cuts (up to an hour was sliced from the finished picture). But what remains of ‘The Lady from Shanghai’ is remarkable enough. Made as the director was in the process of breaking up with his star, the breathtaking Rita Hayworth, this is less a film noir and more a divorce case writ large, steeped in irony, self-loathing, love, hate, fascination, recrimination, mistrust and sexual longing.
It’s the story of an Irish roustabout – played with wandering accent and waistline by Welles – and his relationship with a troubled society beauty (Hayworth) after he takes a job on her yacht. The plot is a magnificent mess of switchbacks and revelations, climaxing with one of cinema’s most outrageously inventive sequences: a shootout in a funfair hall of mirrors. The result may not have the crystalline perfection of ‘Citizen Kane’, but that’s a flaw it shares with every other film in history.