After watching a rough cut of Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai, Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn looked furtively around the projection room, and in an anguished voice begged "Somebody please tell me what this is about!"… More After watching a rough cut of Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai, Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn looked furtively around the projection room, and in an anguished voice begged "Somebody please tell me what this is about!" Cohn missed the point: in an Orson Welles film, it doesn't matter what it's about. You just sit back and wallow in his camera pyrotechnics and shadow-drenched imagery. Actually, the story, based on a novel by Sherwood King, makes perfect sense after two or three viewings. Welles plays an Irish-American sailor (with a brogue that wouldn't convince a cow) who rescues a beautiful blonde from muggers in Central Park. The blonde is portrayed by the otherwise redheaded Rita Hayworth, who under the direction of her ex-husband Welles delivers one of her most impressive performances. Orson and Rita meet again when Welles is hired as a crew member of the yacht owned by Rita's husband, the brilliant, crippled defense attorney Everett Sloane. As he falls deeper under Rita's spell, Welles gets involved in a bizarre insurance scam. Glenn Anders, Sloane's eccentric law partner, plans to stage his own death, collect the insurance, and skip town. All Welles has to do is pretend to murder Anders, and he'll get a big chunk of the money. As it turns out, Anders is murdered for real. The innocent Welles is defended in court by Sloane, who is famous for never losing a case, but who in this instance seems bound and determined to lose. As the jury files out, Welles makes a break for it. Rita catches up with him at a Chinese theatre, then stands by with a glazed expression on her face as she watches her cohorts drug Welles. As he comes to in an amusement park fun house, he begins to piece the plot together; he has been set up as a clay pigeon by Rita and Sloane. Only now, Rita intends to double-cross her husband. The plot comes to a literally smashing climax in the famous "hall of mirrors" sequence, with Rita and Sloane shooting it out amidst shards of shattering glass. No, it isn't the simplest thing in the world to follow Lady From Shanghai, but we wouldn't forego this bizarre cinematic jigsaw puzzle for anything.
Consensus: Energetic and inventive, The Lady from Shanghai overcomes its script deficiencies with some of Orson Welles' brilliantly conceived set pieces.