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Film / The Lady from Shanghai

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"Some people can smell danger. Not me."
Michael O'Hara

The Lady from Shanghai is a 1947 American Film Noir directed by, written by, and starring Orson Welles and co-starring Welles's then-wife, Rita Hayworth. It is based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King.

Irish sailor Michael O'Hara (Welles) meets the beautiful Elsa Bannister (Hayworth), the titular Lady, after saving her from muggers in Central Park. She offers him a job aboard her yacht, but things take a turn for the worse when Michael gets involved in a plot to help a man fake his death.

Tropes appearing in this film include:

  • Amusement Park: Where the climax occurs, in the hall of mirrors.
  • Animal Metaphor: Michael's shark speech (see below);
  • The Cameo: The yacht used in the movie belonged to Errol Flynn. Flynn was piloting the yacht during filming and can be seen in one scene outside a cantina.
  • Chekhov's Skill / Foreshadowing: Elsa mentions that she grew up in China, the daughter of White Russian exiles (hence the title). After O'Hara escapes from the courthouse, he winds up in Chinatown, and Elsa talks to some of her Chinese hoodlum friends to get him away from the cops.
  • Death Faked for You: It doesn't work.
  • Droste Image: In the iconic hall of mirrors sequence, as shown in the image on this page.
  • Faking the Dead: Grigsby's plot. Subverted — he certainly succeeds on the "dead" end of things, but the "fake" is entirely lacking.
  • Femme Fatale: Elsa
  • Film Noir
  • Film of the Book: Actually based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King.
  • Frame-Up: Grigsby tells O'Hara that he wants to fake his own death in order to collect on insurance and get away. Actually Grigsby's plan is to kill Bannister and frame O'Hara for it.
  • Hall of Mirrors: Trope Codifier. Probably not the Trope Maker as this trope was used for comic effect by Charlie Chaplin in The Circus some 20 years before.
  • Mutual Kill: Elsa and her husband shoot each other.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Welles struggles with an Irish accent.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Michael is at once amused, fascinated and disgusted by the badinage between Arthur, Elsa and George, and is not shy about saying so:
    Is this what you folks do for amusement in the evening - sit around toasting marshmallows and call each other names? If you're so anxious for me to join the game, I'll be glad to. I have a few names I'd like to be calling you myself... Once, off the hump of Brazil, I saw the ocean so darkened with blood it was black, and the sun fainting away over the lip of the sky. We'd put in at Fortaleza, and a few of us had lines out for a bit o' idle fishin'. It was me had the first strike. A shark, it was. Then there was another, and another shark again... 'till all about, the sea was made of sharks, and more sharks, still, and no water at all. My shark had torn himself from the hook, and the scent, or maybe the stain it was, and him bleeding his life away drove the rest of them mad. Then the beasts go to eatin' each other. In their frenzy, they ate at themselves. You could feel the lust of murder like a wind stinging your eyes, and you could smell the death, reeking up out of the sea. I never saw anything worse... until this little picnic tonight. And you know, there wasn't one of them sharks in the whole crazy pack that survived.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Rita Hayworth, married on-screen to gnome-like Everett Sloane.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The audience knows how they are going to try to fake Grisby's death. Even though it's not the whole story, it doesn't go quite as planned.