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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 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 soon 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.
  • 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
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  • 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.
  • 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.


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