Six years after making Citizen Kane, now the infinitely justifiable default answer to questions about the greatest movie of all time, Orson Welles had few options open to him in Hollywood. After the twin triumphs/heartbreaks of Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, a personal project he could never complete (It's All True), and a successful thriller-for-hire (The Stranger), Welles switched allegiances from RKO to Columbia and Harry Cohn, who bailed out his financially troubled theatrical production of Around The World In 80 Days. The alliance resulted in 1948's The Lady From Shanghai, a clearly troubled production with moments of brilliance that rank among Welles' best. An early example of film noir, Shanghai stars Welles as a drifting Irish sailor and anti-Franco veteran of the Spanish Civil War whose attraction to the wife (Rita Hayworth, Welles' own estranged wife at the time) of a famed lawyer (Everett Sloane) clouds his judgement into taking a position on a pleasure cruise. Once aboard, Hayworth's attention intensifies and Welles is roped into a convoluted scheme that may or may not involve murder. Like Ambersons before it and later Touch Of Evil, Shanghai was taken out of Welles' hands after completion and cut from more than two and a half hours to less than 90 minutes. A detailed memo from Welles protesting the changes, another foreshadowing of Touch Of Evil, met with no response, and the finished version bears the mark of interference. In some respects, the loss of control lets Welles off the hook, making it easy to credit him with Shanghai's virtues and forgive him its faults. But its virtues—acidic, politically relevant dialogue and daring camerawork, in particular—are unmistakably his. Stop-start pacing, intrusive music, and an overly explanatory voiceover delivered by Welles in an Irish accent that sounds far less convincing than the one used in the film all prove distractions, but they're ignorable. A proposition made in the hills over Acapulco, another in an aquarium, a sham trial, Sloane's villainous turn, and a justly famous finale set in a hall of mirrors all prove far more memorable. With Welles' cut lost for good, this new DVD restores nothing, but, with his friend and chronicler Peter Bogdanovich acting as a master of ceremonies on an audio commentary and a behind-the-scenes featurette, it presents a balanced portrait of the film's troubled history. Its release delayed for two years, Shanghai failed financially and (with the similarly unsuccessful Macbeth) helped write Welles' ticket out of Hollywood, a tremendous loss even if it would have only resulted in more compromised strokes of genius like this one.
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