The story casts Welles as a sailor who saves married Rita Hayworth (then Welles’ wife) from some ruffians. Her husband is a crippled defense attorney Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane) and they are going sailing on a yacht. Hayworth wants to hire Welles to come along although Welles is reluctant to go. Welles is then approached by Bannister’s business partner George Grisby (Glenn Anders). Grisby wants to fake his own death and wants Welles to help him. Welles foolishly agrees and then things start to go wrong. Grisby ends up really dead and Welles is arrested as the killer. Bannister defends Welles but Bannister finds out about Welles and Hayworth. This all leads to a very cool fight in a fun house hall of mirrors.
Welles made the film out of desperation. He needed money for a stage musical of Around the World in Eighty Days that he was directing and told Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn that if he wired Welles the $55, 000 that he needed, Welles would write, direct and star in a film adaptation of the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King. Welles had finished the film on time and under budget but after the studio watched Welles’ cut, they freaked out. The film then had more re-shoots and it was cut to the current version that’s available. Welles’ original cut has been lost to time.
The film isn’t quite a masterpiece but it’s pretty good with flashes of brilliance. The final fight has been imitated in countless other films. The movie bombed when it finally got released (some blamed Welles for cutting and dyeing Hayworth’s trademark red hair blonde.) Welles would continue struggling with studios, most notably with his classic Touch of Evil. As time has gone by The Lady from Shanghai has found it’s audience. TCM has recently released the film onto Blu-ray which looks excellent but the extras are a little lacking. It doesn’t seem like the studios are interested in releasing movies on Blu-ray or DVD anymore but as long as specialty companies are that works for a collector like me.