Orson and Rita Do The Lady From Shanghai --- Part One
Citizen Kane was the only film Orson Welles made in Hollywood that didn't get hacked up by others. That's a sad record best not grieved over. Let's instead take pleasure in what's left. Consider The Lady From Shanghai. I did recently ... three times. Netflix streamed it in HD, so resistance was futile. This one's a crazy house fershure, too much so for Rita Hayworth's following in 1948. Her audience wasn't Orson's. I don't wonder at Columbia being fit to be tied. Here was what they regarded a mess that had to be made coherent. Rita's fans weren't for experimentation. Welles said he wanted The Lady From Shanghai "to be satirical," but selling noir murderess Hayworth in those terms? --- impossible. I've read OW did the shoot sans sleep, a not unaccustomed way for him, but worse here to point of near-collapse. What is percentage of geniuses who are also over-programmed? There was press hoopla over Rita's hair being cut for the pic, and Harry Cohn apoplectic upon finding out. But wait --- he didn't know in advance of a well-publicized trim and dye job witnessed by a roomful of photogs and "directed' by chief barber Welles?
Everything Rita Hayworth did just after Gilda got noticed, lots more so than a Welles better known as husband and object of male envy for said status. He got the Shanghai job because she'd be in it. The story came out of Orson's grab bag, via B director William Castle who sort of got euchred out of fuller participation he'd hoped for, not unlike Kirk Douglas putting shaft to Barry Sullivan in The Bad and The Beautiful (did producer of that 1952 show John Houseman recall Bill's treatment and suggest the storyline to pinprick now estranged Welles?). Castle got an associate producer credit on Shanghai and played go-fer on location, secure, I suppose, in knowledge that without his discovery of the source novel, there'd be no Lady From Shanghai. Several Welles books claim Columbia assigned a $2.3 million budget for LFS. I think that's high, especially when same accounts cite the writer-director having gone over-budget past two million. So did he or not? John Kobal said the figure was $1.25, one I'm more inclined to accept, and yes, Welles did evidently go way past that.
There were locations, exotic ones at a time when studios did less along such lines. Acapulco was a port of filming call, San Francisco's Chinatown another ... LFS was all over maps, this working to good of visual variety and easing onus off cracked storyline further jumbled by Columbia cutters. There were weeks aboard Errol Flynn's rented (at $1,500 a day!) yacht. Here was not one of Orson's better ideas, as Errol proved a real-life Captain Blood adding another studio to his poach-list for overhead-busting Zaca repairs, renamed Circe for Lady's voyage. Welles worked customary magic with sound for LFS, only to see it recorded over by Columbia tin-ears. This may be the worst hit Lady took. A song any of us might compose in a bath tub was spotted throughout and against his wishes. Please Don't Kiss Me aspired to Hit Parade status, and I did find Les Brown and Margaret Whiting covering it at the time, though Billboard made no mention of the tune climbing charts. It's being there was a must for Rita-opportunity to sing as she had (or was dubbed) in Gilda. Getting a saleable "theme" off movie tracks was tactic increasingly set in stone by 1948.
Busy sound and grotesque characters were endemic to OW projects. Sometimes it could get exhausting. Bizarre, of course, is what we like and anything but what convention-bound Hollywood needed then. Orson's wilder-than-wild set-pieces are what's sustained The Lady From Shanghai past noirs less adventurous and certainly all of what else Rita Hayworth did. She later claimed knowing all along it would be a classic. Shanghai's easier to repeat-watch because it's only 86 minutes long. I can't believe a showman like Welles expected any company, let alone Harry Cohn's Columbia, to release 155 minutes said to have been turned in. Even big a fan as me would have a rough time with that much Lady From Shanghai, even as I regret so much lost footage (none appear to survive). Lady is one you can take for a lark Welles intended, being pure fun minus nasty overlay that distances me more from Touch Of Evil. And was it his own kooky idea to cast Orson as Irish-brouged leading romantic man? He'd crash diet getting in shape for that. Were there also free-for-all lessons from Republic stunt artists? --- because serial sock-fests are very much what Lady From Shanghai fighting evokes, that being very much a good thing for ones of us eager to see OW (and his double) bust up furniture.