Shady lady delight: ‘The Lady from Shanghai’ at Lacma

As part of the Essential Orson Welles series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “The Lady from Shanghai” and “Mr. Arkadin” will play Saturday, May 24, starting at 7:30 p.m.

The Lady from Shanghai/1948/Columbia Pictures/87 min.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

The Lady from Shanghai poster“Citizen Kane” is hallowed cinematic ground, I know, but my favorite Orson Welles film is “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948), which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in, playing opposite his real-life wife Rita Hayworth, one of the most popular entertainers of the 1940s.

In “The Lady from Shanghai” Welles plays Michael O’Hara, an Irish merchant seaman, in between ships in New York. By chance, or so he thinks, he meets the wily blonde operator Elsa Bannister (Hayworth) and saves her from being mugged in the park. Elsa invites Michael to join her as she sets sail for Acapulco.

The boat belongs to her husband, a wizened, creepy criminal lawyer named Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane), and he’ll be on the trip too. So will his partner, the moon-faced and sinister George Grisby (Glenn Anders).

O’Hara agrees regardless. “Once I’d seen her,” he says, “I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.” On their voyage (the yacht belonged to Errol Flynn), Elsa and Michael flirt every chance they get; Arthur gets touchy and calls her “Lovah,” in a most unloving way; Grisby is generally unpleasant.

The tension builds, then breaks when they reach San Francisco. But not for long. Grisby has a plan to cash in on an insurance policy by faking his own murder and bribes Michael to help him. Need I say the plan doesn’t quite work out as they’d hoped? This is film noir, you know. “The Lady from Shanghai” is richly surreal and haunting in its intensity.

Welles and cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. use staggering angles and startling black shadow almost to the point of abstraction. Two of the most famous sequences are the aquarium and the funhouse hall of mirrors at the end. Of the latter, Time Out notes that “it stands as a brilliant expressionist metaphor for sexual unease and its accompanying loss of identity.”

The script, based on the Sherwood King novel “If I Die Before I Wake,” crackles with noir attitude (“Everybody’s somebody’s fool,” says O’Hara). Hayworth, the perfect femme fatale, looks contemporary and sexy whether in her chic nautical garb or the filigree hat she wears in the courtroom.

Welles had to endure tremendous interference from Columbia Pictures execs, particularly studio chief Harry Cohn. Though the film was shot in 1947, Cohn delayed the release until 1948 in order to “fix” it. Welles’ original 155-minute cut was chopped to 87. Cohn also insisted that the movie have more closeups of Hayworth and that Welles film a scene of her singing. Welles was displeased with the score by the studio-appointed composer who disregarded Welles’ guidelines for the music; the mirror scene, for example, was to be unscored to heighten the sense of terror.

“The Lady from Shanghai” did not do well in the U.S. upon its release, though it was admired in France. Welles’ decision to have Hayworth cut her long red hair and bleach it blonde caused a controversy, and many in Hollywood believed it contributed to the film’s poor box-office returns. Watch this film for its serpentine plot twists, stunning images and as a testament to the fact that you should never underestimate the power of a good-hair day.

“The Lady from Shanghai” plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 24, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

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The Noir File: Superb sizzle in ‘The Lady from Shanghai’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and  pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

Stars Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles were married from 1943 to 1948.

Stars Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles were married from 1943 to 1948.

The Lady from Shanghai  (1948, Orson Welles). Sunday, Dec. 29. 12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.). With Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles and Everett Sloane.

“Citizen Kane” is hallowed cinematic ground, I know, but my favorite Orson Welles film is “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948), which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in, playing opposite his real-life wife Rita Hayworth, one of the most popular entertainers of the 1940s.

In “The Lady from Shanghai” Welles plays Michael O’Hara, an Irish merchant seaman, in between ships in New York. By chance, or so he thinks, he meets the wily blonde operator Elsa Bannister (Hayworth) and saves her from being mugged in the park.

Elsa invites Michael to join her as she sets sail for Acapulco. The boat belongs to her husband, a wizened, creepy criminal lawyer named Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane), and he’ll be on the trip too. So will his partner, the moon-faced and sinister George Grisby (Glenn Anders). O’Hara agrees regardless. “Once I’d seen her,” he says, “I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.”

Read the full FNB review here.

Friday, Dec. 27

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Across the Pacific” (1942, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2012.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “We Were Strangers” (1949, John Huston). Intrigue and rebellion, long before Castro, in ’40s Cuba. With John Garfield, Jennifer Jones, Gilbert Roland and Pedro Armendariz. Co-scripted by Huston and  Peter Viertel (who later dissed his boss in the tell-all novel (about the shooting of “The African Queeen,”  “White Hunter, Black Heart”).

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “Out of the Past” (1947, Jacques Tourneur). With Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Klute” (1971, Alan Pakula). Jane Fonda as a brainy hooker (her first Oscar-winning performance) being pursued by a psycho killer. Donald Sutherland plays Klute, the cop who tries to help and save her. A classy, first-class neo-noir.

Saturday, Dec. 28

Boyer drives Bergman nuts in "Gaslight."

Boyer drives Bergman nuts in “Gaslight.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor). With Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton and Angela Lansbury. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 25, 2012.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Suspicion” (1941, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine and Nigel Bruce. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 21, 2012.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945, John M. Stahl). With Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 8, 2013.

Sunday, Dec. 29

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “The Lady from Shanghai.“  See Pick of the Week.

Monday, Dec. 30

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “The Loved One” (1965, Tony Richardson). Novelist Evelyn Waugh’s (“Brideshead Revisited”) delicious dark comedy about a posh Los Angeles pet cemetery (modeled on Forest Lawn) and the vagaries and deadly eccentricities of the British community in Hollywood, — turned into a Strangelovian satire/farce by director Tony Richardson and screenwriter Terry Southern. One of the campiest casts imaginable is headed by Robert Morse as the Candidesque protagonist, and includes Rod Steiger, Jonathan Winters, Tab Hunter, Robert Morley and Liberace.

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‘Gilda’ shows that if you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it

“Gilda” is all about Gilda and that’s the way it should be – for any femme fatale and particularly for Rita Hayworth the most popular pinup girl of WWII, a talented entertainer and Columbia Pictures’ top female star in the mid-1940s. This 1946 movie by director Charles Vidor is essentially a vehicle for the drop-dead gorgeous Hayworth to play a sexy free spirit who lives and loves entirely in the present moment.

Longtime friends Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth had a brief affair during the making of “Gilda.”

Hayworth revels in the sexual power she wields over any man who crosses her path, despite the fact that in post-war America a woman with a mind (and body) of her own spelled nothing but trouble. As the Time Out Film Guide points out: “Never has the fear of the female been quite so intense.” That said, the “independent” Gilda is only briefly without a husband and has to endure a lengthy punishment from her true love.

She first appears, after a devastatingly dramatic hair toss, as the wife of husband Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Suave, but aloof and asexual, Ballin runs a nightclub in Buenos Aires. Gilda passes the time plucking out tunes on her guitar and propositioning other men. Nice work if you can get it.

Enter Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), an American gambler who runs Ballin’s club. Johnny’s job extends to keeping an eye on Gilda when she’s carousing on the dance floor. Ballin isn’t around much because he’s off trying to form a tungsten cartel with some ex-Nazi pals. But babysitting the boss’ wife (Ballin calls her a “beautiful, greedy child”) is especially tough for Johnny because he and Gilda used to be an item and endured a bitter breakup.

Ballin (George Macready) and Johnny (Glenn Ford) have a tense relationship.

The script is laced with taunts, barbs and innuendo. For example, Gilda tells him: “Hate is a very exciting emotion, hadn’t you noticed? I hate you, too, Johnny. I hate you so much I think I’m going to die from it.” (And some see homosexual undertones in Farrell and Ballin’s relationship.)

Director Vidor, whose other films include 1944’s “Cover Girl” (also starring Hayworth), “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Joker Is Wild” (both 1957), holds his own in the noir genre. “Gilda” is a dark tale (alluding to sexual perversion and repression) and there’s some moody cinematography, courtesy of Rudolph Maté. But Marion Parsonnet’s script, despite many sharp, clever lines, doesn’t hold together and that throws off the pacing. The first third meanders along too slowly while the ending seems abrupt and slapped together.

The plot is thin and vaguely confusing – Ballin is up to no good and at one point is thought to be dead, only to turn up later at a pivotal point in Johnny and Gilda’s romance. They reunite of course and their push-pull tension is the engine that drives the story. Luckily, that tension, combined with solid direction and acting, save the movie.

(The legendary Ben Hecht is an uncredited writer on “Gilda” and if the storyline rings a bell, you might be thinking of “Notorious” also from 1946, written by Hecht, which is another story of ex-Nazis up to no good in South America. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant play the wary, mistrustful lovers in Alfred Hitchcock’s superior rendering of similar material.)

The chemistry between Ford and Hayworth is about as real as it gets. Longtime friends, they had a brief affair during the making of the movie. In his book, “A Life,” Glenn Ford’s son Peter writes that Vidor coached Glenn and Rita with “outrageously explicit suggestions.” Peter Ford quotes his father as saying: “[Vidor’s] instructions to the two of us were pretty incredible. I can’t even repeat the things he used to tell us to think about before we did a scene.”

Hayworth performs “Put the Blame on Mame,” choreographed by Jack Cole.

According to Peter Ford, this off-screen fling stemmed from Hayworth’s unhappy marriage to Orson Welles. The romance also drew the ire of Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, who reportedly lusted after Hayworth and whom Hayworth rejected. “Gilda” was the second film Hayworth and Ford appeared in together; they worked together three more times afterward as well.

“Gilda” wasn’t a critical hit, but it proved popular with audiences, especially the famous “Put the Blame on Mame” scene.

Choreographed by Jack Cole, a bold and brilliant innovator, the number is as close to a strip tease as was possible in 1946. Hayworth was dubbed by Anita Ellis in that number, though there is some debate as to whether it’s Hayworth’s voice when she runs through the song with Uncle Pio (Steven Geray) earlier in the movie.

Though “Gilda” cemented Hayworth’s celebrity status, her fame came at a price. “Every man I’ve known has fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me,” she said. But, despite her career ups and downs, five failed marriages and a long struggle with Alzheimer’s, she kept her sense of humor. In the 1970s, Hayworth was asked, “What do you think when you look at yourself in the mirror after waking up in the morning?” Her reply: “Darling, I don’t wake up till the afternoon.”

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‘Gilda’ quick hit

Gilda/1946/Columbia Pictures/110 min.

Nightclub singer and dancer Gilda (Rita Hayworth), a prototypical sex symbol before the term came into vogue, carries on a perverse relationship with two men – her husband (George Macready) and her ex (Glenn Ford) in South America. Best of all, she puts on Hollywood’s most elegant strip tease ever, courtesy of bold and brilliant choreographer Jack Cole.

Is it Gilda’s fault that men fall in love with her left, right and center? Ask her and she’ll explain: you can “Put the Blame on Mame.” Directed by Charles Vidor with luscious cinematography by Rudolph Maté.

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Levine to co-host ‘Choreography by Jack Cole’ on TCM

Critic Debra Levine

Jack Cole and Marilyn Monroe

Los Angeles-based dance critic and arts journalist Debra Levine will co-host a special tribute to the influential dance maker Jack Cole (1911-1974) on Turner Classic Movies. The four-film tribute will be broadcast on Monday, Sept. 10, starting at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT). Levine joins TCM’s veteran host Robert Osborne to provide commentary.

From 1941 to 1962, Cole pioneered American jazz dance as an art form in Hollywood films. He contributed dance sequences to 30 movies at Columbia Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Metro Goldwyn Mayer, some credited, some not.

Cole left behind a celluloid track record of outstanding dance sequences with highly diverse themes (including some with a noir-tinged, nightclubby vibe), all with a recognizable Cole brand that is uncannily contemporary.

TCM schedule for Sept. 10

Tonight & Every Night” (1945, Victor Saville) 8 p.m. (5 p.m.)
Rita Hayworth, Lee Bowman, Janet Blair, Marc Platt

On the Riviera” (1951, Walter Lang) 10 p.m. (7 p.m.)
Danny Kaye, Gene Tierney, Gwen Verdon

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1952, Howard Hawks) 11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.)
Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell

Les Girls” (1957, George Cukor) 1:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.)
Kay Kendall, Taina Elg, Mitzi Gaynor, Gene Kelly

Born John Ewing Richter in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1911, Jack Cole’s extraordinary career as a top American dancer/choreographer began with pioneering modern-dance troupe, Denishawn. His innovative nightclub act, Jack Cole and His Dancers, toured the nation’s night clubs starting around 1933. In the mid 1940s in Los Angeles, Cole began a 20-year run as a brilliant and innovative Hollywood choreographer, crafting ingenious customized dance sequences for stars like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and others.

Cole coached the stars not only in movement but also in song and line delivery. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Levine called Cole’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953): “a delicious confection, a piece of Hollywood perfection.”

Cole died in Los Angeles in 1974; he was 62.

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The Noir File: Monroe, Welles, Heflin and more

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the movies listed below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK: “The Asphalt Jungle” and “The Lady from Shanghai”

“The Asphalt Jungle” has a near-perfect cast.

The Asphalt Jungle
(1950, John Huston)
Saturday, Aug. 4. at 6 a.m. (3 a.m.): Huston’s classic heist movie, scripted by Ben Maddow from W. R. Burnett’s novel, has a near-perfect cast: Sterling Hayden (the muscle), Jean Hagen (the moll), Sam Jaffe (the brains), James Whitmore (the lookout), Anthony Caruso (the safe man), Marc Lawrence (the backer), Brad Dexter (the torpedo), John McIntire (the cop), Louis Calhern (the double-crosser) and Marilyn Monroe (the mistress). One of Jean-Pierre Melville’s three favorite films.

The Lady from Shanghai” (1948, Orson Welles)Wednesday, Aug. 8. at 10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): Adventurer/sailor Welles gingerly woos a very blonde Rita Hayworth, wife of the wealthy, evil Frisco lawyer Everett Sloane, and victim of Glenn Anders as the very weird George Grisby. A flop in its day, now considered one of the greatest noirs and a Welles masterpiece. The highlights include an amazingly crooked trial scene and the wild chase and shoot-out in a hall of mirrors.

Richard Allan plays Marilyn’s lover in “Niagara.”

Sat., Aug. 4: Marilyn Monroe Day

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Clash by Night” (1952, Fritz Lang) Lang’s cool, underrated adaptation of Clifford Odets’ smoldering play. With Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Paul Douglas and Monroe.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Niagara” (1953, Henry Hathaway) One of Monroe’s sexiest roles was as the faithless wife of tormented Joseph Cotten, the two 0f them trapped together in a cabin at Niagara Falls. Jean Peters is the good wife next-door.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Some Like It Hot” (1959, Billy Wilder) Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, two dance-band musicians in drag, flee the Chicago mob and George Raft after witnessing The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; Monroe is waiting for them aboard the Miami train. Only part film noir – the rest is gangster movie parody and screwball comedy – but noir can be proud to claim even a portion of the greatest American sound comedy. [Read more...]

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Mitzi Gaynor to appear at UCLA’s Jack Cole tribute night

So many bad girls, so little time ...

Innovative choreographer Jack Cole is finally getting his due. Long neglected in most discussions of dance on film, Cole introduced radically modern ideas and forms to a sphere often treated as merely decorative. He also lent distinction to the careers of stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and Mitzi Gaynor. Cole came to Hollywood from the world of nightclubs and Broadway.

Jack Cole

Mitzi Gaynor

As dance critic Debra Levine points out, Cole was a preeminent film choreographer when he joined Twentieth Century Fox to coach Monroe and Jane Russell in 1953’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

His film portfolio includes remarkable female solos: “Put the Blame on Mame” for Hayworth in the film noir “Gilda” (1946); “No Talent Joe” for Grable in “Meet Me After the Show” (1951) and “Beale Street Blues” for Gaynor in “The I Don’t Care Girl” (1953).

On Saturday, Aug. 4, the UCLA Film & Television Archive is hosting a tribute to Cole. There will be a screening of “The I Don’t Care Girl” and a discussion with Gaynor, Levine and Larry Billman, founder of the Academy of Dance on Film. Directed by Lloyd Bacon, the movie shows Cole’s hyper-stylized choreography to dazzling effect.

The UCLA event precedes Levine’s guest-host appearance on Turner Classic Movies. “Choreography by Jack Cole,” a four-film Cole homage, airs Sept. 10 on TCM.

UCLA’s tribute is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Billy Wilder Theater, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024, 310-206-8013. Tickets are $10 and I hear they are going fast!

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‘A Little Prince’ recalls Ford family’s ‘perfect’ Hollywood life

Peter Newton Ford, son of Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell, grew up among Hollywood royalty. His father rose to stardom with Rita Hayworth in the film noir classic “Gilda” (made by Charles Vidor in 1946, the year after Peter was born). His mother was known as “The Queen of Tap” at MGM.

Life in the Fords’ Beverly Hills mansion looked picture perfect. But, says Peter Ford, much was hidden behind the warm, charming, cheerful exterior and, as his parents’ marriage dissolved, he found himself divided between fantasy and reality. The documentary “A Little Prince” explores his family relationships against the backdrop of Hollywood’s Golden Age, with its mighty magic and sweeping illusions.

“A Little Prince” by Alexander Roman, plays June 29 to July 5 at Laemmle Noho 7, 5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA, 91601. There will be a Q&A with Ford and Roman on Saturday, June 30, and Sunday, July 1.

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‘Lady from Shanghai’ is richly surreal, haunting in its intensity

The Lady from Shanghai/1948/Columbia Pictures/87 min.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

“Citizen Kane” is hallowed cinematic ground, I know, but my favorite Orson Welles film is “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948), which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in, playing opposite his real-life wife Rita Hayworth, one of the most popular entertainers of the 1940s.

In “The Lady from Shanghai” Welles plays Michael O’Hara, an Irish merchant seaman, in between ships in New York. By chance, or so he thinks, he meets the wily blonde operator Elsa Bannister (Hayworth) and saves her from being mugged in the park.

Elsa invites Michael to join her as she sets sail for Acapulco. The boat belongs to her husband, a wizened, creepy criminal lawyer named Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane), and he’ll be on the trip too. So will his partner, the moon-faced and sinister George Grisby (Glenn Anders). O’Hara agrees regardless. “Once I’d seen her,” he says, “I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.”

On their voyage (the yacht belonged to Errol Flynn), Elsa and Michael flirt every chance they get; Arthur gets touchy and calls her “Lovah,” in a most unloving way; Grisby is generally unpleasant. The tension builds, then breaks when they reach San Francisco. But not for long.

Grisby has a plan to cash in on an insurance policy by faking his own murder and bribes Michael to help him. Need I say the plan doesn’t quite work out as they’d hoped? This is film noir, you know.

“The Lady from Shanghai” is richly surreal and haunting in its intensity. Welles and cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. use staggering angles and startling black shadow almost to the point of abstraction. Two of the most famous sequences are the aquarium and the funhouse hall of mirrors at the end. Of the latter, Time Out notes that “it stands as a brilliant expressionist metaphor for sexual unease and its accompanying loss of identity.”

The script, based on the Sherwood King novel “If I Die Before I Wake,” crackles with noir attitude (“Everybody’s somebody’s fool,” says O’Hara). Hayworth, the perfect femme fatale, looks contemporary and sexy whether in her chic nautical garb or the filigree hat she wears in the courtroom. [Read more...]

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‘The Lady from Shanghai’ quick hit

The Lady from Shanghai/1948/Columbia Pictures/87 min.

Irish sailor Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) knows from the start that it’s probably not going to work out well when Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth, Welles’ real-life wife) invites him to join her on a sailing trip with her husband and his business partner. “When I start out to make a fool of myself, there’s very little can stop me,” says O’Hara. The plot is downright acrobatic; the visuals are dazzling. Welles directed, wrote and produced.

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