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The Lady from Shanghai: A Classic Film Noir

April 25, 2012

Theatrical Release Poster. Image Credit: Wikipedia / Wikimedia.

The attributes of the film noir style that are prevalent in the film The Lady from Shanghai are plot, cinematography, character development, acting and setting.

This story is a crime drama about the male lead, as played by Orson Welles, being framed for murder. This happens after he makes the mistake of falling for the wrong woman, performed by the beautiful and seductive Rita Hayworth. A crime drama, or detective story, is a staple and a standard in film noir. It definitely needs to exist in a film noir.

In terms of visual style, The Lady from Shanghai incorporates low-key, black-and-white cinematography. This film uses heavy lighting and heavy shadows to produce a strong contrast, creating a visual style that is universal in this genre of filmmaking.

As the film progresses, we learn that Welles’ character becomes a victim of circumstance, popular and typical of film noir. In The Lady from Shanghai, Welles plays the strong, handsome, and smart male lead that falls in love with a woman who uses her sexuality to manipulate him. The protagonist also provides voiceover narration, another common film noir trait that offers an understanding of the main character’s psyche.

Another common character in a film noir is the sexually charged femme fatale, the antagonist. In the film The Lady from Shanghai, Hayworth’s female lead frames Welles’ character of murder. She mainly wears white at the beginning and gradually switches her attire to black as the film progresses. This is an indication of who she really is: the villain.

The setting of a film noir almost always takes place in an urban, gritty, city setting and this trait is almost always present in The Lady from Shanghai. This requirement is fulfilled by using New York City and San Francisco as backdrops for the film.

The acting and the manner in which the characters are developed are a little exaggerated and melodramatic, typical of film noir. Before the term “film noir” was coined, this kind of filmmaking style may very easily have been called “melodramas” due to the overacting.

The style of American film noir, mainly popular between the early 1940s to the late 1950s, can influence a movie of any decade. The film was shot in 1947 and released in 1948, placing its inception at a time when film noirs were becoming very popular. In addition to so many other qualities, the years when it was made and released help ground The Lady from Shanghai as a classic example of what film noir is all about.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Wikimedia.


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