Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Lady From Shanghai (1948)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Lady From Shanghai (1948)

Writer/director Orson Welles' film noir classic was an imaginative, complicated, unsettling film noir and taut who-dun-it thriller - a tale of betrayal, lust, greed and murder set within a deadly love triangle:

  • the opening voice-over narration was delivered by out-of-work, gullible, wandering Irish seaman Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles): ("When I start out to make a fool of myself, there's very little can stop me. If I'd known where it would end, I'd never let anything start, if I'd been in my right mind, that is. But once I'd seen her, once I'd seen her, I was not in my right mind for quite some, with plenty of time and nothing to do but get myself in trouble. Some people can smell danger, not me")
  • the sequence of O'Hara's first meeting when he was lured to assist and rescue short-haired blonde femme fatale Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) from a hold-up; she was wearing a polka-dotted white dress, and was seated under the black hood of a horse-drawn carriage on its way to New York's Central Park; his fanciful name for her was Princess Rosalie; he recollected her - in voice-over: ("...Once I'd seen her, I was not in my right mind for quite some time...That's how I found her, and from that moment on, I did not use my head very much, except to be thinking of her")
  • after Michael rescued Elsa, she offered the between-jobs sailor employment as a crew member on her sailing vessel to the West Coast via Panama, owned by her crippled (physically-paralyzed), celebrated but asexual and older San Francisco lawyer husband Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane)
  • Elsa sang the haunting torch song "Please Don't Kiss Me" ("Please don't love me, but if you love me, then don't take your lips or your arms or your love away"), while on the deck of the yacht one night, while wearing a black two-piece swimsuit
  • the lecherous, weirdly insane, paranoid and sweaty George Grisby (Glenn Anders), Bannister's business partner, offered Michael $5,000 in return for a diabolical murder scheme -- to sign a phony murder confession for Grisby's own demise (or planned disappearance); with the money, the foolish Michael fantasized about "running off with you [Elsa] to a desert island to eat berries and goat's milk"
  • during a secret meeting at SF's Steinhart aquarium between the two secret lovers - they were deliberately positioned before predatory fish; she encouraged her "beloved fool" to elope with her after the murder plot, and begged: ("Tell me where we'll go, Michael. Will you carry me off with you into the sunrise?...Just take me there. Take me quick. Take me")
  • in the complicated plot, when the fabricated 'murder' plot fell apart, Michael realized he was the fall guy for Grisby's murder and that a vengeful Bannister was now representing him as his defense lawyer! ("Either me or the rest of the whole world is absolutely insane"); he also realized that the villainous Elsa was Grisby's actual killer
  • the visually-intriguing, climactic confrontation and shoot-out in the Crazy House-Hall of Mirrors occurred in an abandoned, off-season amusement park between blonde femme fatale Elsa and her abusive, crippled, wealthy lawyer husband Arthur Bannister as O'Hara watched; Bannister delivered an ominous speech to blonde femme fatale wife Elsa before firing commenced: ("...I presume you think that if you murder me here, your sailor friend will get the blame and you'll be free to spend my money. Well, dear, you aren't the only one who wants me to die. Our good friend, the District Attorney, is just itching to open a letter that I left with him. The letter tells all about you, lover. So you'd be foolish to fire that gun. With these mirrors, it's difficult to tell. You are aiming at me, aren't you? I'm aiming at you, lover. Of course, killing you is killing myself. It's the same thing. But you know, I'm pretty tired of both of us")
  • the couple self-destructively drew their guns and shot at multiple likenesses of each other, as the screen erupted into a wild kaleidoscope of smashed glass, multiple distorted mirrors that broke and shattered, as they both mortally-wounded each other; their aim was confused by the contradictory mirror images that broke into splinters during the wild shooting as one fake image splintered and another replaced it; still in character, Bannister uttered his last words: ("You know, for a smart girl, you make a lot of mistakes. You should have let me live. You're gonna need a good lawyer")
Deadly Shoot-Out in Hall of Mirrors
Bannister's Speech to Elsa
Elsa Reflected in Broken Mirrors
Shattered Mirrors
Bannister's Last Words
  • witnessing the double murders as he stepped back and watched them destroy each other, Michael was horrified by the shattering of glass as the deceptive facades of their evil images were reflected and then blown away - and all that was left in the violent shoot-out was their guilt, greedy hunger, pain and misery
  • Elsa stumbled with Michael into another room where she engaged in her last exchange with Michael during a prolonged death scene; it was filmed at ground level down next to her on the floor, as she agonized over her death; he recalled their conversation in the streets of Acapulco about the badness of the world, and his fishing tale about blood-thirsty sharks; she admitted her own "original nature" had delved into corruptness and evil, and that she had surrendered to "badness", but her pleading failed to gain his sympathy, even after an appeal to his sentimentality: (Elsa: (gasping) "He and George, and now me!" Michael: "Like the sharks, mad with their own blood. Chewing away at their own selves." Elsa: "It's true. I made a lot of mistakes." Michael: "You said the world's bad and we can't run away from the badness. And you're right there. But you said we can't fight it. We must deal with the badness, make terms. And then the badness'll deal with you, and make its own terms, in the end, surely." Elsa: "You can fight, but what good is it? Goodbye." Michael: "You mean we can't win?" Elsa: "No, we can't win. (poetically) Give my love to the sunrise." Michael: "We can't lose, either. Only if we quit." Elsa: "And you're not going to?" Michael: "Not again!" Elsa: "Oh Michael, I'm afraid. (He strolled away) Michael? Come back here. Michael! Please! I don't want to die! I DON'T WANT TO DIE!"); unhooked from her charming and fatal attraction, Michael abandoned her
  • in the film's conclusion, as Michael left her to die alone, he walked away to call the police; he predicted that he might become more ambivalent, forget Elsa and put her corruptive influences behind him - if he grew old enough: (voice-over: "I went to call the cops, but I knew she'd be dead before they got there and I'd be free. Bannister's note to the DA (would) fix it. I'd be innocent officially, but that's a big word - innocence. Stupid's more like it. Well, everybody is somebody's fool. The only way to stay out of trouble is to grow old, so I guess I'll concentrate on that. Maybe I'll live so long that I'll forget her. Maybe I'll die tryin'")

Elsa In Central Park Carriage - Rescued

Elsa Singing on Yacht: "Please Don't Kiss Me"

Elsa and Michael in Aquarium

Elsa with Michael in Hall of Mirrors

Elsa's Death: "I DON'T WANT TO DIE!"

Michael's Film-Concluding Departure


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