Film Style: The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Lady from Shanghai Rita Hayworth (5)

 

The Lady from Shanghai (1947) is a superbly fun, and beautifully filmed, 1940s film noir starring a blonde Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles (who also directed) and Everett Sloane.

The movie is a little gem, with a tight storyline, delicious dialogue (“You’ve been traveling around the world too much to find out anything about it”), wonderful cinematography with buckets of suspenseful shadows and angles and particularly good mirror scene towards the end,  sizzling chemistry between Hayworth and Welles, and of course, Rita Hayworth’s fabulous wardrobe.

The costumes in the film were designed by Jean Louis, who is most well known for creating the famous black strapless gown worn by Hayworth in Gilda. He also designed the risque bejewelled figure-hugging dress that Marilyn Monroe famously wore to sing ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ to JFK in 1962. With that kind of pedigree, you know the clothes in this film have got to be good.

We get a stupendous range of marvellous outfits worn by Hayworth: a polka dot sweetheart neckline day dress with huge black floppy hat (only shown held, not worn); a navy blue naval jacket and hat worn over white shorts, with white espadrilles; a black satin-effect swimsuit with asymmetric strap and zip-up back; a strapless bandau top worn with high-waisted buttoned and strappy sandals (the same seen later covered up with a white blazer and sailors cap); a white cotton dress worn open and loosely belted over ethnic-print shorts and top; a sheer pale chiffon evening dress with faux cape and peter pan collar; a gingham day dress with pointed collar and matching gingham gloves (swoon) worn with dark swing jacket (it was impossible to get the gloves and dress in one image, so you shall simply have to watch the film to appreciate the full effect); a black crepe evening gown with sequins at the hem; a white brocade jacket with stiff shoulders and metal buttons, worn with black gloves and a snake-style metal necklet; a sweeping mink coat with black satin hat with ribbons, black suit, and strappy black heels; and of course, the inevitable courtroom outfit.

It is the unwritten rule of film noir that if there is a courtroom scene, there must be a beautifully dressed femme fatale in it. A sharp suit is good. A draped fur is preferable. But a dramatic hat is an absolute, absolute must. All the better if there is a bit of net to cover her dangerous face. We get the full triple whammy effect in Lady from Shanghai.

Jean Louis could not have done better.

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