Thursday, March 22, 2012
YEAR 1948: ELSA BANNISTER
Because I've decided to start this blog by making one post apiece for each year and then starting over, I've often been forced to back-burner many significant characters, not least many of the "femmes fatales" of noir fiction and cinema.
Fortunately, 1948 gave us one of the best in Elsa Bannister, played by Orson Welles' then-wife Rita Hayworth in the Welles-directed LADY FROM SHANGHAI. Welles cast his wife against the "vixen" type that had proven so successful in 1946's GILDA, giving her both an ice-blonde appearance and attitude.
As LADY has been celebrated on many film-sites, there's no need to outline the virtues of the film here. Suffice to say that though evil Elsa's initial idea in the film is to get patsy Michael O'Hara (Welles) to kill her aged husband for her, she ends up attempting to do the job herself, in a climactic "hall of mirrors" scene that remains one of Welles' tour-de-force visualizations. Originally Welles wanted O'Hara to persuade Elsa to kill herself in remorse, but the studio allegedly disapproved of the use of suicide. Whatever their motives, the studio seems to have forced Welles into crafting a climax that was at least more visually stunning.