Friday, 22 January 2016

The Lady from Shanghai: another connection between Orson Welles and James Bond?

The other week I happened to watch The Lady from Shanghai (1947), a classic film-noir written and directed by Orson Welles, and starring Welles alongside Rita Hayworth. The film's denouement is set within a deserted amusement park, through which Welles' character, sailor Michael O'Hara, makes his way before reaching the hall of mirrors, where (spoiler alert) he confronts and kills femme fatale Elsa Bannister, (played of course by Hayworth), who set O'Hara up for a murder he didn't commit.


 

As I was watching the film, I couldn't help thinking of The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), in which Bond makes his way through Scaramanga's private fun house before reaching a hall of mirrors, where he confronts and kills Scaramanga. The mirrored room also appears in the pre-credits sequence where mobster Rodney (Marc Lawrence) tries his luck against Scaramanga.


 

While the screenwriters of the Bond film (Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz) need not have been directly influenced by Welles' film, the earlier film reminds us that the idea of a hall of mirrors as a sinister, confusing place was well established by the time The Man With the Golden Gun was made. The film drew on this tradition, and the meme has echoes in other films with mirror-room scenes, such as Enter the Dragon (1974), Conan the Destroyer (1984), and even in Die Another Day (2002), when Bond passes an array of mirror and double-helix-pattern hangings in his search of Zao in the genetic therapy clinic.

If we can count the fun house sequence in The Lady from Shanghai as having a connection with James Bond, then it adds to the short list of existing links. Orson Welles played Le Chiffre in the 1967 version of Casino Royale, and another of Welles' films, The Third Man (1949) is cited by John Glen as having influenced aspects of The Living Daylights, which Glen directed. In his book, The Making of The Living Daylights, Charles Helfenstein describes how John Glen worked on The Third Man (as did another Bond director, Guy Hamilton) as a sound editor, and that the sound of the film's famous footsteps are his. Helfenstein also points out that Ian Fleming chose the 'Harry Lime theme' (Welles' character in The Third Man), as one of his 'Desert Island Discs'.

4 comments:

  1. On a sidenote, Fleming also mentions Orson Welles in Live and Let Die--Felix Leiter says he "did a series for the North American Newspaper Alliance on the negro theatre about the time Orson Welles put on his Macbeth with an all-negro cast at the Lafayette."
    Had McClory produced his original Warhead script, Orson Welles would have been his first choice to play Blofeld. It's a pity Welles was wasted in the spoof Casino Royale--he would have been a great serious Bond villain.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, and for the reminder. I'd forgotten about that LALD reference. And I agree - Welles was wasted in Casino Royale.

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  2. 'Riding by Glen Echo Amusement Park, it occurred to me, as a lively scene, that Bond should fight a gun duel in the Hall of Mirrors, each man under blazing lights, and the myriad mirrors presenting exact likenesses to the other as target. A horrible lottery: 20 mirrors and 6 shots.' (Letter from Ernest Cuneo to Fleming, April 12 1957.)

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    1. Ah, yes, of course! Well spotted. That's a nice connection. Thanks!

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