Lady from Shanghai: The DVD Review
After years of low quality videotape, home video fans finally have gotten an affordable, superb quality outlet for their hobby in DVD. Boasting image and sound quality that put videotape (and, often, laserdisc) to shame, DVD is the wave of the future for home video. So the question must be asked: where are all the Welles films on DVD? As one would expect, we have the public domain titles already, pumped out by the junk merchants to make a quick buck. The Stranger, The Trial, and Mr. Arkadin have all seen releases in this vein. In the case of The Stranger and The Trial, we fortunately have quality releases on the market (from Roan and Milestone, respectively), so we can hope that Arkadin sees a release from Criterion or another company at some point, preferably with alternate versions and all.
But the question remains: what about the other Welles films? The "restored" Othello was put out, and only made me want to hang on to my Criterion LD set, as we will probably never see the original version on DVD. Now, we have The Lady From Shanghai, put forth in a classy, yet lacking package from Columbia. LfS is one of my favorite Welles films, so maybe I was expecting too much. To be honest, I was expecting a bare bones release, so the fact that this has commentary, a short featurette, a trailer, and promo materials is pretty good. Still, none of the extras are materials I will come back to. And that's where I find this release lacking.
Calculated more for the casual film fan than the Welles afficionado, LfS features commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, known of course to Welles fans for his long friendship and collaboration with Welles. PB also speaks about Welles in a 20 minute featurette included on the disc. I was initially excited to hear about this; I mean, come on, the first real Welles special edition on DVD! But having watched it, I was left feeling somewhat disappointed.
PB's commentary begins with about 42 minutes of readings from This is Orson Welles, focusing on material relating to the film and its making, as well as some general comments. This obviously causes the film itself to be ignored. Furthermore, if you're a fairly devoted Welles fan, you've read TiOW before and don't need to hear it rehashed. Following the readings portion of the commentary, PB alternates between scene-specific commentary and general comments about Welles. Very little of it is of the "wow, I didn't know that" variety. I suppose the best way to describe this would be a lack of depth. I would have felt more satisfied by a commentary track by a Welles scholar, and which then makes the PB featurette, which simply regurgitates many of the same stories he relates in the commentary, worthwhile. What was the point of including it? One can only assume that the producers of the disc felt that people would either watch one or the other, and not both, because PB relates the same info almost word for word in both features.
Having said all that, the disc includes the LfS trailer (mediocre quality print), as well as a trailer for Gilda and Loves of Carmen (Rita Hayworth titles). The advertising materials section is a letdown, with only two posters and a handful of lobby cards. What about foreign posters, publicity stills, press releases, and the like?
All that being said, we are left with the film. Thankfully, the film looks good, considering it could probably use a restoration job. There are the usual occasional bits of junk you see in old movies, but never so much that they distract from the viewing. Reel changes show heavier wear. Perfectionists may carp about some of these artifacts, but they didn't bother me. It looks better than the videotape, that much is certain. Clearer, crisper, the way DVD was meant to be. Not perfect, but what is? So if you're a fan, you should have no problems purchasing the disc; it's reasonably priced at $24.95, and you can get it cheaper than that at any number of places, either online or brick and mortar.
FURTHER SCREEN CAPTURES