Back in May 2014, when Cinema Detroit was showing Sony Pictures’ 4K restoration of The Lady From Shanghai, I had occasion to research the making of Orson Welles’ classic film noir, and I discovered that, while Errol Flynn is (probably) not in the movie, he was present and was very much involved in the filming.
Lady from Shanghai is about an Irish sailor, Michael O’Hara (Welles), who gets caught up in dangerous web of intrigue with a beautiful blonde, Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth), and her sinister husband Arthur (Everett Sloane). After O’Hara rescues Elsa during an attack in Central Park, Arthur offers him a job leading the crew on the Bannisters’ yacht as they sail to San Francisco via the Panama Canal. Captivated by Elsa, O’Hara agrees. Once aboard, the sailor is suckered into Arthur’s bizarre “help me fake my own death” plot, from which no good can come.
The journey is lengthy and thus, much of the film takes place aboard Bannister’s yacht Circe, actually Flynn’s yacht Zaca, on the ocean around Acapulco. Flynn rented the boat to Welles, and served as skipper between takes, as well as (per IMDB) doing all the aerial photography. The story of the Zaca is a fascinating one in itself, one for another post perhaps.
While I couldn’t find any pictures of Flynn specifically with Chula, he seemed to really like dogs.
The IMDB entry for Lady from Shanghai also states that Flynn appears in the film briefly, as a cantina guest seen in the background when Elsa walks by. Now, as a projectionist, I’ve seen it several times, and I believe I’ve even managed to find Joseph Cotten in it. But I never noticed Errol Flynn. Internet searching led me to some possible screen captures on the site mitteleuropa, one of which I’ve modified below:
The first thing I noticed in these stills is that the man in question, though he resembles Flynn, doesn’t look that much like him, and is blond, while photos of Flynn taken behind the scenes show his usual darker hair. Though Flynn was famous for pranking people, I can’t see him dyeing his hair or wearing a wig for one scene in a movie. So if it isn’t Flynn, who is it?
I believe the answer is apparent in the uncropped version of this other birthday party photo, which is far less-frequently seen:
As stated on the super-comprehensive Errol Flynn Blog, the blond guy at the cantina is probably Swiss bandleader Teddy Stauffer, second from right above, a friend of Flynn’s who was in Acapulco at the time, and who is usually, along with his compadre to his left, cropped out of the picture. Stauffer eventually had a relationship with Hayworth (among others). I really wonder who the man on the far right is — if anyone knows, please comment!
In my search I also turned up several references to Flynn appearing in Lady with his back to the camera while talking on the phone. Alas, there’s no photographic evidence whatsoever, so I wonder if this cameo ended up on the cutting room floor…a distinct possibility, as Welles first edit was 155 minutes long, and the film now clocks in at around an hour and a half.
I highly recommend The Errol Flynn Blog if you like him even a little. Even if you don’t, you’re bound to find something of Old Hollywood interest. Just make sure you have some spare time when you stop by there…10 minutes can easily turn into two hours.
Also, if you ever get the chance to see the restoration of The Lady From Shanghai on a big screen near you, I highly recommend that as well. Incredible care was taken on this version, and it’s stunningly, almost unbelievably, crisp.