Then again, it's a fairly sad lot of people from which to find sympathy. Bannister seems to accept things the way they are, and he deals with life as it comes along. This is in contrast to Michael, who constantly looks ahead, hoping for everything to turn out one way but knowing it'll likely go somewhere else. I think the most unsympathetic person might be Grisby. Any type of control he has or thinks he has is highly evident, because he acts in the manner of a child, especially in the scene with Michael on the boat and Elsa is on the rocks. He also sweats incessantly, so perhaps Welles wanted the audience to view him as the "greasy" character. But, at the very least, Grisby is honest with himself. Michael wants Elsa, but he has to find excuses to be with her. Elsa would lie in a blink if it meant self-preservation. Grisby is transparent: he is greedy, he is jealous of Michael, and he wants Elsa, too. He doesn't try to hide his intentions or present himself as anything other than the greasy weasel that he is.
Orson Welles was perhaps a better director than actor. While he's very good in Touch of Evil (1958), he was too exaggerated as the evil cop, and even in Citizen Kane, he hams it up. Although, he was always theatrical because of his work on radio, in which voice is the most important tool (it's similar to the theatre, where an actor has to overdo it a bit because he/she has to project the voice). Welles is sometimes too theatrical, but Michael in Shanghai is underplayed to great effect. Michael is a brooding man and an emotional punching bag. With a lack of presence, he's really only there for Elsa to unload upon. In short, he's the complete opposite of other Welles' characters, like Quinlan in Touch of Evil and Charles Foster Kane. Rita Hayworth gives a smashing, memorable performance, and she and Welles are complemented by the supporting cast, especially Sloane (who played an equally cynical employer in 1956's Patterns, scripted by Twilight Zone creator/narrator Rod Serling).
Though it's easy to see why The Lady from Shanghai is a cult film, it's undoubtedly flawed. Even at 90 minutes, it's an indulgent film, sometimes quirky just for the sake of it -- such as the over-the-top courtroom scene with Bannister cross-examining himself. Welles gives himself the best dialogue, though everyone has a memorable line or two. Technically, it alternates between shoddy (some of the rear screen shots) and dazzling (the location scenes in San Francisco, the incredible mirror hall climax). But one thing is clear: it's not an easy film to forget!