Zacapulco – Welles Done

25 Jan

Adapted from American Cinematographer, August 1948

For the boating scenes in tropical Mexico, Columbia Studios chartered Errol Flynn’s luxurious yacht, The Zaca, and Flynn himself served aboard as skipper. Scenes were filmed above and below decks, at anchorages in Acapulco Harbor, at Fort San Diego in Acapulco Bay,

In order to shoot the location sequences for Lady From Shanghai, a company of 50 Hollywood actors and technicians flew to Acapulco, along with 60 Mexican extra players and technicians from Mexico City. More than 15 tons of equipment were shipped from Hollywood, one order of six tons comprising the largest single air express shipment ever undertaken by a movie location company.

Shooting aboard the yacht was, from the space standpoint very difficult, and these scenes, as they appear in the picture, are necessarily cramped in composition — but this actually works in favor of the overall effect because it produces an authentic atmosphere of crowded life aboard a small yacht. During filming aboard The Zaca, a long line of native dugout canoes anchored astern formed a bridge from the barge holding the generator so that electrical cables could be stretched for the camera and sound equipment.

In filming sequences at sea, the camera crew discovered that they could not depend upon their usual light meter readings. Reflections from the surface of the water kicked up more intensity than the meter recorded, causing over-exposure of the scene. This effect was noted in the screening of the first rushes, and a series of experimental tests was made to arrive at some sort of rule-of-thumb that could be used to compensate for the additional amount of light

(Left) On location in Mexico, Welles briefs his crew prior to filming a sequence. At his side is Charles Lawton, ASC, whose outstanding photography adds greatly to the impact of the film. (Center) Errol Flynn’s yacht The Zaca is anchored in Acapulco Harbor. Astern are a line of barges over which electrical cable was stretched between the yacht and the generator boat. (Right) For a scene shot in the jungle streams of Mexico, the camera is mounted on a dugout canoe alongside the boat in which the principle players ride.…

— Tim


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  1. Karl

    May 5, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    In the brief clip you provide, I always wondered how the yacht was seemingly so still, and that the foreground (lovely Rita) in motion but then… that’s Hollywood for you.

    The Lady from Shanghai is (ALSO) especially noted for it’s GRAND Finale of the mirror scene… which I had always thought was without precedent until… note this section of the following (0:21-1:26):…

    • Gentleman Tim

      May 5, 2021 at 6:23 pm


      No wonder he was so popular and so universally regarded a genius. That is just a-maze-ing!

      Btw, where is the camera in the mirror scene??

  2. Karl

    May 5, 2021 at 11:28 pm

    The 2 great geniuses were Chaplin and… Welles, himself, was given the credit for the story of Monsieur Verdoux…

    Safe to say they were an inspiration for each other:…

  3. Karl

    May 6, 2021 at 1:09 pm

    To answer your question, GT- there isn’t one…

    Little is known of Chaplin’s creative process except… for a SAVED (behind the scenes/outtakes) visual record of Chaplin at his PEAK (City Lights, 1931) along with some others like The Circus and Modern Times.

    Chaplin shot without a script; he literally WROTE with film … and, as the perfectionist he was known to be (see:…) it may be surmised that he simply worked at it until he GOT what he wanted.