A young woman, Poppy, out for excitement in Shanghai, enters a gambling house owned by "Mother" Gin Sling, a dragon-lady who worked herself up from poverty to buy the casino. Sir Guy ... See full summary »
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Josef von Sternberg,
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A young woman, Poppy, out for excitement in Shanghai, enters a gambling house owned by "Mother" Gin Sling, a dragon-lady who worked herself up from poverty to buy the casino. Sir Guy Charteris, wealthy entrepreneur, has purchased a large area of Shanghai, forcing Gin Sling to vacate by the coming Chinese New Year. Under orders from Gin Sling, who has found out Poppy is Charteris' daughter, the smarmy Doctor Omar leads Poppy deeper and deeper into an addiction to gambling and alcohol. Gin Sling, realizing that Charteris was her long-ago husband who she thinks abandoned her, plans her revenge by inviting Charteris to a Chinese New Year dinner party to expose his past indiscretions. Charteris, however, has a suprise of his own to spring on Gin Sling. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
You said Doctor Omar. Doctor of what?
Doctor of nothing, Miss Smith. It sounds important and hurts no one. Unlike most doctors.
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Opening credits: "Years ago a speck was torn away from the mystery of China and became Shanghai. A distorted mirror of problems that beset the world today, it grew into a refuge for people who wished to live between the lines of laws and customs - - a modern Tower of Babel. Neither Chinese, European, British nor American it maintained itself for years in the ever increasing whirlpool of war. Its destiny, at present, is in the lap of the Gods - - as is the destiny of all cities. Our story has nothing to do with the present." See more »
THE SHANGHAI GESTURE displays what was best and worst in Josef von Sternberg's 'German Expressionist' approach to film making, first seen by American audiences in his classic Marlene Dietrich productions of the 1930s. Each setting is decadent and mysterious, shot in soft focus, and wreathed in smoke; a sense of the absurd manifests itself in make-up, hairstyles, and costume; each character postures, incessantly, striking poses before delivering dialog; and there is always an undercurrent of sexual bondage, here manifested in the casual suggestions made by lazy, yet smoldering 'Dr. Omar' (Victor Mature), to the stranded showgirl, 'Dixie' (Phyllis Brooks), and the initially haughty, if naive 'Poppy/Victoria' (Gene Tierney), both of whom he easily 'bends' to his desires. In von Sternberg's world, there are seldom heroes, only survivors and predators.
Set in a fantasy version of the infamous Chinese port, GESTURE gathers a disparate group of international 'types', and sets them down in the multileveled center of inequity, a gambling parlor run by the legendary Chinese 'Mother' Gin Sling (Ona Munson). Ensnared by their debts, the mysterious woman 'owns' them, possessing an extraordinary degree of power.
Then the equally mysterious and powerful Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston) arrives in Shanghai, strong enough to control the local government, and with a goal of evicting 'Mother' Gin Sling, and tearing down her property. There is a shared 'skeleton' in both their closets, however, which she will reveal in the film's climactic 'Chinese New Year' dinner party...
While Munson could never 'pass' as Chinese, she does appear exotic and inscrutable, and is actually quite good, as is Huston, displaying a sensitivity masked in arrogant smugness. The true joy of the film, however, is watching the film's younger stars, early in their careers. Victor Mature, at 26, a year after his 'breakthrough' role in ONE MILLION B.C., poses more than acts in his role of an Arab gigolo, but clearly displays the sexuality that would make him a major heartthrob in the 40s; and Gene Tierney, not yet 21, occasionally overplays the 'fall' of her character, yet possesses the luminous beauty that would become her trademark.
Josef von Sternberg would only direct a handful of films after THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (receiving 'on screen' credit in even fewer), and this would be the last film he would have any kind of creative control over.
Faults and all, that alone would make THE SHANGHAI GESTURE worth viewing!
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