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 »
Film told in flashbacks of an older man's obsession for a woman who can belong to no-one but can frustrate everyone. The backdrop is SternbergÍs surreal and fantastic Carnaval in Spain. In ... See full summary »
Josef von Sternberg
Edward Everett Horton
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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>
'Mother' Gin Sling:
[of an ordinance that would outlaw her establishment]
I've lived by my own ordinances for a long time now, and I intend to disregard all others.
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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" shows how attractive can be a melodramatic story when treated by an artist as Josef von Sternberg. The movie is in the style of German Expressionism; luckily enough, it avoids the slowness and bleak heaviness which affect many movies of that artistic movement, probably since it was filmed in Hollywood instead of Berlin. We are introduced in a world of desperate corruption; every sense of honesty or nobility is dead. It is typical that Mother Gin Sling's casino, the den of every meanness, is intended to be closed not for moral but for business reasons. There is a clever mixture of tragedy and grotesque. Ona Munson is extraordinary as Mother Gin Sling: she apparently knows shameful secrets of the whole cosmopolitan mob which throngs her casino; she has everyone into her claws. Her make-up and Chinese robes are magnificent; her fixed, cruel smile is really scaring. Victor Mature is great in the role of the indifferent, over-lazy Dr. Omar. He is probably black-mailed by Mother Gin Sling, like any other character in the movie; yet he seems to do evil just as an entertaining game, just to win his bore, not by coercion. Gene Tierney is Poppy, the spoiled, rich, scornful girl, just too apt to sink in a pit of corruption, with no possible coming back. A due remark: we are always so stunned by Gene's incredible beauty, that we find it difficult to realize her great talent. Here, at the age of twenty-one, she gives a fully mature performance. Also Walter Huston and all the supporting actors make beautiful jobs. Actually, the acting is always on the verge of grotesque: this is clearly an artistic choice by von Sternberg. If we can find a fault in "The Shanghai Gesture", is that the finale is a bit abrupt. Nonetheless it is a great film, deservedly a cult-movie in the history of cinema.
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