The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

Approved  |   |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir  |  15 January 1942 (USA)
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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 ... See full summary »


(adaptation), (collaborator for adaptation), 4 more credits »
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Sir Guy Charteris
Doctor Omar
'Mother' Gin Sling
Phyllis Brooks ...
The Chorus Girl
Albert Bassermann ...
The Commissioner
Maria Ouspenskaya ...
The Amah
Eric Blore ...
The Bookkeeper
The Gambler
The Coolie
Clyde Fillmore ...
The Comprador
Grayce Hampton ...
The Social Leader
Rex Evans ...
The Counselor
Mikhail Rasumny ...
The Appraiser (as Mikhail Rasumni)
Michael Dalmatoff ...
The Bartender (as Michael Delmatoff)


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 <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Mystery-lure of the Far East! See more »


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Release Date:

15 January 1942 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Shangai, ville de folies  »

Box Office


$1,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


(copyright length) | (1981) (restored)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The play opened on Broadway in New York City, New York, on 1 February 1926 and had 206 performances. The opening night cast included C. Henry Gordon, Mary Duncan and William Worthington, with Florence Reed in the role of "Mother Goddam." A 1928 revival included J. Carrol Naish, who was also tested for a part in the movie. See more »


Omar: The moving finger writes, and having writ - it moves on. Nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it.
See more »

Crazy Credits

[after the cast credits] ... And a large cast of "HOLLYWOOD EXTRAS" who without expecting credit or mention stand ready day and night to do their best - - and who at their best are more than good enough to deserve mention. See more »


Referenced in Gangs of New York (2002) See more »


I'm Always Chasing Rainbows
(1918) (uncredited)
Music by Harry Carroll
Lyrics by Joseph McCarthy
Played on piano by Rex Evans at Gin Sling's dinner party
See more »

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User Reviews

Dreamy von Sternberg Morality Tale...
30 March 2004 | by (Las Vegas, Nevada) – See all my reviews

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!

54 of 58 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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