The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

Approved  |   |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir  |  15 January 1942 (USA)
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Reviews: 56 user | 25 critic

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


"POPPY"...the Victim of Vengeance! Her love of life and laughter led her to a most amazing doom! See more »


Approved | See all certifications »




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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 »


Poppy: You don't drink, Mother Gin Sling? Is your name Chinese or English?
'Mother' Gin Sling: Indeed Gin Sling is English. It's a nickname as common in this part of the world as the drink sold over the counter.
Poppy: Why Gin Sling? Why not Whiskey Soda?
'Mother' Gin Sling: There was a girl called Whiskey Soda too. And another one - Martini. And one called Scotch Highball, another Benedictine. In other places I might have been called Rose, or Violet, or Lily, or, eh, even Poppy.
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 The Man with Bogart's Face (1980) 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

A beautiful, fascinating melodramatic story
3 July 2000 | by (Padova, Italy) – See all my reviews

"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.

19 of 23 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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