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 pu... more »rchased 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.« less
J. Michael Click | Fort Worth, Texas United States | 11/08/1999
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Compared to the earlier LD and VHS releases from Mystic Fire Video, this DVD is a major disappointment. The source print is abysmal, scratchy and spotted throughout, and there are a couple of jarring jumps in the soundtrack. This bizarre film's best attributes are its atmospheric, moody cinematography; the Oscar-nominated set decorations by Boris Levin; and the sumptuous beauty of the then-20-years-old Gene Tierney. Unfortunately, none of these virtues are adequately presented on the DVD transfer. A pity."
Von Sternberg's last great Hollywood film.
Austin Elliott | Cairo, New York USA | 02/02/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After the critical and box-office disaster of the beautiful and sardonic "The Devil is a Woman", Josef Von Sternberg had his artistic freedom taken away by the studio and was forced to direct works that were unsuitable to his tastes.He eventually could not even get work in Hollywood and he remains another sad example of genius wasted.He did however manage to work on one project that was worthy of his talent:"The Shanghai Gesture"."The Shanghai Gesture"was an anomaly when it was released in the 1940's.Directed in Von Sternberg's exquisite baroque style,it depicted the decadent goings-ons of characters engaged in vice,drugs and revenge set in a gambling den.At that time pre-war Hollywood films were firmly entrenched in the genteel and "The Shanghai Gesture" was considered too daring to be made.Indeed the film could only be made with heavy censorship and this constitutes the film's most serious flaw-some of the plot becomes incoherent due to the forced obscuring of some of the character's motivation. But the film is still remarkable for how perverse it is ,considering the time period,and its subtle yet unmistakeable methods of portraying depravity.Unfortunately,"The Shanghai Gesture" met the same fate as "The Devil is a Woman" and not until it was rediscovered by the French was it appreciated as the masterpiece that it is.The only thing to be added is of the technical-its camerawork and photography are outstanding and it contains a very entertaining and large cast of whom three deserve mention.Victor Mature,very amusing as the sly and mysterious Dr. Omar;Gene Tierney,so breathtakingly gorgeous as the eager to be corrupted Poppy,and best of all -Ona Munson giving the performance of her career as Mother Gin Sling -a Machiavellian revenger whose serpentine coiffure and mocking nonchalance conceal a heart consumed by pain."The Shanghai Gesture" is Josef Von Sternberg's last memorable Hollywood film and though not as well known as the great Marlene Dietrich collaborations certainly merits to be ranked with them."
Bizarre, Visually Sumptuous Film
Fernando Silva | Santiago de Chile. | 06/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although the plot may present some "holes" (I think maybe due to censorship "cuts") and some of it might strike some as "uneven", it is nevertheless an attractive, visually stunning, sumptuous, bizarre, baroque, "decadent" Von Sternberg film, with a great cast.I will start with Ona Munson, `cos she really steals the film from everyone, including one of my favourite actresses and beauties, lovely Gene Tierney glamorously dressed by her then husband Oleg Cassini. Munson's performance is a-la-par with any of the exotic characters played by Marlene Dietrich in her `30s Paramount Extravaganzas. As Mother Gin Sling, she's simply superb, wearing heavy Chinese-make-up, and all kinds of exotic hairstyles and clothes. I only recall Ona Munson, as Belle Watling in "Gone With the Wind", and you'd never tell they're the same person. She seems to have been really a "chameleon", because she IS the embittered Mother Gin Sling. I think she gave an Academy Award winning performance (IMHO).On the other hand, Walter Huston, one of America's greatest actors ever ("Dodsworth", "Treasure of Sierra Madre", etc.) is his usual best as Sir Guy Charteris, the man who wants to take control of Shanghai, thus affecting Mother Gin Sling's business (she owns a Casino located in an "important zone" of the city). I won't tell more.I saw this one on TCM (they borrowed it , because it does not belong to their catalog) with a Robert Osborne introduction, excellent as always, and he tells that no one could had filmed this story, because of the restrictions of the Production Code, until Von Sternberg did it, using the "innuendo" and making changes on the original story here and there, to have the "approval" seal. Anyway, the films is charged with sexual tension, double-entendre, amorality and decadence, as I stated before. It is a Shanghai that can only exist within the mind of the "Master of Style" that was Von Sternberg, I just love his films.And we have too a lovely, young Gene Tierney as the spoiled Victoria Charteris (Huston's daughter), Victor Mature as "gigoloyish" character, Phyllis Brooks, as a beautiful, wise-cracking chorus girl (she reminded me of Jean Harlow's wise-cracking roles), Ivan Lebedeff as a "Casino-Roulette-addict", the funny Eric Blore as an employee of Mother Gin Sling, Mike Mazurki (as one of Mother Gin-Sling's thugs) and Madame Maria Ouspenskaya, in a small role (The "Amah"). In all, a worthwhile film, which I enjoyed completely. Sadly, it seems there are not "restored" copies available.I think I'll buy the DVD, in spite of what's stated about its quality, because I don't think that there is any better edition around (Both the VHS and the DVD were edited by Image)."
A DVD zone SHANGHOLLYWOOD
wdanthemanw | Geneva, Switzerland | 03/23/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Strangely enough, Gene Tierney isn't the main character of Von Sternberg's THE SHANGHAI GESTURE, neither Victor Mature alias Dr. Omar, nor Walter Huston. No, the picture is haunted by the Sternbergian character of "Mother" Gin Sling who steals the show whenever it appears. Ona Munson and Von Sternberg have created here a figure worthy to stay in the annals of cinema if not in the cinematographic harem of this director, in the company of Marlene Dietrich.Too bad that the quality of the DVD presented by Image isn't at the level of the movie. Bad images, bad sound and extra poor bonus features. This shows how highly this company thinks of the movie lovers."
Depravity in an Exotic Locale.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 04/03/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Shanghai Gesture" is often regarded as an early film noir. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it noir. Maybe proto-noir. It embodies some noir conventions and defies others. "The Shanghai Gesture" is a dark story of revenge and greed among seedy underworld characters. But the underworld is in Shanghai, not in the urban jungle of World War II-era America. The story takes place when Shanghai was an international city, part of the British Empire, "a refuge for people who wished to live between the lines of laws and customs", as we're told in the introduction to the film.
The film's first scene shows us a street in Shanghai populated by colorful characters from every corner of the globe. Then we enter "Mother Gin Sling's Casino", an opulent gambling house where Asian, European, Indian, American, and Arab patrons come to be entertained and where no one likes to talk about his nationality. Most of the film takes place in this exotic casino where shootings are commonplace and no law exists except for that of the proprietor, Mother Gin Sling (Ona Munson). One evening, Mother Gin Sling is informed that she must close her establishment and move to another part of town. This district of the city has been purchased by a conglomerate that intends to renovate it. Not too concerned about the problem, Mother Gin sets about finding a way to bribe or threaten the new owner, Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston) into letting her stay. That same evening a beautiful young woman calling herself Poppy Smith (Gene Tierney) visits the casino. A pampered and overprotected rich girl straight from finishing school, Poppy is looking for adventure and danger in the "wicked city". With the encouragement of Doctor Omar (Victor Mature), a slick, poetic ladies' man who works for Mother Gin Sling, she finds too much of it. But everything that goes on in Mother Gin Sling's casino is to her purposes, which will be revealed at a dinner party on the Chinese New Year, attended by Sir Guy and Shanghai's powerful people.
"The Shanghai Gesture" was originally a play by John Colton, and sometimes it feels stagy. Written for Broadway in 1925, the story tries to bring together all manner of vice in an irresistibly exotic location, which is nothing if not entertaining. The most enjoyable performance in the film is probably that of Phyllis Brooks as tough chorus girl Dixie Pomeroy, who has landed in Shanghai and has to make the best of it. She's got spunk and most of the film's best lines, although she's a minor character. Gene Tierney is generally convincing as a spoiled rich girl who is transformed into a raving junkie. And she radiates star power. Ona Munson is always upstaged by her outrageous coiffure.
"The Shanghai Gesture" hasn't fared well with critics, but it was never intended to be great writing. This is salacious popular entertainment, the stuff of pulp fiction. We have a pretty young woman in an exotic environment who jettisons all propriety and succumbs to a lifestyle of debauchery. In a grand style. And to her own ruin, of course. Shanghai? International intrigue? Gene Tierney? I can't help but be entertained, even if the film is a bit ridiculous.
The DVD (Image Entertainment disc): This isn't a pristine print of the film. It has some white specks, although not enough to be distracting. The sound needs to be cleaned up, but the only major problems are during the dinner sequence. It's very watchable, but it needs some work. The only bonus features are text filmographies for director Josef von Sternberg and four members of the cast."