The Shanghai Gesture: Gene Tierney Models Black Lingerie

Jan 10, 2011 (Updated Jan 10, 2011)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Walter Huston, Ona Munson, Victor Mature, Gene Tierney, Colorful costumes

Cons:DVD could be better quality

The Bottom Line: Worth seeing to fans of crime drama and gorgeous scenery

The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

Nice visual composition and close-ups characterize this work from late in the oeuvre of Director Josef von Sternberg who had brought fame to Marlene Dietrich as Paramount's answer to MGM's Greta Garbo, where they collaborated for seven films then lost his privileged place when he and Dietrich split to go their separate ways.

This film shows the decadence of turn of the century Shanghai with its dens of iniquity as characterized by Mother Gin Sling's casino - brothel - club. According to the lore available, Shanghai Gesture was unable to pass the censors at the Hayes Office until it had been cut many, many times - the DVD package states 32 times - due to risqué content.

Shanghai is a port city and as such has a British legation according to the old system of treaty ports.  The British drive around in their early Rolls Royce's and especially get carted about in rickshaws by coolies, like those played by veteran actor Mike Mazurki, although probably not quite as robust or well fed looking.

Mother Gin Sling (Ona Munson) who looks like a real Dragon Lady with an elaborate hairdo, has been notified her lease is up on the premises she operates and she plots revenge on the British official Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston). Charteris has a secret and Mother Gin Sling believes she can take advantage of it to save her gambling den.  She plans her revelation for the Chinese New Year at her invitation-only dinner party.

Besides the excellent cinematography and settings, a large cast of prominent names are featured.  In addition to Walter Huston, Victor Mature stars as Dr Omar a procurer for Mother Gin Sling whose latest victim is Gene Tierney, who stars as Poppy, the gorgeous spoiled young woman who has secrets of her own.  Poppy, of course, hints at the opium she is probably addicted to but cannot be mentioned aloud due to the censors. 

Poppy is Charteris' daughter, but there is even more to her than that as is revealed further along in the story... Lots of other familiar faces are present including Phyllis Brooks, Maria Ouspenskaya, Eric Blore, and Albert Bassermann. Most of the actors do their parts proud but the story is likely a little less interesting due to the cuts required by the censors.

After all the developments play out, The Shanghai Gesture ends as it begins with a fade out of the casino as things go on seemingly as they always have and always will.

The Image DVD comes from a fair film print with digitally remastered audio.  The film is in 4x3 format in black and white, with a 94 minute running time.

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