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Shanghai Gesture


3.8 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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(Mar 07, 2006)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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.

Josef von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture is one of the most perverse portraits of decadence to squeak past Hollywood censors. Set in a Shanghai of crowded, claustrophobic, and gloriously phony street sets, Sternberg tells the tale of the criminals and aristocrats who inhabit "Mother Gin Sling's," a gambling house of seedy opulence where the bored rich and desperate poor congregate to lose their money and possibly their souls. Into this world wanders the thrill-seeking Poppy (the elegant Gene Tierney), a haughty girl infatuated with the club's sleepy-eyed gigolo-poet, Omar (Victor Mature, at his lazy best). "We buy and sell everything in the most honorable manner," he purrs to Poppy while luring her further into debt. When Gin Sling (Ona Munson) discovers the girl's secret, she uses her as part of an elaborate revenge against millionaire Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston), a Shanghai businessman with his own dark secrets. Though this came out a year before Casablanca, it plays like a twisted, fun-house mirror reflection of that film, a corrupt paradise in world of meaningless bustle, empty gestures, and easy virtue. Sternberg's languid pacing gives the film a stuck-out-of-time quality, with a story that slows and eddies while the film lingers on the sleazy decadence (suggested, rather than shown, in sly, subversive flourishes.)

Unfortunately the source print is substandard, splotchy, and full of speckles, with a soundtrack layered in hiss. At times it's like looking at the film through the veils Sternberg was so fond of. --Sean Axmaker

Special features


Product details

  • Actors: Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, Ona Munson, Phyllis Brooks
  • Directors: Josef von Sternberg
  • Writers: Josef von Sternberg, Geza Herczeg, James M. Cain, John Colton, Jules Furthman
  • Producers: Albert de Courville
  • Format: Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: March 7, 2006
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews
  • ASIN: B00000JN20
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,847 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
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