Sergio Leone Web Board

Other/Miscellaneous => Off-Topic Discussion => Topic started by: cigar joe on February 29, 2012, 09:39:19 PM

Title: The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
Post by: cigar joe on February 29, 2012, 09:39:19 PM
"You like-ee Chinee New Year?"


Director: Josef von Sternberg, with Stars: Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Ona Munson, Phyllis Brooks and Victor Mature.
WOW caught this on TCM on 3/2/29, both campy & entertaining


A two young women, floozie Dixie (Phyllis Brooks) and mysterious Poppy (Gene Tierney), arrive  in Shanghai, a very memorably bizarre, sleazy, and oily looking "Doctor" Omar (Victor Mature) spots down and out Dixie and basically pimp-like picks her up and conveys her to a huge den of iniquity, an ornate gambling house/brothel visually cueing Dante's Inferno owned by "Mother" Gin Sling (Ona Munson) a Classic Dragon-lady who gives Mature a run for his money in the bizarre department, looking almost like a Chinese Medusa with a hairstyle that resembles writhing snakes.  

When I first saw Munson I could have almost sworn she was Gloria Swanson she'll really remind you of Swanson's performance in Sunset Boulevard hell she even sounds like Swanson unless Swanson was doing a Munson interpretation in Sunset. . .

Based on a play by John Colton, Sternberg according to TCM's Robert Osborne, had a lot of trouble getting the original material past the Hayes Code, and its not hard to see why when you see the film. The original play was about a brothel, Gin Sling was the madam in fact Madam Goddamn in the play, "Doctor" Omar was  probably a pimp/abortionist, Poppy was addicted to opium and at one point in the play declares that she is a nymphomaniac. Anyway it may behoove the Noir aficionado to track down the play and see what might have been.

The concentric descending circles of Gin Slings Place


Mature deposits Dixie into "Mother's" clutches and "chorus girl" Dixie visually clues us in to her true profession "whore"when she spreads her legs as she sprawls upon a chair displaying her runny nylons to a leering Mature.

Supposedly Sternberg had a tough time getting this material

Dixie & Omar a first meeting after being "rescued" from the streets

( (

and ensconced in club


You decide who looks more ridiculous fez sporting "Doctor" Omar. . .  


or "Mother" Gin Sling


Afterwards in the huge gambling hall sitting at the bar Poppy (an incredibly beautiful Tierney) is spotted by Omar sitting with an Indian where she remarks "It smells so incredibly evil", intoxicated by the very repugnance of the place, she adds "I didn't think a place like this existed except in my imagination." Omar zeros in inducing her to try her luck at roulette. She ends up hocking her jewels to stay in the game.



Sir Guy Charteris (Huston), wealthy entrepreneur, has purchased a large area of Shanghai, and is forcing Gin Sling to vacate her holdings by the coming Chinese New Year.  Gin Sling, who has found out that Poppy is Charteris' wayward daughter, has instructed the smarmy Doctor Omar lto hook Poppy deeper and deeper into an addiction to gambling, alcohol, and probably opium. Gin Sling, eventually realizes that Charteris was her long-ago husband who she thinks abandoned her and she now plans her revenge by inviting Charteris to a Chinese New Year dinner party to expose his past indiscretions. Charteris, however, has his own hole card up his sleeve.


This film has been called a proto Noir more for its subject matter than for its "look" its more in the traditional Hollywood style (see the stills above) but its interesting never the less. A cast of hundreds is employed to replicate Shanghai and you will spot a bald headed Mike Mazurki playing a coolie who utters the closing line about Chinese New Year which I'll bet Polanski used as a reference in Chinatown. Caught this on TCM entertaining, 6-7/10
Title: Re: The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
Post by: Groggy on March 01, 2012, 04:13:18 AM
I tried to watch this once and couldn't make it ten minutes in. All of the stereotypes and bad casting were quite laughable.
Title: Re: The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
Post by: cigar joe on March 01, 2012, 04:46:58 AM
You should give it another go with the understanding about what is was really supposed to be about, its just entertaining enough. 
Title: Re: The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
Post by: cigar joe on March 04, 2012, 03:06:32 AM
BTW its on again on TCM Monday March 5, 2:00 PM EST TCM
Title: Re: The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
Post by: drinkanddestroy on March 25, 2013, 05:39:24 AM
Just saw this movie, played TCM recently.

I found it quite entertaining, but IMO it completely falls apart at the end.

So Mother Gin Sling informs Sir Guy that she knows about him and who he is and so he's not gonna get the  casino away from her, whoopdee doo, as a plot it's very unsatisfying. Of course, as a play, it's fun to see all that's going on there.

As cj said, originally, the play was about a brothel and Poppy was addicted to drugs, they had a hard time with the Hays Code, so they switched it to a casino and Poppy is addicted to gambling.

It's fun to watch but it all falls apart with the ending.

the image on TCM was just awful. I haven't seen the dvd, I don't know how that looks.

I'd say it's worth a look the next time it plays on TCM