Classic Film Guide

Shanghai Gesture, The (1941)

Directed by Josef von Sternberg (Morocco (1930) & Shanghai Express (1932)), who collaborated with Geza Herczeg (The Life of Emile Zola (1937)) and Jules Furthman (Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)) to adapt the John Colton play, this atmospheric (yet average) drama earned Oscar nominations for B&W Art Direction-Interior Decoration and Music Score. It stars the beautiful Gene Tierney as Poppy Smith, a party girl looking for excitement in all the wrong places of the titled city. (Warning: for those who've only heard of Ms. Tierney, you may note that she exhibits little or no acting skill in this film. Please, don't let this dissuade you from viewing her other films as this performance was one of her first, and worst! I'd recommend Laura (1944), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), The Razor's Edge (1946), and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).) She finds it in ‘Mother’ Gin Sling's (Ona Munson) gambling establishment, where she meets a dashing playboy, inaptly named Doctor Omar (Victor Mature). Gin Sling is a dragon lady, from humble beginnings, whose guests frequently include the cities most prominent society figures politicians like Commissioner Van Elst (Albert Bassermann). But the "Sling-corrupted" Van Elst can't keep real estate tycoon Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston) from forcing Mother Sling to close her casino-bar so that he can put up his own structure(s). However, Sling knows or learns a valuable secret (or two): that Ms. Smith is really Charteris’s daughter! So, she urges her Doctor "of nothing", who lives off her largess, to further seduce and corrupt the aptly named Poppy (this is Sling's plan to eventually stop Poppy's father's takeover). Sling then has her heavy (Mike Mazurki) invite Charteris to a Chinese New Year celebration, where she'll reveal Poppy's condition and secret number two. But Charteris has even more shocking news for Sling! Maria Ouspenskaya and Eric Blore also appear.

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