Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, Ona Munson, Phyllis Brooks, Albert Bassermann, Maria Ouspenskaya, Eric Blore, Ivan Lebedeff, Mike Mazurki, Clyde Fillmore, Grayce Hampton, Rex Evans, Mikhail Rasumni, Michael Dalmatoff
Written by: Geza Herczeg, Jules Furthman, Josef von Sternberg, based on a play by John Colton
Directed by: Josef von Sternberg
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 94
Date: 12/25/1941

The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Slow 'Gin' Fizz

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Josef von Sternberg was at his best in the early 1930's when he made his seven classic films with Marlene Dietrich. After their split he was never the same, but his later films should certainly not be counted out. The Shanghai Gesture is as much a Sternbergian film as the Dietrich films. Adapted from a play about a "joy house," the film was heavily censored and became about a simple gambling house, run by "Mother Gin Sling" (Ona Munson). Gene Tierney stars as Poppy, the gorgeous globetrotter who becomes addicted to gambling and to a lothario character, a "doctor of nothing" played by Victor Mature. Walter Huston plays Poppy's father, a man with a past. Sternberg was gifted at capturing the feel of an exotic city from a regular sound stage, and he doesn't slouch here. The film has the overall feel of a tragedy as we watch the downfall of Poppy. We may as well be watching Sternberg re-creating his falling out with Dietrich and the hole she left in his life. It requires an effort, but The Shanghai Gesture is worth a look. The DVD comes from a so-so film print and has little in the way of extras.

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