Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Ona Munson and Gene Tierney

THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (1941). Director: Josef von Sternberg.

In this very odd movie, a young lady looking for thrills in Shanghai, who calls herself Poppy (Gene Tierney), enters the establishment of one "Mother Gin Sling" (Ona Munson), becomes smitten with the shady character, Omar (Victor Mature), and develops too much of a taste for gambling. Mother invites several people to celebrate Chinese New Year's with her, including Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston), whom she knew years ago under another name and wishes vengeance upon; she is unaware of any connection Poppy may have to Charteris. There's the basis of a good story in Shanghai Gesture, but the movie isn't well written or well put together, with most of the imagination going into some elaborate settings. The performances are good for the most part, although Ona Munson lacks the vigor and fire that an actress like, say, Barbara Stanwyck or Anna May Wong (who should have been cast) could have brought to the role. Eric Blore, Mike Mazurki (as a rickshaw!), and Maria Ouspenskaya all have supporting parts, although Ouspenskaya has no dialogue. Phyllis Brooks makes an impression as the stranded chorus girl, Dixie, but her part in all this is never clearly defined. The whole production is inherently racist and badly dated. Josef von Sternberg also directed The Devil is a Woman, which is vastly superior to this.

Verdict: Too weird for its own good. **.

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