Thursday, 7 April 2011


Josef Von Sternberg's THE SHANGHAI GESTURE is a film full of surprises. The first one is that his muse, Marlene Dietrich, is not in it. Una Munson is a more than adequate substitute - probably bringing a much needed harder edge of the character of Mother Gin Sling. Another surprise comes from the very beautiful Gene Tierney as the rich girl who becomes addicted to gambling and drink. Victor Mature plays the sleepy eyed Doctor Omar and Walter Huston plays the rich businessman who once slit the soles of his Chinese mistresses feet and had pebbles sown in to stop her running away. The film is set in a gambling casino in Shanghai. In the original play the setting is a brothel run my Mother Goddam, Poppy (the character played by Tierney) is addicted to drugs and Mature's seductive Omar is a procurer of new girls fo the brothel (in the film represented by "hostess" Dixie "You can call me what you want as long as you give me something with a cherry in it" Pomeroy played by Phyllis Brooks and the only sympathetic character in the film)). The casino is a wonderful creation which, as was pointed out in an excellent review on NOIR OF THE WEEK resembles the rings of Dante's Hell. I really don't want to give any plot away here because none of the characters are what they seem and the film rips away their secrets until the stunning ending that still has the power to be shocking seventy years after the film was made. Good as everybody in the film is (and there are a host of wonderful character actors in support roles) it is Munson who stays in the memory - in one scene she says she was a Manchu, bet her dad's name was Fu! Truly memorable. Rating ****


Cerpts said...

Very bizarre and original movie experience. I can't remember the last time I saw it but I remember it was like a fever dream!

Weaverman said...

Fever dream? A perfect description.