The Shanghai Gesture

  • PG
  • Josef von Sternberg (1941)
  • US
  • 98 min
Film Review
Reviewed By
5 out of 5

Though the title recalls an earlier Josef von Sternberg classic - Shanghai Express, made at the height of his and Marlene Dietrich's collaborative fame - this melodrama conjures up a different universe altogether. A spoilt rich girl using the alias of Poppy Smith - Gene Tierney at her loveliest - enters a Shanghai casino and is seduced by its " incredibly evil" atmosphere, unaware that her entrepreneur dad (Walter Huston) is intent on closing down the iniquitous establishment, domain of the glacial "Mother" Gin Sling (Ona Munson in a series of lacquered, Medusa-like wigs). Sternberg was forced to sanitise his adaptation of John Colton's stage play, but his vision suggestively offers more than the salacious detail he was forced to cut from the script. The film's masterful use of musical rhythms, stylised dialogue and close-ups makes it a high point among films from the studio age. And her face a mask revealing more than it conceals - the bitterness of lost illusion - Munson creates one of cinema's most sympathetic monsters.

Plot Summary

Drama starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston and Victor Mature. "Mother" Gin Sling, owner of a gambling casino in Shanghai, takes revenge on the man who is trying to close down her operation by involving his daughter in a blackmail plot.

Cast and crew


Victoria Charteris / Poppy Smith
Gene Tierney
Sir Guy Charteris
Walter Huston
Doctor Omar
Victor Mature
"Mother" Gin Sling
Ona Munson
Dixie Pomeroy, the chorus girl
Phyllis Brooks
Albert Basserman
Maria Ouspenskaya
Caesar Hawkins, the bookkeeper
Eric Blore
Ivan Lebedeff
Mike Mazurki
Clyde Fillmore
Social leader
Grayce Hampton
Rex Evans
Mikhail Rasumni
Michael Delmatoff
Master of the spinning wheel
Marcel Dalio


Josef von Sternberg

Other Information

Black and White
Theatrical distributor: 
United Artists Corp. Ltd
Some violence.
Available on DVD
Certificate PG

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