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The Shanghai Gesture

The Shanghai Gesture

Josef von Sternberg (1941)

PG Certificate


Our Score
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.


A woman looking for adventure arrives at a Shanghai casino, and quickly becomes a gambling addict. The owner realises her new customer is the estranged daughter of an English businessman trying to close the establishment down, and feeds her habit as a plan to get revenge. Drama, starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature and Ona Munson.

Cast & 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
Commissioner Albert Basserman
Amah Maria Ouspenskaya
Caesar Hawkins, the bookkeeper Eric Blore
Gambler Ivan Lebedeff
Coolie Mike Mazurki
Comprador Clyde Fillmore
Social leader Grayce Hampton
Counselor Rex Evans
Appraiser Mikhail Rasumni
Bartender Michael Delmatoff
Master of the spinning wheel Marcel Dalio
Director Josef von Sternberg
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Other Information

Language: English Black and White Theatrical distributor: United Artists Corp. Ltd Guidance: Some violence. Available on: Available on DVD


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