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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

A massive gambling house in Shanghai run by the notorious Mother Gin Sling (Ona Munson, Belle Watling in GONE WITH THE WIND) attracts a mix from all walks of life: society types, government officials down to con men and prostitutes. When a rich spoiled playgirl (Gene Tierney) and a down on her luck chorus girl (Phyllis Brooks) enter the establishment, they will both provide Mother Gin Sling with the means for revenge against the man (Walter Huston) who did her wrong. This is one insane movie! Directed by Josef von Sternberg (though the film has no connection to his SHANGHAI EXPRESS), one has to wonder what hallucinogens he was taking when he made it. Considering the censorship restrictions of the time eviscerated the source material, it's still amazing what the film gets away with. In the original play, Mother Gin Sling is Mother Goddam and she runs a brothel rather than a gambling establishment. Is it a "good" film? No ... but it's much more enjoyable and fun than so many "good" films that we know we are supposed to like. Boris Leven's Oscar nominated set, a circular multi-leveled casino with a huge chandelier viewing the gambling tables on the bottom floor, is pretty awesome. A surreal experience that should be seen at least once. With Victor Mature, Eric Blore, Albert Basserman, Mike Mazurki and Maria Ouspenskaya whose role seems to have been cut, she has no lines.

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