It's in Her Genes
Be very careful of looking for information on "The Shanghai Gesture" if you are yet to watch it because learning too much ruins it. And yes if you haven't cottoned on "The Shanghai Gesture" is a movie of big surprises and if you know what is coming you are left with just a stylish movie. That is sadly how I ended up coming to watch it having looked online for a synopsis and found far too much revealed in the space of a few lines that the one surprise which was not mentioned became far too predictable. And it is why I find myself less enthusiastic about this Josef von Sternberg movie than some.
Now as to what happens well I will keep this simple the whole story revolves around "Mother" Gin Sling's gambling house. There is Sir Guy Charteris an entrepreneur who has brought land in Shanghai and as such is forcing "Mother" to close down and movie on. And then there is a pretty young woman who calls herself Poppy Smith who having entered the casino looking for excitement and thanks to Doctor Omar is becoming hooked on gambling and drinking.
But that brief synopsis doesn't tell you much and purposely so because "The Shanghai Gesture" is a movie where the less you know the more entertaining it will be because it is a movie all about surprises. To elaborate a tiny bit more there is something which "Mother" learns thanks to a new woman in Shanghai called Dixie which leads her on a path of seeking revenge but in doing so discovering more than she bargained for.
So here is the thing, if you don't know too much then "The Shanghai Gesture" is a clever little drama which throws some nice surprises at you and links them together. But if you have unfortunately been told too much then there is little to keep your gripped because it is all about the slow reveal of surprises and the realisation of what they mean. What it does mean is that "The Shanghai Gesture" becomes just a movie of style and admittedly for a movie now over 70 years old it still looks brilliant, not just the sets and costumes but also the use of close ups.
And then comes the acting, well first let me say we have a lot of interesting characters, maybe a few too many as it becomes a little hard to follow at times. But as for the acting well with the exception of Gene Tierney who is not only beautiful but delivers a brilliant performance of someone addicted to gambling the rest of the cast fail to impress. Between either over acting or trying to be too thespian it just didn't work and I was grateful when ever Tierney was in a scene because she lit the screen up.
What this all boils down to is that to enjoy "The Shanghai Gesture" the less you know the better it will be because we are talking a movie of surprises. But even if you do sadly know too much the look and the camera work as well as Gene Tierney will still impress.