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April 12, 2010


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The Siren

Woo-hoo!!! Now that will take your mind off stuff. :)

Chuck Stephens

Where's the LIKE VERY MUCH button around here?

Is there a new DVD release of this monumental classic afoot?

Glenn Kenny

Chuck, the same French outfit that put out "Anatahan" last year is responsible for this. I'll probably write it up for the Auteurs next week.

Siren, I was gonna write something about gorgeous Gene being worth fraternizing with, but I thought better of it.

The Siren

God I love this crazy-ass movie. I love the gambling hell with the levels spiraling down like Dante suddenly went Chinese. I love Gene Tierney's amazing nude lipstick and I love drug-addicted Gene on the bar, kicking her heels back and forth and whining, "Where's that Persian poet?" I love Victor Mature in a fez spouting Fitzgerald's Khayyam translation. I love the businessmen looking at the sex slaves in the cages and trying to look disapproving instead of what they really are, which is turned on. I love Ona Munson and her constant head-tilting and her long speech about how being a sex slave made her what she is today. I love Walter Huston's comeuppance.

This movie deserves so much more friggin' respect than it gets. I suggest that everyone drop whatever they are doing like, oh I don't know, arguing somewhere in the immediate vicinity, and watch it RIGHT NOW.


And, of course, this is the film where VM pushes the lady's gown-strap back over her shoulder - twice - only to knock it down when it finally stays up.

Saw this at Film Forum (I think?) a few years back, wasn't taken by it, actually......but then again, I wasn't taken by CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER until the second viewing, so hopefully that's all I need.

The Siren

I don't know Jaime, I loved this one the second I saw it, on a VHS that I wish to hell I still had. It is perfectly amazing how Sternberg and his collaborators took a stage play that they had to Bowdlerize the living hell out of, and still managed to suggest almost everything that was in the play. I do miss Mother Gin Sling's original name: Mother Goddamn.

And yes, the bit with the shoulder strap is priceless.


It gets, Siren, a ton of respect from some critics. I think the parts that you mention are really great but large amounts of the film are surprisingly dull. Like why isn't there more gambling hell and less plodding plotty stuff? I do really enjoy the party at the end, just a big series of paranoid closeups. Mazurki's fantastic, so are Huston and Mature. Tierney doesn't do the good girl gone bad thing very well, she just seems like a little drunk kid. Munson's not quite as scary as she needs to be; obviously Dietrich would have been much better. As a whole I don't know that it ever really comes to the depraved life for which it's shooting.


@ Siren - Sometimes it takes me a second look. But I am blessed, because I am surrounded by film enthusiasts who can point out the lumps of gold I trip over blindly. I'm pretty sure that all of the film writers who carry weight with me hold GESTURE in very high esteem.

Glenn Kenny

One thing I love about this film, actually—and I don't wanna say too much because I AM going to write about it for The Auteurs'—is its journey from faux-decadence to ACTUAL decadence, from possible kitsch to no-holds-barred surrealism. Kooky!

The Siren

Jaime, what a nice thing to say. I appreciate it.

Asher, there is a lot of exposition and it's surprisingly talky but for me the decadence shines through every frame. Tierney does the spoiled, bored aspect of Poppy very well; she's less good at suggesting nymphomania but it's clear that Doctor Omar's hold is medical (drugs) as well as physical. Munson isn't really going for scary (which Bette Davis probably was in the stage revival--damn that's one I wish had been preserved for posterity). I think she is going for simmering misanthropy and that she nails.

Perhaps my perception of its current critical status is from seeing the word "campy" attached to it frequently. I can't really deny that certain parts play that way but to me it's a really vivid acknowledgement of all the unsavory urges a class-bound and hypocritical society tries to bury.

Arthur S.

It isn't one of Sternberg's very best but it's fantastic. It's very much in the vein of pre-Code Chinoiserie movies like ''The Bitter Tea of General Yen'' and of course ''Shanghai Express''.

The final portions are unbelievably bleak for a movie made at that time.


There's also some really toilety double entendre in a conversation around the card table that culminates, if my ears don't deceive me, with "nuts always come to those who have no teeth." Is that the work of Jules (115 screenplays / 1 nomination) Furthman?

Michael Adams

My lovely wife thinks I have a thing for Tierney, but it just happens that from Shanghai Gesture through Where the Sidewalk Ends she had one of the best decades an actress has ever had. Her talent may be modest, but she was lucky to work with good directors in stylish films.

According to Miranda Carter's bio of Anthony Blunt, the spy and Ona Munson were dear friends, having met on holiday in, I think, France.

The Siren

Poor Ona Munson. She was talented--Belle Watling in GWTW has maybe three scenes, but her part seems much larger because she's so vivid and sympathetic. But she felt that the role had typecast her for all time and when I saw her in her last movie, The Red House, she looked terribly thin and tired. She took a barbituate overdose eight years later and left just about the saddest suicide note I have ever read: "This is the only way I know to be free again."


I think the movie gets more critical respect than it deserves. It's not as fun as a movie featuring Victor Mature in a fez ought to be but it's not serious enough, either, and it does have those long dull stretches. Munson was fun and Huston is always worth watching. I love looking at Tierney but she's not up to the part.

Cam Moneo

Haven't seen "The Shanghai Gesture" yet, but I love what folks (especially The Siren) are writing about it here. Will check it out very soon! Can anybody here speak to the influence this had on Jack Smith's "Flaming Creatures"?


Scorsese included a dynamite-looking clip from THE RED HOUSE in his PERSONAL JOURNEY doc. He had a thing for Edward G. Robinson - like, who didn't? - and the clip dovetails nicely with one from TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN.

Anybody for Delmer Daves?

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