Vintage Pulp Jan 15 2013
Westerners undone yet again by the inscrutable Chinee.

The Shanghai Gesture is a movie we were excited to see. It’s a Josef von Sternberg directed vehicle adapted from a John Colton play (though neutered due to Hays Code worries), with Gene Tierney starring alongside Victor Mature, Walter Huston, Ona Munson, and Phyllis Brooks. Von Sternberg makes almost fetishistic use of his main asset—the luscious Tierney—by showing her in such extreme close-up you’d almost think it’s her breath fogging the lens, rather than one of the diffusion filters mid-century filmmakers utilized to shoot their female stars. A few minutes after she appears, as she observes the decadent tableau inside a Shanghai casino, she pulls out this line: “The place smells evil, like a place where anything can happen.” We’d suggest that if a place smells evil, something already happened. Blame the nearest person. Or the dog. Anyway, when Tierney makes her observation we understand pretty quickly that it’s going to be about her, a flower of Western purity, and her headlong descent into Oriental flooziedom.

All well and good, but the filmmakers fall prey to the type of easy characterizations that the best movies of the period were learning to avoid. When you observe, for example, the mostly respectful depiction of a character like Sam in 1942’s Casablanca, it becomes difficult not to cringe at such excesses here as Ona Munson's Chinese character MotherGin Sling entering rooms to the sound of a gong, or Walter Huston’s Sir Guy Charteris—a supposed old hand in Asia—querying Mike Mazurky with, “You speakee Chinee? Cantonee? You breakee window?” Did Westerners in China back then really say things like that? We’re dying to know. Mazurky gets the last line in the film, tossing off a smug echo of one of Huston’s earlier questions, and at that moment he’s a sort of stand-in for all Shanghai, which by now we know is a place where white people meet their ruin, but still—“You speakee Chinee?” The unintentional humor of such moments undermines the believability of the entire enterprise.

Another problem for us is that Victor Mature comes across as singularly unappealing. He’s not supposed to be a nice guy, but depriving him of any shred of charm makes it hard to believe Tierney would desire him. In any case, the script requires this and other indignities of poor Gene, and soon her fall from grace is so complete she even loses her mellifluous upper class accent and starts braying like a donkey. Yes, there’s some good here. Tierney is spellbindingly beautiful (one reason so many people thinkthis movie is better than it really is, we suspect). Some of the interiors are excellent, especially Mother Gin Sling’s baroque circular casino. A couple of the set pieces are striking, such as when young women are hoisted in baskets above a crowd of men clambering to buy them for their flower boats—i.e., floating brothels. And Huston is solid in his portrayal of Charteris. But all in all, The Shanghai Gesture is strictly so-so.

Incidentally, the movie is widely labeled a film noir, but it really isn’t. Yes, it can be difficult to say definitively whether a film fits into a certain category because “genre” is a nebulous concept to begin with, but we submit that this one is well off the mark, no more a noir than is The Lost Weekend, or for that matter Casablanca. If we’d known in advance it was a run-of-the-mill melodrama—yes, an exotic one, but also clunky and unengaging—we would not have expected the cutting cynicism and visual wit that characterize so many film noirs. If you go into it expecting something more along the lines of a B-picture, then The Shanghai Gesture might entertain. But whatever you expect, don’t think you're goingto see von Sternberg or Tierney doing their best work. At top you see the original American promo poster, and below that some production photos. The Shanghai Gesture premiered in New York City on Christmas 1941, and went into national release today in 1942.


History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 25
1957—Ginsberg Poem Seized by Customs
On the basis of alleged obscenity, United States Customs officials seize 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" that had been shipped from a London printer. The poem contained mention of illegal drugs and explicitly referred to sexual practices. A subsequent obscenity trial was brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore, the poem's domestic publisher. Nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf, and Ferlinghetti won the case when a judge decided that the poem was of redeeming social importance.
1975—King Faisal Is Assassinated
King Faisal of Saudi Arabia dies after his nephew Prince Faisal Ibu Musaed shoots him during a royal audience. As King Faisal bent forward to kiss his nephew the Prince pulled out a pistol and shot him under the chin and through the ear. King Faisal died in the hospital after surgery. The prince is later beheaded in the public square in Riyadh.
March 24
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
March 23
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, dies of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
Featured Pulp
japanese themed aslan cover
cure bootleg by aslan
five aslan fontana sleeves
aslan trio for grand damier
ASLAN Harper Lee cover
Four Aslan Covers for Parme

Reader Pulp
It's easy. We have an uploader that makes it a snap. Use it to submit your art, text, header, and subhead. Your post can be funny, serious, or anything in between, as long as it's vintage pulp. You'll get a byline and experience the fleeting pride of free authorship. We'll edit your post for typos, but the rest is up to you. Click here to give us your best shot.

Pulp Covers
Pulp art from around the web
Pulp Advertising
Things you'd love to buy but can't anymore Vintage Ads
About Email Legal RSS RSS Tabloid Femmes Fatales Hollywoodland Intl. Notebook Mondo Bizarro Musiquarium Politique Diabolique Sex Files Sportswire