Friday, February 17, 2012

#417: The Shanghai Gesture

1941, TSPDT Rank #681

At long last, here is the fifth film of my Josef von Sternberg marathon, which has regrettably been drawn out to about a month due to time restraints.

Josef von Sternberg made this film while lying on a couch. This just goes to show how good a director he'd become, because in my opinion, it is legitimately a very great film, one of my favorites I've seen from him so far. At this point in his career he was somewhat down and out, being that him and the star who had made him famous had parted ways, and Hollywood didn't have that much use for him anymore. However, this low-profile gem of a film has been praised as everything from a masterpiece to incoherent trash by those who have seen it since Sternberg directed it from his couch. But it's nothing if not effective, not to mention that it lays out almost all of the classic film noir archetypes in its complex script. Many describe the plot as being incoherent and difficult to follow, but if this is the case, it's only because the film doesn't really have a plot, it's more of an ensemble film - with a large set of diverse, uniquely seedy characters, most of whom live their lives primarily in a Shanghai casino. The set design of the casino is probably what makes the film so effective, with its labyrinthine, subterranean construction, the constant sickening bright light that shines always so that the time of day is unknown, and the ceaselessly swarming hoards of people wasting their lives and money in the deep central vortex of the building. The setting has an atmosphere of dingy wickedness, which seems to have enveloped all of the characters in different ways. The ways that the characters interact with each other are very interesting, and the film is visually fantastic - with a wild, hallucinatory feel. Some may find The Shanghai Gesture too absurd, but I consider it an innovative film noir that is not like any other. Possibly one of Sternberg's most underrated, I highly recommend it.

(Rating: 9/10)

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