Thirty-one film treatments on [John Colton’s play] Shanghai Gesture were submitted without success to the Hays Office. Producer Arnold Pressburger finally slipped through a treatment for a go-ahead signal – to at least bring the original title and the Oriental background of the polyglot Asiatic metropolis to the screen.
Stripped of the sensational elements of Gesture at the time it was produced on the stage, the resultant film version is a rather dull and hazy drama of the Orient.
Mother Gin Sling (Ona Munson) is the operating brains of a gambling casino, case-hardened through her struggles up the ladder. When property in the district is bought up by Walter Huston, English financier, and the Mother is told to fold, she goes out to get the goods on her enemy in typical Oriental fashion. Result is Gin Sling’s manipulation of Huston’s daughter (Gene Tierney) onto a downward path; Gin Sling’s accusation of his desertion years before; and his rebuttal that the girl she has ruined is actually her daughter.
Victor Mature, as the matter-of-fact Arab despoiler of Tierney’s honor, provides a standout performance. Huston’s abilities are lost in the jumble, while Munson cannot penetrate the mask-like makeup arranged for her characterization.
1942: Nominations: Best B&W Art Direction, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture