"Our story has nothing to do with the present," warns an opening caption - and I'm totally up for that, a dreamlike escapist concoction based on visual allure, set in a place of fake names, different races and "thoroughbred mongrels". The problem is that a plot of sorts keeps stuttering through the action, just enough to make it clear that it's choppy and confusing.
Breen’s office interference aside, ‘The Shanghai Gesture’ endures as a mesmerizing celluloid dreamscape, unscathed by Hollywood’s attempts to rein in an uncompromising visionary constitutionally incapable of following any dictum other than his own perfectionism, and a belief in the power of light and shadows to bring his hand crafted human marionettes to life.
Its spirit--simultaneously ineffable and wiseass, aroused and bored, heavy and free--is best summed up by Mature's proto-punk exchange with Tierney: "You said Doctor Omar. Doctor of what?" "Doctor of nothing."