8 Decades of The Hollywood Reporter
The most glamorous and memorable moments from a storied history.
Madonna's recent experience with W.E. at the Venice Film Festival was not her first brush with bad reviews. At 28, she starred with then-husband Sean Penn, 26, in 1986's action/romance Shanghai Surprise, playing a missionary nurse who desperately needs opium for her patients. The Hollywood Reporter said the film would someday be a "cassette rental you can start anywhere in the tape -- plot progression is, for the most part, stagnant. Scenes three-quarters into the movie explain scenes in the opening; the story lacks impact at virtually every juncture." As for the stars' onscreen relationship, "Incredibly, there is little romantic chemistry between the two." The film, made in Hong Kong and scored and executive produced by George Harrison, was dubbed "Flop Suey." Today, former MGM chairman Alan Ladd Jr. says Shanghai got made because "it seemed like a good bet. Madonna was hot as a firecracker. Sean was getting some traction as an actor, and it didn't cost much to make." (It didn't make much, either: The domestic box-office gross was $2.3 million.) After the film was finished and seen as obviously flawed, Ladd says "the only person paying attention to it" was Penn. "He came in and told me a whole way to go about fixing it, and he was brilliant. His ideas were terrific. But by then I'd spent the money for it and didn't want to spend any more." Ladd says one of the film's fundamental problems was Madonna's role. "To accept her as a nun was a little far-fetched," he says. "People couldn't quite wrap their heads around that one."