Shanghai Express

Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Produced by Adolph Zukor
Written by Jules Furthman
Harry Hervey (story)
Starring Marlene Dietrich
Clive Brook
Anna May Wong
Music by W. Franke Harling
Rudolph G. Kopp
Cinematography Lee Garmes
James Wong Howe
Editing by Frank Sullivan
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date February 2, 1932
Running time 80 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Shanghai Express is a very interesting film from 1932. Set in civil war torn China but filmed in Paris, it stars Marlene Dietrich as Shanghai Lilly. The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg and according to one review that I have read of the film, is meant to be a statement about the love between the fame director and his starlet. Of course rumours have abounded about another affair that the German actress was having with her co-star Anna Mae Wong. Who knows what really was happening behind the scenes.

Dietrich plays the coaster Shanghai Lilly, who has been breaking the hearts of men between Peking and Shanghai for five years, since her heart was broken by ‘Doc’ Harvey, a British officer who she meets up with while travelling on the train. Lots of critics have raved about her performance but she really doesn’t have that much to do. She spends some time looking glamorous and smoking a cigarette and smirking her way through her scenes looking as though she is about to burst into laughter but she is out acted by her co-star Anna Mae Wong, who despite being on screen for a much shorter amount of time has a far juicier part and more screen presence than Marlene.

Then there is Warner Oland as the evil rebel leader Mr Chang, who holds the train passengers for ransom and rapes (off-screen) Wong’s character Hui Fei. Oland is best known as being a caucasian actor who played many Asian parts, especially the famed Oriental detective Charlie Chan. He is thoroughly despicable here.

Shanghai Express was nominated for best picture at the 1932 Academy Awards and while it is very watchable and a very good film, and  Wong and Oland’s performances are great, I don’t know if the film is that great. As I said Dietrich spends most of her time mugging for the camera rather than really acting, while Brook’s performance as ‘Doc’ Harvey is rather wooden.

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2 responses to “Shanghai Express

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