Tag Archives: Charlie Chan

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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Murder by Death

Directed by Robert Moore
Produced by Ray Stark
Written by Neil Simon
Starring Eileen Brennan
Truman Capote
James Coco
Peter Falk
Alec Guinness
Elsa Lanchester
David Niven
Peter Sellers
Maggie Smith
Nancy Walker
Estelle Winwood
James Cromwell
Richard Narita
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography David M. Walsh
Editing by Margaret Booth & John F. Burnett
Distributed by Columbia
Release date 23 June 1976
Running time 94 minutes
Country United States

Neil Simon’s Murder By Death is a spoof of all those mystery films (and novels) of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. At the time of its release Agatha Christie’s stories were undergoing a revival on the big screen as Murder On The Orient Express (1974) was released at around this time.

Murder By Death has a star-studded cast, with Truman Capote (the writer of Breakfast At Tiffany’s) hosts a murder in which he has invited the world’s greatest detectives, among them Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) who is based on Charlie Chan. Whilst many may consider it to be politicall incorrect for Sellers to be playing a Chinese detective I find it to be OK, as he is parodying the Charlie Chan films from the 30s & 40s in which Warner Oland and Sidney Toler went yellow face to play the Oriental detective.

Also in the cast is David Niven and Maggie Smith whose characters are based on the society detectives from the Thin Man series of movies. James Coco’s Perrier is a spoof of Poirot, Elsa Lanchester’s Miss Marbles is of course based on Miss Marple, while Peter Falk’s Sam Diamond is based on Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon, as portrayed by Humphrey Bogart.

There are a lot of quick fire jokes and if you are a fan of detective films you will love this. Not all the jokes hit the mark but most of them are quite funny.