Many passengers on the Shanghai Express are more concerned that the notorious Shanghai Lil is on board than the fact that a civil war is going on that may make the trip take more than three... See full summary »
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Josef von Sternberg directed, photographed, provides the voice-over narration and wrote the screenplay (from a based-on-actual event novel by Michiro Maruyana translated by Younghill Kang) ... See full summary »
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Many passengers on the Shanghai Express are more concerned that the notorious Shanghai Lil is on board than the fact that a civil war is going on that may make the trip take more than three days. The British Army doctor, Donald Harvey, knew Lil before she became a famous "coaster." A fellow passenger defines a coaster as "a woman who lives by her wits along the China coast." When Chinese guerillas stop the train, Dr. Harvey is selected as the hostage. Lil saves him, but can she make him believe that she really hasn't changed from the woman he loved five years before? Written by
Dale O'Connor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The film is set in northern China (Peking to Shanghai). The government and warlord soldiers are speaking Taishanese, which is a southern Chinese dialect not generally spoken in northern China. The northern dialects of Mandarin Chinese (a Beijing dialect) and/or Shanghainese would be spoken instead. See more »
I don't know what you're saying brother... but don't say it again.
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Over the decades I've managed to see nearly all of the films Sternberg directed and I've always considered that this one was his best work. It was pre Hays Code Paramount for starters, with a marvellous cast and an unusual and simple story full of romance and action gripping to the end. It was also lovingly photographed from beginning to end, everyone and everything gleaming in a by turns savage and erotic dreamlike world.
During the Chinese Civil War and travelling on the Peiping-Shanghai Express ("where time and life have no meaning") are a disparate band of Westerners plus a couple of enigmatic natives all sadly lacking in moral fibre except Clive Brooks who has too much of it. This makes him less of a human being, along with the rest of them. He's still in love with Marlene Dietrich whom he ditched 5 years and 4 weeks before thus unwittingly turning her into Shanghai Lily the notorious coaster - a woman living on the coast of China by her "wits" which is a bit of a serious problem to the upright Britisher even though she still loves him. Warner Oland plays a fundamentalist Chinaman with secrets and ashamed to have white blood in his veins while Eugene Palette is a gambling mad American capitalist. Inscrutable and sullen Anna May Wong is Dietrich's companion in vice, and 4 other international eccentrics make up the passenger list we're interested in. Favourite bits: Wong's dramatic announcement of her consummated revenge; the iconic image of Dietrich smoking in the dark; the all-too believable chaotic scenes of civil warfare. The interplay between the main characters is occasionally laboured but always fascinating and always thought provoking - there's plenty going on so attention is recommended! The only thing that gets in the way of this being an absolute masterpiece is Brooks' lousy stilted acting style entertaining in its own way to study the forgotten technique, but it's often jarring in its unconvincingness.
An early talkie classic, mesmerising even after all these years.
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