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>
Comments in the AFI Catalogue suggest the credits were changed when re-released in 1935. According to the Catalogue, the original print referred to Harry Herveys work as a novel. In the viewed print on TCM, the onscreen credit was "story." The print was clearly a re-released print because of the PCA certificate number listed onscreen; such numbers were not issued until 1934. It is not known what other changes were made, if any, but the print ran only 82 minutes, suggesting some additional editing had been done. See more »
I saw this movie a long time ago and parts of it really stuck with me, but I couldn't even remember the name until I came across it recently. I think, part of the effect of the movie was the sultry Marlene Dietrich, but what I didn't realize is that this movie is so full of atmosphere and rich in texture that it stays with you no matter who is in it. To be honest, most of the acting in this film is pretty wooden. Dietrich rises above all others with her ability to convey her feelings through the camera. More than anything, this film's look and feel are what really make this film work; and to some degree the lighting and directing aid Dietrich's acting. Joseph Von Sternberg directed this film about a group of passengers traveling via train during a Chinese civil war. The passengers all have their own stories, but none is as interesting as the story of Shanghai Lilly (Dietrich) and her romance with the British officer Captain "Doc" Harvey (Clive Brook). Von Sternberg uses light and shadow to highlight different characters and the character's feelings long before anyone else used this technique to such a large degree. There are marvelous images of Dietrich, Anna May Wong and Warner Oland as a rather mysterious and possibly sinister train passenger that really make this movie click. Film students should be required to see this movie for the simplicity of the story and the complexity of the filming. I'd like to say no scene is wasted, but there are a couple scenes that seemed extraneous. Overall though, this is a classic movie that was way ahead of it's time. I wasn't really familiar with Von Sternberg until I went back and watched this movie again. Now I own the DVD and I watch it periodically to remind myself of Dietrich's allure and Von Sternberg's masterful direction.
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