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 <email@example.com>
The Hays Office expressed concern about the unlikable character of the minister, which prompted a revision of the script. Other concerns included the remark by Chang that he was not proud of his white blood, but that line remains in the print. See more »
The telegraph forms shown on screen are filled out in Chinese and meant to be Chinese, but in fact are in English and therefore American. See more »
"It Took More Than One Man To Change My Name To Shanghai Lily"
One of Marlene Dietrich's most popular films from her early period with Joseph Von Sternberg was Shanghai Express. In fact her portrayal of the notorious Shanghai Lily is the main reason for watching this film today.
Set in Kuomintang China, the film concentrates on a group of train passengers making a journey from Peking to Shanghai. These are the white passengers all heading for their extraterritorial enclaves on the China coast and a couple of richer Chinese. One of them is Warner Oland who is a seemingly respectable Chinese merchant, but actually a notorious warlord leader a group that Chiang Kai-Shek has sworn to exterminate. In fact during this period his government was doing just that.
Oland is best known for playing Chinese detective Charlie Chan, but he's not dispensing fortune cookie wisdom here. He's a most menacing figure who when he's revealed holds all the lives of the passengers in his hands. The other Oriental in this group is well to do prostitute Anna May Wong. She and Dietrich find themselves kindred spirits and are shunned by the other passengers.
It's a reunion of sorts for Dietrich, another of the passengers is Clive Brook a British army doctor who is on his way to China to perform a delicate operation on a big shot. He and Dietrich were once involved, but when he dumped her, she took the road that made her the notorious Shanghai Lily.
The main weakness of Shanghai Express in fact is Brook. He's such a cold fish drip of a man, I can't see how Dietrich and he could ever have been involved. The film would work a lot better if the role had been cast with someone of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr's charm. Still Brook proves the old flame hasn't quite died down and in fact it hasn't for Marlene either.
Other characters on the train are Lawrence Grant as a reverend Davidson type missionary, Louise Closser Hale as an old American dowager, Emile Chautard as a disgraced French Army officer, Gustave Von Seyfertitz as a hypocritical opium dealer, and Eugene Palette as a crass American businessman as only Eugene Palette can play them. They provide quite a cross section of the western powers who were nibbling on the Chinese body politic at the time.
Shanghai Express won an Oscar for Cinematography and was in the running for Best Picture that year, losing to Grand Hotel which has a lot of similarities to this film. Dietrich is unforgettable as Shanghai Lily and this is a must for her fans.
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