7.4/10
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60 user 48 critic

Shanghai Express (1932)

Approved | | Adventure, Drama, Romance | 12 February 1932 (USA)
A loose woman rediscovers a former lover during a dangerous train ride to Shanghai.

Writers:

Jules Furthman (screen play), Harry Hervey (based on the story by)
Reviews
Won 1 Oscar. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Marlene Dietrich ... Shanghai Lily
Clive Brook ... Captain Donald Harvey
Anna May Wong ... Hui Fei
Warner Oland ... Henry Chang
Eugene Pallette ... Sam Salt
Lawrence Grant ... Mr. Carmichael
Louise Closser Hale ... Mrs. Haggerty
Gustav von Seyffertitz ... Eric Baum
Emile Chautard ... Major Lenard
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Storyline

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 <daleoc@interaccess.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Many Men Had Loved Her -- but only one had been loved in return !


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | French | Cantonese | German

Release Date:

12 February 1932 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El expreso de Shanghai See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$3,700,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In her autobiography, Marlene Dietrich claimed that von Sternberg directed most of the cinematography, instead of Lee Garmes (who actually won an Oscar for his work on the film). See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

Shanghai Lily: When I needed your faith, you withheld it; and now, when I don't need it, and don't deserve it, you give it to me.
See more »

Alternate Versions

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 »

Connections

Featured in Complicated Women (2003) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Sternberg, Dietrich reach their zenith in opulently photographed romantic intrigue as extraordinary today as it was 70 years ago
3 January 2003 | by bmacvSee all my reviews

When Josef von Sternberg's Shanghai Express chugs out of Peking, squeezing through a teeming alleyway as it picks up steam, it marks the start of a momentous journey – not only for its motley of passengers but for Hollywood. In this fourth teaming of the Svengali-like director and his Trilby of a star – Marlene Dietrich – they reach the zenith of their legendary collaboration and strike a template for the kind of movies America would do best and like best: voluptuous hybrids of adventure and intrigue, romance and raffish fun.

Leaving for Shanghai to operate on the stricken British Consul-General, army physician Clive Brook climbs aboard only to find the woman he loved but lost five years ago (Dietrich). Now, however, she goes by another appellation; as she explains, in the script's most emblematic line, `It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.' Her presence on the train, and that of one of her sisters-in-sin (Anna May Wong) is cause for scandal and indignation among the other passengers: prim boarding-house proprietress Louise Closser Hale (with her pooch Waffles smuggled on board); sputtering man of the cloth Lawrence Grant; sardonic gambling man Eugene Pallette; a Frenchman; a German; and the inscrutable, pre-Charlie Chan Warner Oland.

Soon, China being embroiled in a civil war, they have more to worry about than Dietrich's morals. Rebel troops halt the journey lead the passengers, one by one, to be interrogated by their warlord, who turns out to be Oland. The various eccentricities, secrets and agendas of the passengers get brought into the open, affording Oland opportunity to avenge any number of racial and personal slights. But finally he finds what he's been looking for – a valuable hostage to serve as a bargaining chip – in Brook. And from then on Shanghai Express becomes a drama of reckoning, with all the characters scheming to save their own (and occasionally one anothers') skins.

None of the players can be faulted, except for Brook, who gives a dead-earnest impersonation of the stick that stirs the fire; that Dietrich should have fallen for him is like believing several impossible things before breakfast. (Cary Grant was around in 1932; too bad Sternberg didn't catch up with him until his next movie, Blonde Venus.) But in his handling of Dietrich, Sternberg all but patents what came to be called star treatment. Stunningly lighted, her feline face is caught in a breathtaking range of moods and attitudes. But she's more than a passive vessel for the director's intentions – her blend of worldly savvy and steely spine is hers and hers alone.

She isn't the only beneficiary of Sternberg's eye. He shoots the movie in a haunting, intense chiaroscuro (few movies from this early in the 1930s were so richly and handsomely photographed). He cuts from scene to scene teasingly, layering new shots on fading images, adding a little rubato to relate incidents of the story to one another. Shanghai Express may be the first masterpiece of the sound era, one that's still no less extraordinary today than it was 70 years ago.


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