Shanghai Express (1932) – Josef von Sternberg


The next entry in the Romance and Melodrama category for my viewing of The Blue Angel from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book is this very enjoyable film, that again features von Sterberg directing, and Marlene Dietrich starring.

The film follows a collection of passengers aboard the Shanghia Express, amongst them, Shanghai Lilly (Dietrich). Also aboard, is an ex-lover she hasn’t seen for over five years, Captain Harvey (Clive Brook). Along the way there are fun little social dramas between a number of the passengers, and as the train makes it slowly across China, trouble finds it.

Not everyone is who they seem aboard the train, there is Lilly’s travelling companion Hui Fie (Anna May Wong), a rather opinionated old bitty, Mrs. Haggerty (Louise Closser Hale), annoying American businessman, Sam Salt (Eugene Pallette), who doesn’t get along with, or even remotely understand French-speaking Major Lenard (Emile Chautrard) and Chinese traveler, Henry Chang (Warner Oland). Along the way, there are social dramas, opinions, and the two lovers clashing, and dancing around one another. It’s evident to everyone that they still care about one another, but they were both hurt so badly by the end of their previous relationship, that they have a hard time opening up properly to one another.

When the train is stopped by rebels, the passengers are thrown together for a terrible evening as they are questioned, some tortured, and their fates left in the balance.


I quite like how this one is put together, it balances moments of humor, drama, adventure, and romance and this time around, I quite like the chemistry between Dietrich and Brook. There is a sense of history there, and you can feel that both parties wish they could set aside the past and start fresh.

The film is wonderfully self-contained to sets, though there is a shot I quite liked, as the length of the train passes under the camera, and soldiers are stealing food from the local hawkers with their bayonets, all until the smoke from the train clouds the view. I like that shot a lot.

All of this one works, really well, the acting, the pacing, the story, my only real problem with this film is that this one is not even an hour and a half long, they could have padded it out with more moments, and prolonged their night when they are held by the rebels, but overall…

Like this one a lot.

Dietrich is wonderfully entertaining in this one, and doesn’t even have to belt out a song or two, just wonder around, smoke, and wonder how to get Captain Harvey back.

Did you see this one?






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s