Cast & Crew
Josef Von Sternberg
Anna May Wong
In 1931, as the Chinese Civil War rages, Captain Donald Harvey, a physician known as "Doc," meets his long-lost love, Magdalen, now known as Shanghai Lily, as they board the Shanghai Express in the Peking railroad station. Lily is a notorious "coaster," a woman who, while not a professional prostitute, lives by her feminine wits along the China coast. While the train is stopped, the passengers are searched by soldiers of the Chinese Army, and a spy is arrested. Fellow passenger Henry Chang surreptitiously sends a telegram to rebel troops commanding them to hijack the train at midnight. Traveling once again, Lily and Donald rekindle their love, but Donald is repelled by the life Lily has been leading. When the train is accosted by the rebels and Chang interrogates the first-class passengers, they realize that he is commander-in-chief of the rebel army. Donald informs Chang of the urgency of his trip to Shanghai, where he is expected to perform brain surgery on the governor-general. Chang holds Donald hostage, and only agrees to release him if the British Legation returns his spy to him the next morning. Chang propositions Lily, but she says she has reformed. When Chang forces himself on her, Donald breaks in and knocks him down. That evening, Chang rapes Hui Fei, also a coaster, and keeps her imprisoned for the night. Chang's spy is returned to him, but he continues to hold Donald, threatening to blind him until Lily offers to accompany Chang back to his palace in exchange for leaving Donald unharmed. Hui Fei stabs Chang to death as retribution, and the train and its passengers finally complete their journey to Shanghai. Dr. Carmichael, doctor of divinity, commends Lily for her sacrifice and tries to convince Donald of her honor, but Donald refuses to believe him. When Donald sees Lily buying a watch for him to replace the one he had lost, however, he begs her forgiveness and they embrace in the crowded station.
Josef Von Sternberg
Anna May Wong
Louise Closser Hale
Gustav Von Seyffertitz
Shanghai Express - Shanghai Express
Hollywood wits called Shanghai Express, which deals with an eventful train journey between Peking and Shanghai, "Grand Hotel on Wheels." Dietrich plays Shanghai Lily, a lady of easy virtue known as the "White Flower of the Chinese coast." During a time of political unrest, she boards the train in Peking, along with an assortment of characters with their own agendas. They include Clive Brook, as an English officer and former lover of Lily's; Warner Oland, a rebel leader traveling incognito; and Anna May Wong, Lily's companion, a fellow prostitute hoping for a new start. The train is hijacked by the rebels, and the simmering tensions among the characters explode.
From the beginning of their collaboration, von Sternberg and Dietrich had been having an affair, although both were married. Von Sternberg was clearly in control behind the camera, but increasingly, it appeared that Dietrich, with her non-exclusive attitude toward sex, had the upper hand in the romance. She indulged in affairs with Gary Cooper and Maurice Chevalier, then went back to Germany to see her husband and daughter. Von Sternberg was feeling both personally and professionally frustrated, and wanted to abandon the partnership. Critics, too, were beginning to grumble that perhaps the Dietrich-von Sternberg films were too rarefied, that the exotic German beauty might do well to work with another director. Dietrich, however, would not work with anyone but von Sternberg, and he began preparing Shanghai Express. Shortly before the film went into production, von Sternberg's estranged wife sued Dietrich for alienation of affections and the suit was later dropped.
Given the tense circumstances, and von Sternberg's tyrannical manner and mania for perfection, working on Shanghai Express was a stressful experience for everyone. Von Sternberg shouted so much that he lost his voice. A production executive gave him a microphone to use, and von Sternberg went one better and hooked up a huge public address system, so his voice boomed in all corners of the soundstage. Cinematographer Lee Garmes recalled that the director acted out all the roles and insisted the actors imitate him. "His impersonation of Anna May Wong had us all in stitches. But we didn't dare show our amusement."
Von Sternberg's obsessiveness paid off early in Shanghai Express, in the scenes of the Peking railroad station, created on the Paramount back lot and in nearby towns with train tracks. The scenes are densely packed with faux-Chinese atmosphere and layer upon layer of detail. In his memoir, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, von Sternberg himself recalled one such detail. "We had to plan to have a cow give birth and nourish its calf near noisy railroad tracks, so that it would be undisturbed by clanging bells and hooting whistles when my train came along through the crowded streets to be stopped by an animal suckling its young."
The most beautiful and exotic of von Sternberg's creations in Shanghai Express, of course, is Dietrich herself, swathed in designer Travis Banton's feathers and veils, and stunningly lit and photographed by Lee Garmes. In one particularly ravishing image, only her pale, elegant hands are lit, clasped in prayer for her former lover. As the world-weary courtesan, Dietrich also murmurs what is probably her most famous line: "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily." The surefire combination of glamour and adventure made it the most successful of the Dietrich-von Sternberg films and at Oscar time, Shanghai Express was nominated for Best Picture (it lost to Grand Hotel, 1932) and von Sternberg was nominated for best director for the second year in a row. But only Lee Garmes won the award for his cinematography.
Dietrich and von Sternberg would make three more films together, each one becoming more and more stylized and remote, and nearly wrecking the careers of both. But many fans agree with critic Pauline Kael that what makes Shanghai Express such fun is that "this movie has style - a triumphant fusion of sin, glamour, shamelessness, art, and perhaps, a furtive sense of humor."
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Executive Producer: Adolph Zukor
Screenplay: Jules Furthman, based on a story by Harry Hervey
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Costume Design: Travis Banton
Art Direction: Hans Dreier
Music: W. Franke Harling
Principal Cast: Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Lily), Clive Brook (Donald "Doc" Harvey), Anna May Wong (Hui Fei), Warner Oland (Henry Chang), Eugene Pallette (Sam Salt), Lawrence Grant (Rev. Carmichael).
BW-82m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
Shanghai Express - Shanghai Express
It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.- Shanghai Lily
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.
China initially banned the movie, demanding its withdrawal from worldwide circulation. The ban was lifted when Paramount pledged not to make another film involving Chinese politics.
1000 extras were used in the making of the movie
Although onscreen credits refer to Harry Hervey's work as a novel, no evidence has been found that his story was published. Paramount studio information credits Hervey with the story "Sky Over China," also known as "China Pass." According to letters in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, the Hays Office kept a close watch on the film as it was being developed, and was mainly concerned with the portrayal of the Reverend Carmichael and the depiction of the Chinese revolution. Colonel Jason S. Joy, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, noted in a letter to Paramount executive B. P. Schulberg that "there is still some apprehension on our part because for six or seven reels one intensely dislikes a man who is identified with the church." Even after changes were made to make the character more respectable, the Hays Office had reservations about any unfavorable portrayal relating to a minister. Other changes recommended by the Hays Office were to delete the scene of "human heads hanging from poles in the Chinese street [which] are gruesome and will offend a large number of people...also such a scene will invite the opposition of the Chinese as revealing the continuation of barbarous practises." In addition, they feared that a remark by Chang in which he says he is not proud of his white blood will be "objected to on the grounds that it shows the white race unfavorably in contrast with the yellow."
A translation of an article from a Chinese newspaper included in the files expressed the hope that the Chinese consul in the United States would protest the film, as in the newspaper's opinion, the film shows "the darkest side of Chinese politics." Paramount assured the Hays Office that they would consult with the Chinese consulate, but no documentation of such correspondence was found. A 1937 letter from the foreign representative in the Hays Office, Frederick L. Herron, to Joseph I. Breen, Director of the PCA, concerning the Paramount film The General Died at Dawn, however, recalled the Chinese government banned Shanghai Express and demanded its full withdrawal from worldwide circulation, or Paramount would be barred from China. China withdrew the ban and the matter was apparently resolved through the U.S. Embassy when Paramount pledged not to produce another film concerning the same issues.
The synopsis in copyright records has the final scene in which "Lily" and "Doc" reunite take place on the train as they make wedding plans. A news item in Film Daily credits technical aide Tom Gubbins with playing his first role as a Chinese officer. According to copyright records, one thousand extras were used in the film. Additionally, the Santa Fe railroad station in San Bernardino, CA, was transformed to represent the Peking terminal, and other train scenes were filmed around San Bernardino, and in Chatsworth, CA. A modern source credits Richard Kollorsz with the design of the train, and Travis Banton as costumer. In 1931/32 the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences nominated Shanghai Express for Academy Awards in the categories Best Picture and Best Direction. Lee Garmes won the award for Best Cinematography. Harry Hervey's story was the basis for Paramount's 1942 film Night Plane from Chungking, directed by Ralph Murphy and starring Robert Preston and Ellen Drew. Paramount remade Hervey's story again in 1951 as Peking Express, directed by William Dieterle, produced by Hal B. Wallis and starring Joseph Cotten and Corinne Calvet.
Released in United States 1932
The film incorporates footage shot by James Wong Howe while on a visit to China in 1929.
Released in United States 1932