An intoxicating mix of adventure, romance, and pre-Code salaciousness, Shanghai Express marks the commercial peak of an iconic collaboration. Marlene Dietrich is at her wicked best as Shanghai Lily, a courtesan whose reputation brings a hint of scandal to a three-day train ride through war-torn China. On board, she is surrounded by a motley crew of foreigners and lowlifes, including a fellow fallen woman (Anna May Wong), an old flame (Clive Brook), and a rebel leader wanted by the authorities (Warner Oland). As tensions come to a boil, director Josef von Sternberg delivers one breathtaking image after another, enveloping his star in a decadent profusion of feathers, furs, and cigarette smoke. The result is a triumph of studio filmmaking and a testament to the mythic power of Hollywood glamour.
"Dressed in decadence, awash in chiaroscuro, Dietrich is unforgettable, and while much is made of her image itself, theres more to it than an early auteurs obsessive gaze. Dietrichs presence is palpable, which goes hand-in-hand with the abundant confidence required to pull off Sternbergs increasingly larger than life heroines, and as it turns out here, she can deliver one-liners with the best of them." - Cine-File
"The Chinese Civil War serves as the backdrop for this 1932 von Sternberg agent-thriller, but its the titular express train bound for Shanghai that will represent the main stage; viewed from more than seventy years in the future, the parallax is still dizzying. A sensual and threatening interplay between light, shadow, and layer upon layer of gauze circumfixes as ever the great directors gaze, the focal object of which is none other than the incomparable Marlene Dietrich." - Cinemasparagus
"More action oriented than the other Dietrich-Sternberg films, this 1932 production is nevertheless one of the most elegantly styled. The setting, a broken-down train commandeered by revolutionaries on its way to Shanghai, becomes a maze of soft shadows and shifting textures, through which the characters wander in a philosophical quest for somethinganythingsolid. The screenplay, by Jules Furthman and an uncredited Howard Hawks, has a quality of wisecracking wit unusual in Sternbergs films." - Reader
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