director Josef von Sternberg
If you’ve ever wondered why Marlene Dietrich is considered a sex symbol, just watch Shanghai Express. She is the definition of movie star here, shot by director Josef von Sternberg and cameramen Lee Garmes and James Wong Howe into absolute iconic pure classic Hollywood cinema.
The cinematography is breathtaking, especially lighting and capturing of Dietrich. Her outfits, stunning and sublime.
“Don’t you find respectable people terribly…dull?” – Shanghai Lily
Set during a Chinese civil war, the film takes place, largely, on the train of the title, en route for Shanghai but delayed and manipulated by Henry Chang (Warner Oland), a particular player in the country’s unrest. Dietrich is “Shanghai Lily”, an imported courtesan, who runs into an old lover (Clive Brook). Anna Mae Wong is another mysterious figure on the crowded train, though there is just nowhere enough Anna Mae Wong in the film.
A pre-code gem, Shanghai Express is all intrigue, exotica, and glamour. All dreamed up on some Hollywood sound stage.