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Directed by Josef von Sternberg

United States 1932 80 mins. In English

The film that completely cemented Marlene Dietrich in Hollywood lore, Shanghai Express features some of von Sternberg’s most indelible compositions and staged situations as the titular train moves from Peking to Shanghai, picking up melodrama and tragedy along its circuitous route. Dietrich stars as Shanghai Lily, a courtesan traveling with a like-minded friend (Anna May Wong). On board, Lily meets her ex-lover Harvey (Clive Brook) by chance, the two falling into a tangled web of intrigue as the train also carries a nefarious rebel agent (Warner Oland) who is being hunted by the government. Von Sternberg handles the drama with visual aplomb, wrapping the actors in garish costumes and plentiful cigarette smoke as they hurtle headlong toward their fates. “A shaft of white light used properly can be far more effective than all the color in the world used indiscriminately.”—Josef von Sternberg.