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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.



The Northwest Film Center recognizes and honors the Indigenous peoples of this region on whose ancestral lands the museum now stands. These include the Willamette Tumwater, Clackamas, Kathlemet, Molalla, Multnomah and Watlala Chinook Peoples and the Tualatin Kalapuya who today are part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and many other Native communities who made their homes along the Columbia River. We also want to recognize that Portland today is a community of many diverse Native peoples who continue to live and work here. We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, future—and are grateful for their ongoing and vibrant presence.