Remember when filmmaker Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich worked together in The Blue Angel? Well, this partnership in this next film is considered one of the best works of von Sternberg and Dietrich’s. Shanghai Express is about a courtesan who must rescue her ex-boyfriend from the Chinese government as they’re on board the train to Shanghai.
It looks like Shanghai Express was made as a love note to Marlene Dietrich in how von Sternberg was able to capture Dietrich’s beauty in many forms. Whether she’s in the shadows, wearing gloves, feathered, or surrounded by smoke, she’s beautiful. You can always tell if a director and an actress are in a relationship with each other in real life based on the way he films her. That he wants to make the audience fall in love with her the way he does. Agree? Just like in the film Meet Me in St. Louis, the way Vincente Minelli filmed Judy Garland whenever she sang was a clear expression of his real-life love for her. I love how with Marlene Dietrich that she knows how to act with her eyes and doesn’t need to do these theatrical movements to win us over. With a camera, it’s not necessary.
I liked the sets in that you really did feel like you were on a train with the confined space and the sound of the train chugging in the background. I also would put this film on my list of feminist films where it’s up to the female lead to save her ex-lover. That she loves him so much but he’s not willing to forget the past but shows him her love by trying to rescue him. This is one of Marlene Dietrich’s best performances and I recommend seeing it.
Watch Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express and write in your reactions: