Shanghai Express


Shanghai Express

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.



Total Count: 23


Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,568
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Movie Info

Two notorious women of the night are aboard a train that is hijacked by rebel Chinese.


Marlene Dietrich
as Shanghai Lily
Clive Brook
as Capt. Donald Harvey
Louise Closser Hale
as Mrs. Haggerty
Warner Oland
as Henry Chang
Lawrence Grant
as Rev. Carmichael
Emile Chautard
as Maj. Lenard
Claude King
as Albright
Neshida Minoru
as Chinese Spy
Willie Fung
as Engineer
Leonard Carey
as Minister
Forrester Harvey
as Ticket Agent
Miki Morita
as Officer
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Critic Reviews for Shanghai Express

All Critics (23) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (23)

  • The film has compensating strength in the star, who photographs more beautifully than before and, though she is acted off the screen by Anna May Wong, shows herself unique in Hollywood by being majestically beautiful.

    Sep 6, 2018 | Full Review…
  • Shanghai Express is a picture of the new school, and when Marlene Dietrich promises Warner Oland to visit him at his castle if he will refrain from destroying Clive Brook's eyesight with a red hot poker, you will not find the situation banal.

    Feb 2, 2011 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • The finished product is an example of what can be done with a personality and photogenic face such as Marlene Dietrich possesses to circumvent a trashy story.

    Jun 6, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • The bizarre stop-go cadences of the dialogue delivery are the most blatantly non-naturalistic element, but the overall design and dramatic pacing are equally extraordinary.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Tony Rayns

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • It is by all odds the best picture Josef von Sternberg has directed.

    Jan 28, 2006 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • More action oriented than the other Dietrich-Sternberg films, this 1932 production is nevertheless one of the most elegantly styled.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Shanghai Express

  • Apr 06, 2019
    Filled with iconic imagery and the narrative is surprisingly even handed for the 1930s. It throws a bunch of different people with various conflicting ideologies together but never really picks a side. There's also no moral center to the story, even the male lead is mostly just sarcastic.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 15, 2018
    Marlene Dietrich is an absolute goddess in this film, let's just start with that. My god, there are just so many wonderful shots of her that it's hard to mention them all. Obviously the one where she waits in a darkened room, her face upturned to the light, fingers trembling as she wonders if Clive Brook's character will want to be with her again is beyond special. The one with her concerned face through a window, with open palm flat against the pane, is fantastic too. I also loved the scene where she stops Anna May Wong's character from committing suicide with a knife after she's been raped. And how about when she's talking with Brook over what happened to their relationship five years before, and while flicking his hat (which she's wearing) with her forefinger, playfully says "There's only one thing I wouldn't have done....I wouldn't have bobbed my hair." Dietrich plays both cool woman of the world, and broken-hearted/vulnerable very well. Her eyes dance around in many of her scenes, and director Josef von Sternberg wisely gets everything he can out of her, with interesting fashion and tight shots. Her character is expressed so perfectly early on when she tells an old lady (Louise Closser Hale) "Don't you find respectable people terribly ... dull?" In light of that, it's a bit ironic that the love of her life, Clive Brook, is so respectable and restrained. Brook's performance gets a fair bit of criticism, but to me, he turned in a strong performance. I loved how he expresses his anger and disdain in that eminently British way of his. An example is when he rebukes the missionary for questioning the morals of Dietrich and Wong by saying "You interest me, Mr. Carmichael. I'm not exactly irreligious, but being a physician, I sometimes wonder how a man like you can locate a soul, and having located it, diagnose its condition as rotten." Later he gives a thinly veiled threat to Mr. Chang, after Chang says the Governor General will be benefitted by his skill, by saying "I hope someday to have the pleasure of demonstrating my skill upon you." Brook has been thinking of Dietrich for five years and four weeks, ever since they parted, their "smash-up" as he calls it, but he talks about it stoically, and with dignity. Of course, the stoicism of both of them is taken to an extreme, and we wonder a bit why Dietrich doesn't just tell Brook why she acted as she did with Mr. Chang, in the present. There is something wonderfully old-fashioned about it, just doing the right thing, and having faith that the other person will either recognized it or just believe in you. There is so much feeling in these simple lines: Dietrich: "What makes you think I'm nervous?" Brook: "One thing, your hands are trembling." Dietrich: "That's because you touched me, Doc." The supporting cast is also strong, led by Anna May Wong, who I adore. She has less to work with here, but is riveting nonetheless. I loved every languid yet fierce look. I also loved how her character isn't a stereotype, speaking perfect English with that same touch of class and sophistication that Dietrich's does. She first shows this when she says "I must confess, I don't quite know the standard of respectability that you demand in your boarding house, Mrs. Haggerty," in polished tones. There is an international flair to the cast, with French and German mixed in with the Chinese of the locals, though the latter is incorrectly a southern dialect. I wasn't wild about Waner Oland playing Mr. Chang, the half-Chinese, half-European passenger who turns out to be the leader of the insurgents, but it's not an offensive portrayal. Hale's character is the funniest, as she fusses over her dog Waffles, hmmph's indignantly at a fellow-traveler, and says "I've never been so shocked in my life. The Chinese girl deserves all she's getting. But as for the other lady, well, I'm not going to say anything. Of all the brazen creatures, playing the gramophone. She's the most terrible woman I've ever met." That really cracked me up, the nerve, playing the gramophone. Aside from all of these wonderful characters, Josef von Sternberg's story-telling is tight, and the film is highly atmospheric. This one is a must-see from the pre-Code era.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 18, 2014
    Marlene Dietrich makes this film go. Very stylish and the action is compelling.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 17, 2012
    Marlene Dietrich stars as "Shanghai Lily", a woman of some ill repute traveling across China in a passenger train. The other passengers have nothing but contempt for her and her female companion (Anna May Wong). Well, everyone but Captain Harvey (Clive Brook). He and Marlene had a relationship years ago, but the Captain didn't trust her and threw her over. Since then, she's been wandering the Chinese countryside, destroying men's lives wherever she goes. When Mr. Chang (Warner Oland, known for his role as Charlie Chan) turns out to be the leader of a rebel force, we learn to what extent Marlene still loves the captain and to what extent she will go to protect him. Despite exotic locales and characters, it's Dietrich who is the sole reason for watching "Shanghai Express". She's incredibly beautiful, emotive, and her costumes are a movie unto themselves. Director Josef von Sternberg knows how to shoot his leading lady, and there are moments when Dietrich's face is as beautiful as a framed work of art.
    Devon B Super Reviewer

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