Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 1932. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Jules Furthman, based on the story by Harry Hervey. Cinematography by Lee Garmes. Produced by Adolph Zukor. Music by W. Franke Harling. Production Design by Hans Dreier. Costume Design by Travis Banton. Film Editing by Frank Sullivan.
The best film Marlene Dietrich made with her guru Josef von Sternberg after coming to Hollywood was this gorgeously shot train adventure about a mysterious woman named Shanghai Lily (Dietrich) travelling on the titular route through civil-war-torn China. Her fellow passengers are more nervous about her presence on board than the turmoil that endangers their travel (as she herself says, “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily”). She herself is more concerned about the hunky army doctor (Clive Brook), with whom she once had an affair. The two toss off their chance encounter as pure coincidence, but when the doctor is taken hostage by a rebel army leader (Warner Oland), she must decide whether or not she still loves him enough to put her life in danger to save him. Smartly written, plus Lee Garmes’ cinematography is among the most-lauded black-and-white photography of the golden era in Hollywood, and Dietrich is at her most enchanting and bewilderingly beautiful.
The Criterion Collection: #933
Academy Award: Best Cinematography
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Director (Josef von Sternberg)