Shanghai Express

Shanghai Express is a 1932 American pre-Code film about a group of train passengers held hostage by a warlord during the Chinese Civil War. It was directed by Josef von Sternberg and stars Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong and Warner Oland. The screenplay was written by Jules Furthman based on a 1931 short story by Harry Hervey. Shanghai Express was the fourth of seven films that Sternberg and Dietrich created together.


In 1931, China is embroiled in a civil war. Friends of British captain Donald "Doc" Harvey envy him because Shanghai Lily is traveling on the express train he is taking from Peiping to Shanghai. They tell him she is a "coaster", a "woman who lives by her wits along the China coast" (i.e., a prostitute). Lily is in fact his former lover Madeline. Five years earlier, she had played a trick on him to gauge his love for her, but it backfired and he left her. She informs him, "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily." Lily still loves him, and she notices that he still wears a watch with her photograph in it.