Shanghai Express

China is in the midst of a civil war. British colonial, captain Donald ‘Doc’ Harvey and demimondaine Shanghai Lily are on board the train from Beijing to Shanghai. Before she ruined her reputation, Lily and Doc had an affair, which he broke off out of jealousy. They seem to be rekindling their romance on the journey until rebels seize the train and take Doc hostage. Lily tries to sacrifice herself in his place … ‘From the skies came the first light,’ wrote Josef von Sternberg in his memoirs, ‘and be it noted that it came from above and not from below.’ Thus the director wreathed his leading lady in a halo shining down from the studio heights, which stylized Marlene Dietrich according to his requirements into either a seductive vamp or – when she prays for her lover – a madonna. With their lighting scheme, von Sternberg and cinematographer Lee Garmes proved themselves masters of black-and-white staging, ‘A shaft of white light used properly can be far more effective than all the color in the world used indiscriminately. The extensive range of black and white with ist numberless variations is capable of producing all the visual drama that may be required.’
by Josef von Sternberg
with Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong
USA 1932 80’