Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Shanghai Express (1932)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Shanghai Express (1932)

In director Josef von Sternberg's melodramatic romantic adventure film filmed with exquisite chiaroscuro cinematography - Marlene Dietrich's fourth of seven films with the director:

  • set in 1931 in China during an internal civil war, the entrance of the bewitching Shanghai Lily (Marlene Dietrich), a "notorious coaster...a woman who lives by her wits along the China coast" - at the Peking train station before boarding the Shanghai Express en route to Shanghai - dressed in black with a veil
  • further close-ups (with keylighting on her face or backlighting) showing her stunning persona and mystique, filmed with expressionistic shadows
  • on the train, the introduction of the ominous character of sadistic rebel commander Mr. Henry Chang (Warner Oland) and his early warning that anything could happen in war-torn China: "You are in China now, sir, where time and life have no value"
  • also in the film's opening, framed by two windows, and side-by-side on the train, the flirtatious and seemingly-dangerous 'Shanghai Lily' (aka Magdalen) was reunited with former lover and uniformed medical surgeon Captain Donald 'Doc' Harvey (Clive Brook) after five years and four weeks apart; he complimented her beauty: "You've changed a lot...You're more beautiful than ever"; she then went on to say that she had changed her name: "Well, Doc, I've changed my name" - when he asked if she was married, she continued with her most memorable line: "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily"; he was astonished: "So you're Shanghai Lily!" - she added a sub-title: "the notorious white flower of China"; it was rumored that she had "wrecked a dozen men up and down the China coast"
  • during a rendezvous in a train compartment, 'Doc' and Lily talked about their past relationship when she had acted to make him jealous - and lost him: "You left me without a word purely because I indulged in a woman's trick to make you - jealous. I wanted to be certain that you loved me. Instead, I lost you. I suffered quite a bit and I probably deserved it."
  • during their conversation, he was concerned about her loose reputation since they had broken up years earlier: "I was a fool to let you go out of my life. (He kissed her) I wish you could tell me there'd been no other men" - she responded: "I wish I could 'Doc', but five years in China is a long time"; he wished they could have their five lost years back, and imagined what would have happened if they had not parted ways: "We'd have gone back to England, married and been very happy. There are a lot of things I wouldn't have done if I had those five years to live all over again"; he was still very distrusting and ambivalent towards her, however, and she was confused by his new-found attentiveness to her: "Will you never learn to believe without proof?...When I needed your faith, you withheld it. And now when I don't need it and don't deserve it, you give it to me"
  • in the conclusion after arriving in Shanghai, 'Doc' Harvey and Lily were reconciled to each other when he followed her and learned that she had bought him a replacement watch - and they decided to rekindle their relationship from the past when he re-affirmed his faith in her:

    'Doc': "What good is a watch without you?" (She attached the watch to his left wrist)
    Shanghai Lily: "I wish I could replace everything else, too. Goodbye, Donald."
    'Doc': "I'm not going to let you out of my life again, Magdalen, when everything else has become so unimportant. I don't care if you were going to leave with him or not. I don't care in the least. All I want is another chance for a new start. I'll be different. You'll never have any cause for regret. Please forgive me for my lack of faith. Please do. I know I've no right to ask you even to listen to me."
    Shanghai Lily: "It's very easy to listen to you, Donald. You know I love you. I always have and I always will."
    'Doc': "I don't deserve that. I know I behaved badly."
    Shanghai Lily: "Perhaps it was my fault. I should have told you everything."
    'Doc': "There's only one thing I want you to tell me, Magdalen."
    Shanghai Lily: "What's that?"
    'Doc': "How in the name of Confucius can I kiss you with all these people around?"
    Shanghai Lily: "But, Donald, there's no one here but you and I. Besides, many lovers come to railroad stations to kiss without attracting attention." (He looked around, then assisted her in putting her arms around him for a curtain-closing embrace and kiss)


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z