Shanghai Express (Paramount). The scene wherein the heroine feels called upon to sacrifice her honor to the villain in order to save the man she loves has occurred so frequently in the cinema that it can be regarded as a more rigid pillar of the industry than Mr. Zukor, Mr. Lasky or Mr. Hertz. But 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.
Marlene Dietrich is a heroine of the contemporary order, a "coaster" (poule de luxe) of the Chinese shoreline. The other characters are a group of the ill-assorted personages customarily assembled for "one location" storiesa sour-tongued missionary, an old lady with a lapdog, a U. S. gambler, a German opium dealer who seems to suffer from chilblains, an oriental trollop, a half-breed Chinese named Henry Chang, a British Army surgeon with an Addisonian turn of speech. In the up-to-date habit of Transatlantic, Union Depot and Grand Hotel, they are all inhabiting a train of luxurious Pullmans bound from Peiping to Shanghai. When the train stops at a way station, Henry Chang turns out to be a revolutionary general. He holds the surgeon as a hostage and is about to mutilate him for being rude when the "coaster" makes her proposition. She has known the surgeon intimately in the distant past, and having met him again is hoping to reform for his sake, but ready not to do so if this will benefit him more. Fortunately, Mr. Chang (Warner Oland) has behaved badly toward the Chinese trollop (Anna May Wong), who solves the dilemma by planting a dagger in his back.
The atmosphere which Director von Sternberg cleverly built up through the slow beginning of the picture and the brilliant photographic effects achieved by his camera man, Lee Garmes, have effect of giving this melodramatic cliché a reality which it could not possibly achieve in a medium less persuasive than the cinema. Because the cars, the engines, the soldiers, the flags and noises of cities through which the Shanghai express passes are thoroughly realistic, the villainies of Mr. Chang and even the curiously elaborate speeches written for Clive Brook seem real also. Miss Dietrich's legs are not so evident as usual and she acts well in the manner of a less stoic Garbo. The wars to which the picture alludes are the civil disturbances which raged in China early last year; but, alert to the advantages of the Sino-Japanese conflict, Paramount last week urged exhibitors to believe that "every newspaper in the world is a pressbook for Shanghai Express."
Constance Bennett is 26, blonde, 105 lb., married (to the Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye). Her adopted son (Peter, offspring of a cousin), is three. She has blue eyes and is one inch taller than
Joan Bennett, who is 21, blonde, green-eyed, 110 lb., 5 ft. 3 in., divorced (from John Martin Fox, son of a Seattle lumberman), has a three-year-old daughter named Adrienne.