Shanghai Express (1932)

80 or 84 mins | Drama, Romance | 12 February 1932

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HISTORY

Although onscreen credits refer to Harry Hervey's work as a novel, no evidence has been found that his story was published. Paramount studio information credits Hervey with the story "Sky Over China," also known as "China Pass." According to letters in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, the Hays Office kept a close watch on the film as it was being developed, and was mainly concerned with the portrayal of the Reverend Carmichael and the depiction of the Chinese revolution. Colonel Jason S. Joy, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, noted in a letter to Paramount executive B. P. Schulberg that "there is still some apprehension on our part because for six or seven reels one intensely dislikes a man who is identified with the church." Even after changes were made to make the character more respectable, the Hays Office had reservations about any unfavorable portrayal relating to a minister. Other changes recommended by the Hays Office were to delete the scene of "human heads hanging from poles in the Chinese street [which] are gruesome and will offend a large number of people...also such a scene will invite the opposition of the Chinese as revealing the continuation of barbarous practises." In addition, they feared that a remark by Chang in which he says he is not proud of his white blood will be "objected to on the grounds that it shows the white race unfavorably in contrast with the yellow."
       A translation of an article from a Chinese newspaper included in the files expressed the hope that the Chinese consul in the United States would ... More Less

Although onscreen credits refer to Harry Hervey's work as a novel, no evidence has been found that his story was published. Paramount studio information credits Hervey with the story "Sky Over China," also known as "China Pass." According to letters in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, the Hays Office kept a close watch on the film as it was being developed, and was mainly concerned with the portrayal of the Reverend Carmichael and the depiction of the Chinese revolution. Colonel Jason S. Joy, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, noted in a letter to Paramount executive B. P. Schulberg that "there is still some apprehension on our part because for six or seven reels one intensely dislikes a man who is identified with the church." Even after changes were made to make the character more respectable, the Hays Office had reservations about any unfavorable portrayal relating to a minister. Other changes recommended by the Hays Office were to delete the scene of "human heads hanging from poles in the Chinese street [which] are gruesome and will offend a large number of people...also such a scene will invite the opposition of the Chinese as revealing the continuation of barbarous practises." In addition, they feared that a remark by Chang in which he says he is not proud of his white blood will be "objected to on the grounds that it shows the white race unfavorably in contrast with the yellow."
       A translation of an article from a Chinese newspaper included in the files expressed the hope that the Chinese consul in the United States would protest the film, as in the newspaper's opinion, the film shows "the darkest side of Chinese politics." Paramount assured the Hays Office that they would consult with the Chinese consulate, but no documentation of such correspondence was found. A 1937 letter from the foreign representative in the Hays Office, Frederick L. Herron, to Joseph I. Breen, Director of the PCA, concerning the Paramount film The General Died at Dawn (see above), however, recalled the Chinese government banned Shanghai Express and demanded its full withdrawal from worldwide circulation, or Paramount would be barred from China. China withdrew the ban and the matter was apparently resolved through the U.S. Embassy when Paramount pledged not to produce another film concerning the same issues.
       The synopsis in copyright records has the final scene in which "Lily" and "Doc" reunite take place on the train as they make wedding plans. A news item in FD credits technical aide Tom Gubbins with playing his first role as a Chinese officer. According to copyright records, one thousand extras were used in the film. Additionally, the Santa Fe railroad station in San Bernardino, CA, was transformed to represent the Peking terminal, and other train scenes were filmed around San Bernardino, and in Chatsworth, CA. A modern source credits Richard Kollorsz with the design of the train, and Travis Banton as costumer. In 1931/32 the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences nominated Shanghai Express for Academy Awards in the categories Best Picture and Best Direction. Lee Garmes won the award for Best Cinematography. Harry Hervey's story was the basis for Paramount's 1942 film Night Plane from Chungking , directed by Ralph Murphy and starring Robert Preston and Ellen Drew. Paramount remade Hervey's story again in 1951 as Peking Express , directed by William Dieterle, produced by Hal B. Wallis and starring Joseph Cotten and Corinne Calvet.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Film Daily
12 Nov 31
p. 8.
Film Daily
1 Dec 31
p. 7.
Film Daily
21 Feb 32
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jan 32
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 32
p. 1.
International Photographer
1 Mar 32
p. 30.
Motion Picture Herald
27 Feb 32
pp. 35-6.
New York Times
18 Feb 32
p. 25.
Variety
23 Feb 32
p. 13.
DETAILS
Release Date:
12 February 1932
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Publix Corp.
Copyright Date:
15 February 1932
Copyright Number:
LP2857
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
80 or 84
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In 1931, as the Chinese Civil War rages, Captain Donald Harvey, a physician known as "Doc," meets his long-lost love, Magdalen, now known as Shanghai Lily, as they board the Shanghai Express in the Peking railroad station. Lily is a notorious "coaster," a woman who, while not a professional prostitute, lives by her feminine wits along the China coast. While the train is stopped, the passengers are searched by soldiers of the Chinese Army, and a spy is arrested. Fellow passenger Henry Chang surreptitiously sends a telegram to rebel troops commanding them to hijack the train at midnight. Traveling once again, Lily and Donald rekindle their love, but Donald is repelled by the life Lily has been leading. When the train is accosted by the rebels and Chang interrogates the first-class passengers, they realize that he is commander-in-chief of the rebel army. Donald informs Chang of the urgency of his trip to Shanghai, where he is expected to perform brain surgery on the governor-general. Chang holds Donald hostage, and only agrees to release him if the British Legation returns his spy to him the next morning. Chang propositions Lily, but she says she has reformed. When Chang forces himself on her, Donald breaks in and knocks him down. That evening, Chang rapes Hui Fei, also a coaster, and keeps her imprisoned for the night. Chang's spy is returned to him, but he continues to hold Donald, threatening to blind him until Lily offers to accompany Chang back to his palace in exchange for leaving Donald unharmed. Hui Fei stabs Chang to death as retribution, and the train and its ... +


In 1931, as the Chinese Civil War rages, Captain Donald Harvey, a physician known as "Doc," meets his long-lost love, Magdalen, now known as Shanghai Lily, as they board the Shanghai Express in the Peking railroad station. Lily is a notorious "coaster," a woman who, while not a professional prostitute, lives by her feminine wits along the China coast. While the train is stopped, the passengers are searched by soldiers of the Chinese Army, and a spy is arrested. Fellow passenger Henry Chang surreptitiously sends a telegram to rebel troops commanding them to hijack the train at midnight. Traveling once again, Lily and Donald rekindle their love, but Donald is repelled by the life Lily has been leading. When the train is accosted by the rebels and Chang interrogates the first-class passengers, they realize that he is commander-in-chief of the rebel army. Donald informs Chang of the urgency of his trip to Shanghai, where he is expected to perform brain surgery on the governor-general. Chang holds Donald hostage, and only agrees to release him if the British Legation returns his spy to him the next morning. Chang propositions Lily, but she says she has reformed. When Chang forces himself on her, Donald breaks in and knocks him down. That evening, Chang rapes Hui Fei, also a coaster, and keeps her imprisoned for the night. Chang's spy is returned to him, but he continues to hold Donald, threatening to blind him until Lily offers to accompany Chang back to his palace in exchange for leaving Donald unharmed. Hui Fei stabs Chang to death as retribution, and the train and its passengers finally complete their journey to Shanghai. Dr. Carmichael, doctor of divinity, commends Lily for her sacrifice and tries to convince Donald of her honor, but Donald refuses to believe him. When Donald sees Lily buying a watch for him to replace the one he had lost, however, he begs her forgiveness and they embrace in the crowded station. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.