06 July 2010

Trying to Make it With Marlene on the Shanghai Express and Loving Being Taken for a Ride

(I watched Shanghai Express (1932) today, a film which holds a place on my list of 100 favorite English language films. I previously wrote about the film on this blog a few years back. This entry will be a tad different.)

 I want on that train. Hey! Let me on board! I'm totally imaginary so the fare is not a problem. Thanks, man, I wont forget this. Let's check out my fellow passengers.
There's this guy Captain Harvey, aka "Doc," who's got a past with Shanghai Lily (my girl, Marlene Dietrich) He is a tool. I mean the only thing I don't get about Lily is what she ever saw in a walking paste board like him. No doubt he's a good doctor, officer and gentleman but his voice and manner have all the charm of yesterday's oatmeal. This Harvey (Clive Brook) is a walking yawn.
But dig this, I've also got a fall back on this trip. He Fei (Anna May Wong). If I can't muscle laughing boy away from my Lily -- that'd be a shame -- I'll see if this dish will give me a tumble. Yummy. There'd be one helluva lot of consolation in that consolation prize.

One dame I want no part of is that matronly old broad with the little mutt. What a prude. Besides, she's pushing 80 if not 180. Her handle is Mrs. Haggerty (Louise Closser Hale). She's as sour as sugarless lemonade. Being in your golden years is no crime, but being an old biddy is another matter. There's a portly Eurasian gent who's all sophisticated wisdom. Something shady about this character. Goes by the name of Mr. Henry Chang (Warner Oland). Bet I can tell he's up to no good (it helps that I've seen the movie).

Others on this choo choo include a rotund American businessman, a whiny German and a typically holier-than-thou reverend. But my interest is in the notorious Shanghai Lily. She's got a reputation of some sort and I think I know what it's based on: Victorian mores. We're here in the early 1930's but the Brits in this part of Asia have brought their old school prudishness with them. So I'm on board and all I want to do is see Harvey take a hike so I can get cozy with the sultry Lily. Not a problem. Meanwhile I get to enjoy a vintage train ride with as disparate a group of passengers as you'll ever want to meet. My main objective will be to find love in the arms of Lily. Just about the only thing that can stop me is if the Civil War raging across China gets in the way and what are the chances of that? Whattaya mean pretty good!?
Damn all the luck. To intrigue is added strife. My efforts at wooing Lily will be severely hampered by these most dangerous shenanigans. And just as I suspected, that Mr. Chang is not what he claims. He is in fact, a ruthless leader of a warring faction.

Long story short. Once the shooting started I got off the train and returned to reality. I'm a brave man here in the real world (or so I tell myself) but why risk life and limb in a movie, in a fantasy? Course if I really could score with the Dietrich of 1932.....

Twas a fascinating ride on the Shanghai Express. The conductor is no less a personage than Joseph von Sternberg. He created an exciting tale that so wonderfully evokes a time and place that none of us have ever seen but are sure we are visiting. And to think this ride is taking place on a Hollywood backlot! He also caused my infatuation to Dietrich/Lily to increase tenfold. It's the way he photographs her. If her gorgeous puss had an imperfection (it don't) you can bet von Sternberg would never let you see it. The angles, the lighting, the length of shots are all designed to accentuate the world's greatest facial bone structure. It's no surprise that he'd long since fallen for the dame too.

I'm glad I hitched my ride on the Shanghai Express (which is a lot easier since we got a DVD player that plays region 1 &2 DVDs and I got the British DVD). It's one of those deals that's not a ride but an experience. And you don't have to be all girl crazy to enjoy it either. But it helps.

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