I finally got to see Shanghai Express, which coincidentally was also my first movie with Anna May Wong, which I was TREMENDOUSLY excited about, and who did not disappoint. Oh man, her delivery of “I must confess. I don’t quite know the standard of respectability that you demand in your boardinghouse, Mrs. Haggerty” made me lose the entirety of my itness. This scene shows Dietrich and Wong working in unbelievably gorgeous, disreputable concert, and I wish to God this movie was 100% less about Orientalism and men and 100% more about the two of them going on a crime spree. But then, nothing this side of eternity is perfect.
(If you do decide to watch it, prepare yourself for a great deal of tiresome exoticizing and nearly-as-tiresome Clive Brook, but there are moments of transcendence, particularly when Marlene walks down the train corridor to borrow a cigarette and when Anna May says, “I didn’t do it for you. Death has canceled his debt to me.”)
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.