Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932) B- (x2)

The story and acting in Shanghai Express could have been better, but the real stars here are the gorgeous visuals and Marlene Dietrich glorious face. Cinematographer Lee Garmes won an Oscar for his efforts and I must say that it was well deserved; Shanghai Express looks nothing like any other American picture produced around the same time. Garmes' look is much more visually appealing and dreamlike than anything you would have seen at Warners (whose films tended to look gritty and "realistic") or MGM (which, in comparison, look cheap and unimaginative). He also shoots Dietrich's face in the loveliest way I have ever seen in any one of her films. Her acting, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Towards the middle she eases into the performance, but in the beginning and end there's a strange disconnect between her line readings, her vocal intonations and her facial expressions. Something doesn't quite add up and it definitely shows.

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