East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Leave a comment

Morocco (1930)

Today is Joseph von Sternberg’s birthday, so it feels right that I spent one hour and a half last night rewatching his Morocco, an exotic melodrama featuring Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou.
The film was shot in 1930 and caused quite a stir, for a number of reasons.
While not my favorite Dietrich/von Sternberg collaboration, it’s still worth a look.
And despite the desert location, this is probably not a Tits & Sand movie, but… who knows?

The plot: cynical but maybe not so cynical cabaret entertainer falls in love with cheeky American legionnaire and refuses the advances of a more settled, wealthy gentleman. Passions flare, tragedy ensues.

Continue reading


Five classical beauties

guruMy web-thingies guru (don’t we all have one?) tells me it’s “good SEO” whatever that means, and a good way to get some extra traffic, to post list-themed contents.
“The Best Five… whatever”.
And who am I to doubt my guru?

So I thought I’d do a list sort of post – and a few nights back a guy pointed a loaded Marlene Dietrich at me1.
Boy was she heart-stoppingly beautiful!
And yet…

Fact: the world is filled with beautiful women. That’s one of the good things of being alive on this world. And if you love movies – like I do – you are certainly aware that there’s been a lot of incredibly beautiful women that have graced the screen.
Some names are legendary – Monroe, Harlow, Turner, the above-mentioned Dietrich…

So, what about my five favorite actresses from the classic Hollywood era?
Sounds like the sort of thing that might please my web-thingies guru… Continue reading

Leave a comment

Waiting for 2016 in the 1930s

Last day of 2015.
I’ve been planning the family dinner and some entertainment.
The local offering, both in terms of live entertainment, cinema or TV programming is bleak bordering on ghastly.
I could go for some music – my old tradition of listening a musical or operetta of some kind on new year’s eve.
51vp643XS-LAnd indeed, I had planned to listen to South Pacific this year Рbut apparently my copy (the Jos̩ CarrerasKiri Te Kanawa version) was misplaced or, more likely, never returned after borrowing.
And the neighbors get nervous if I listen music at a high volume anyway – their dog starts barking.
Do I really want to spend my New Year’s Eve wearing headphones?

So I decided for a Marlene Dietrich double bill – first Morocco, from 1930, and then The Scarlet Empress, from 1934 (the Criterion edition, with a lots of extra features).
Both directed by Joseph von Sternberg.
So yes, while 2016 arrives, I’ll be in the 1930s, in the company of Marlene Dietrich.


Better than the ghastly New Year’s Eve the state television has to offer – ghastly, and paid with my tax money.

See you on the other side, ladies and gentlemen.
And have a happy new year – no matter in what decade you decide to start it.


Shanghai Express

Poster - Shanghai Express_06It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.

Roger Ebert called this line from Joseph von Sternberg‘s Shanghai Express “a masterpiece of understatement”.

Von Sternberg went to Shanghai, in order to research this movie. He described his experiences in a book called Fun in a Chinese Laundry.
Weird chap, that von Sternberg guy.

The story is set on the Shanghai-Beijing Express, in the thirties, as was and revolution rage across China.
But war and revolution are not as shocking, for the travelers on this train, than the presence among them of notorious prostitute Shanghai Lil.

Then one of them finds out she’s his former girlfriend. Continue reading


The Shanghai Illusion

hl08Who were Maurine Karns and Pat Patterson?
I don’t have much information on this strange duo, but the fact that in 1936 they published a guide to Shanghai that’s one of the most cherished (and fun) pieces in my collection.

The book (which was reprinted a few years ago by always reliable Earnshaw Books) is called Shanghai – High Lights, Low Lights, Tael Lights.
And it is absolutely outrageous.
In a good way, mind you! Continue reading