SHANGHAI EXPRESS (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)

“We’re in China now . . . where time and life have no value.” China is in the throes of civil war. The Shanghai Express, departing from Beijing, includes a Chinese rebel who is taken by nationalists; the rebels halt the train mid-run to determine which of the passengers would make the best hostage to […]

MOROCCO (Josef von Sternberg, 1930)

After their triumphant The Blue Angel in Germany, Josef von Sternberg brought his star and mistress, Marlene Dietrich, home to Hollywood—along with his wife. (Dietrich also was married.) There, they made six films together, the last two of which are brilliant, The Scarlet Empress (1934), about Catherine the Great, and The Devil Is a Woman […]

ANGEL (Ernst Lubitsch, 1937)

Whereas Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown (1946) no longer seems as fresh as it once did, his Angel, a glorious sophisticated comedy teetering on the satin-covered edge of upper-class marital tragedy, is far better now that I grasp the stakes involved.*      Marlene Dietrich is wondrously clear—crisp, delicately poignant—as Maria, the neglected wife of a conference-addicted English […]