Pre Code Confidential #19: Marlene Dietrich in SHANGHAI EXPRESS (Paramount 1932)


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Marlene Dietrich is TCM’S Star of the Month for May, and “Shanghai Express” airs tonight at 12:00 midnight EST. 

A train ride from Peking to Shanghai is fraught with danger and romance in Josef von Sternberg’s SHANGHAI EXPRESS, a whirlwind of a movie starring that Teutonic whirlwind herself, Marlene Dietrich. This was the fourth of their seven collaborations together, and their biggest hit, nominated for three Oscars and winning for Lee Garmes’s striking black and white cinematography.

The Director and his Muse

Dietrich became a huge sensation as the sultry seductress Lola Lola in Sternberg’s 1930 German film THE BLUE ANGEL, and the pair headed to America to work for Paramount. Marlene became the autocratic director’s muse, as he molded her screen image into a glamorous object of lust and desire. Sternberg’s Expressionistic painting of light and shadows, aided by Dietrich’s innate sexuality, turned the former chorus girl and cabaret…

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Far Out, Man!: CHEECH & CHONG’S UP IN SMOKE (Paramount 1978)


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Hey Man, if you dig crude, vulgar stoner comedy… wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, Cheech and Chong, man. These two dudes were, like, really cool dudes, and made a lot of records and stuff, and… wait, what was I saying, man? OK, so Cheech and Chong were hippie culture’s answer to Abbott & Costello , and so popular they starred in a series of doper-themed movies, the first being UP IN SMOKE, a film basically about nothing except two burnouts trying to score some weed. C&C play their familiar personas of Pedro and Man, a pair of L.A. hippies floating their way through the world in a perpetual marijuana haze. . Sure, it’s uncouth, sophomoric, and defiantly non-PC, but had me laughing out loud forty years later!

The supporting cast features Stacy Keach as Sgt. Stedenko, a super-narc trying to stamp out drug use, and he’s a straight-edge riot…

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SUNSET BOULEVARD (Paramount 1950): Film Noir or Hollywood Horror Story?


“Sunset Boulevard” airs tonight on TCM at 8:00pm EST

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“I AM big. It’s the pictures that got small”

  • -Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD

I hadn’t seen Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD for quite some time until a recent rewatching. I’ve told you before how much I love a good Hollywood behind-the-scenes movie, and this one is no exception. But as I watched the tale unfold, I began to see the film in a different light. SUNSET BOULEVARD is always called a film noir classic, but this go-round found me viewing it through a lens of horror.

It’s certainly got all the elements of film noir. There’s protagonist William Holden, trapped in a bottomless downward spiral. Gloria Swanson is the femme fatale who ensnares Holden and pulls him into her dark web. The cinematography of John F. Seitz portrays a shadow-world of despair. And we’ve got Billy Wilder directing, the man behind noir masterpiece DOUBLE INDEMNITY, working…

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Lepre-Cartoon: THE WEE MEN (Paramount 1947) Complete Cartoon


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THE WEE MEN is a wee bit o’blarney about Leprechauns, one of Paramount Picture’s Noveltoons series. It’s the story of Paddy, just turned 121 years old, and entrusted with the important task of leaving new shoes on doorsteps for St. Patrick’s Day… until the Greediest Man Alive captures him and demands to be taken to that fabled pot o’gold! Directed by former Disney animator Bill Tytla, enjoy THE WEE MEN (and yes, it’s in the Public Domain!):

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Mad Libs: Hope & Crosby on the ROAD TO MOROCCO (Paramount 1942)


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Bing Crosby and Bob Hope travel the ROAD TO MOROCCO, the third in the “Road” series and by far the funniest. The plot involves two shipwrecked Americans who wind up in an absurd Arabian Nights style adventure complete with beautiful princess Dorothy Lamour and murderous desert sheik Anthony Quinn , but you can throw all that out the window as Bing and Bob trade quips, sing, and break down the Fourth Wall to let the audience know it’s all in good fun, so sit back and enjoy the zany ride.

Bob and Bing were already established superstars when Paramount teamed them for ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940), which was a huge box office hit and followed quickly by ROAD TO ZANZIBAR (1941). By the time they made MOROCCO, the pair had their act down pat, with Der Bingle the smooth-talking crooner who always gets the girl, and Ol’ Ski-Nose the cowardly…

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Goats and Nuts and MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (Paramount 1932)


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Hail, hail Klopstokia! MILLION DOLLAR LEGS is  total  movie anarchy, a throwback to the halcyon days of Mack Sennett. It’s a comedy cornucopia filled with sight gags and verbal nonsense, led by legendary W.C. Fields as president of the mythical country of Klopstokia, about to default on its loans until itinerant brush salesman Jack Oakie comes up with a plan to enter the hale and hearty Klopstokians in the 1932 Olympics and win the huge cash prize being put up by his employer!

Klopstokia is noted for “Goats & Nuts”, their chief exports, imports, and inhabitants! All political disputes are settled by arm wrestling, and President Fields is the strongest of all, though he’s constantly being challenged by his Secretary of the Treasury Hugh Herbert. Presidential daughter Angela (Susan Fleming, future wife of Harpo Marx) and brush salesman Migg Tweeny (Oakie) “meet cute” and immediately fall in love. When asking…

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Halloween Havoc!: ALIAS NICK BEAL (Paramount 1949)


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The worlds of supernatural horror and film noir collided to great effect in ALIAS NICK BEAL, John Farrow’s 1949 updated take on the Faust legend. The film wasn’t seen for decades due to legal complications, but last August the good folks at TCM broadcast it for the first time. I have been wanting to see this one for years, and I wasn’t disappointed! It’s loaded with dark atmosphere, a taut screenplay by hardboiled writer/noir vet Jonathan Latimer , and a cast of pros led by a ‘devilish’ turn from Ray Milland as Nick Beal.

The Faust character this time around is Joseph Foster, played by veteran Thomas Mitchell . Foster is an honest, crusading DA with political ambitions. When he says aloud he’d “give my soul” to convict racketeer Hanson, Foster receives a message to meet a man who claims he can help. Summoned to a seedy tavern on…

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