Women flout social norms in Hollywood Before the Code

by Pam Grady

“Every train carries its cargo of sin,” says the Rev. Mr. Carmichael (Lawrence Grant) as the journey gets underway in Shanghai Express (1932), the fourth of seven collaborations between star Marlene Dietrich and director Josef von Sternberg. The cargo in this case is two ladies whose reputation precedes them — Chinese courtesan Hui Fei (Anna May Wong) and the notorious white “coaster” — a local euphemism for prostitute — known as Shanghai Lily (Marlene Dietrich). They are but two of the fallen women to be found in Elliot Lavine and I WAKE UP DREAMING’s latest festival of classics, Hollywood Before the Code, screening at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre for six consecutive Wednesdays beginning Feb. 24. Continue reading