There are only two thespians I had previously heard of in this picture: Marlene Dietrich, of course, as Shanghai Lily and Eugene Pallette as Sam Salt. Mr. Pallette was almost instantly recognizable by his voice alone. Film goers may remember him as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938 (“Give me back my mutton!“).
The real star of the show was Southern Pacific Railroad #2428, a P-3 class 4-6-2 Baldwin-built steam locomotive. I believe this was the same engine used to represent two different trains. Pulling out of Peiping (Peking), the engine is numbered 4234, then the “hostage train” is numbered 2428. To further complicate things, there are only Chinese characters in the number boards to reference, but at least the wheel arrangement matches.
Anyhoo, let’s take a look at Hollywood’s interpretation of Chinese rail transport during an ongoing civil war. Hen hao, xièxiè !
Fixing to leave Peiping, the engineer looks back for the highball. Cab side lettering reads “4234” in Chinese characters; Later on in the movie, the engine characters are switched to “2428”.
Here is a link to sister SP locomotive #2429 to see what our film’s 4-6-2 looks like without the set dressing.Continue reading