- Actor Allusion:
- Marlene Dietrich had played the ex of an officer who became a prostitute in Dishonored - also directed by Joseph von Sternberg.
- The same film had also cast Warner Oland as a duplicitous villain who Marlene's character offers sex for services.
- Actor-Shared Background: Madeleine can speak French and acts as an interpreter for a French man who can't speak English. Marlene Dietrich was fluent in French in real life too.
- Banned in China: Briefly. The ban was lifted after Paramount promised to never make a film about Chinese politics again.
- California Doubling: Set in China but filmed on the Santa Fe railroad.
- Cast the Expert: Mandarin-speaking extras were cast as the rebels.
- The Cast Show Off: Anna May Wong could speak both English and Chinese, and does so in the film.
- Doing It for the Art: Joseph von Sternberg painted many of the Chinese characters on the railways himself. Additionally Marlene Dietrich's daughter claims that the famous Fluffy Fashion Feathers outfit came about after the entire Paramount costume department was searched - trying to find the most dramatic thing. Clive Brook also claims the cast were told to talk in rhythm with the wheels.
- Executive Meddling:
- The Hays Code were heavily monitoring the portrayal of Carmichael. He was a practicing minister in the original draft, but becomes a doctor of divinity in the finished film.
- Subverted in another case. They protested against a line where Chang says he's ashamed of his white half, but it remains in the film.
- Fake Nationality:
- Production Posse: The fourth collaboration between Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich.
- Reality Subtext: There is a line about Shanghai Lily breaking hundreds of men's hearts - which seems to be a Take That! by Joseph von Sternberg to Marlene Dietrich's non-exclusive attitude to affairs. The press had labelled her a "love pirate" at the time.
- Romance on the Set: Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich were having an affair during filming, despite both being married at the time.
- Sleeper Hit: A gloomy artsy film that's more about visuals than plot managed to gross $3 million that year (equal to about $55 million in today's money) - and it was the most financially successful of the Sternberg-Dietrich collaborations.
- Troubled Production: Tension was running high between Joseph von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich - the former feeling frustrated at the latter's casual attitude towards sex (she was apparently hooking up with Gary Cooper and Maurice Chevalier as well). He wanted to end their partnership, but she wouldn't work with anyone else. On set he apparently shouted so much that he lost his voice, resulting in him hooking up a PA system to the sound-stages. Due to his perfectionist way of shooting, he ended up doing most of the cinematography himself, even though Lee Garmes won an Oscar for the cinematography. Not helping matters was his estranged wife suing Marlene Dietrich just after filming began for "alienation of affections", though this was dropped.
- Unintentional Period Piece: The film's bleak and gloomy tone instantly mark it as a 1930s piece - where the themes of identity loss and displacement parallel those of the Great Depression. Madeleine's character is also a remnant of the "European mystique" that Hollywood held for the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo before her - instantly marking the film as being made before the rise of Nazism in Germany. The fact that the film is so obvious about what Madeleine and Hui Fei do for a living marks it as being made during The Pre-Code Era.
- Urban Legends: There were rumours that Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong were having an affair, due to the intense chemistry between them. While they were good friends, there is no actual evidence of an affair.
Trivia / Shanghai Express