Death Over Shanghai

Original Title: Tod über Schanghai. (Bomben über Schanghai.) Adventure 1932; 84 min.; Director: Rolf Randolf; Cast: Gerda Maurus, Else Elster, Theodor Loos, Peter Voß, Max Ralph-Ostermann, Robert Eckert, Ernst Pröckl, Georg John; Ultra-Tobis-Klangfilm.

Shanghai during the Japanese invasion. An alleged engineer takes an interest in a respected member of the American concession and gathers evidence that they are the leader of a Chinese gang. The American kidnaps the governor and takes him to a nearby island, bringing the governor’s daughter along as well when the police start chasing him. Eventually, an entire naval detachment is dispatched to the island to rescue the hostages, who are guarded by only a few men…

In Shanghai, a besieged port city under Japanese occupation, a criminal gang runs amok. This highly organized gang takes advantage of the chaos caused by war and siege, rendering the police powerless. However, the situation changes when American secret agent John Baxter steps in. A significant crime has occurred: Governor Harris, an American official with the authority to involve the U.S. military against the gang, is expected to arrive by plane from Frisco but is attacked and abducted during a layover in Formosa. Despite the frantic efforts of coastal stations, American broadcasters, and the police radio, no trace of the governor can be found. Fortunately, Agent Baxter is already on the trail of the gang and its leader, the esteemed businessman James Biggers, who leads a double life. Biggers’ lover is Praxa, a Russian woman who owns “The Poppy Blossom” tea house, which serves as the gang’s headquarters.

Assuming the identity of an engineer named Haswell, Agent Baxter, who has just arrived in Shanghai, manages to establish contact with the notorious Biggers by orchestrating an attack staged by his assistant, posing as a “lifesaver.” Thus begins the covert battle between these equally matched adversaries, setting traps for one another. With Biggers holding Governor Harris’s life in his hands, having landed the hijacked plane on the pirate nest known as “Black Island” at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Agent Baxter skillfully evades all of Biggers’ desperate attempts to eliminate him. During a daring break-in at the infamous “The Poppy Blossom” tea house, Baxter learns the governor’s whereabouts and launches the final and most perilous assault on the pirate nest situated on Black Island. Supported by the entire American fleet, led by his friend Marine Attaché MacHover, who is engaged to Maud Harris, Baxter embarks on this mission.

Unwilling to wait, Biggers retaliates by ambushing Maud Harris’s car and taking the governor’s daughter hostage, hoping to shake off his pursuers by using her as leverage. As he sets course for Black Island, the gang’s hideout in Shanghai, “The Poppy Blossom” tea house goes up in flames. Amidst the smoke and flames, Praxa, the Russian lover, is rescued by American soldiers, demonstrating her unwavering loyalty until the end. The pirate island faces heavy fire from American cruisers, with shells relentlessly pounding its structures until the remnants of the gang surrender. After an intense battle, Agent Baxter narrowly saves the lives of the governor and his daughter. However, unbeknownst to anyone, Biggers, the gang’s leader, manages to cling to the wing of a departing plane in a final act of desperation to seize control. Warship flag signals warn Baxter of the impending danger. In a perilous moment, he takes decisive action, causing Biggers to helplessly plunge into the abyss.

Shortly afterward, Marine Attaché MacHover joyfully embraces Maud in his arms, and the rescued individuals are surrounded by well-wishers at the airfield. While the officers congratulate Baxter, he humbly deflects their praise, stating that he simply fulfilled his duty. On the battleship “Washington,” which carries Governor Harris, his daughter Maud, and MacHover back home, Agent Baxter also finds himself on board, ready to embark on new adventures.

H. T.’s review in Film Kurier No. 25 (January 28, 1933)
A thrilling adventure film packed with action awaits you. Prepare for an exhilarating ride as the incredibly likable American secret agent Baxter takes on the nefarious underworld of Shanghai, led by a true Dr. Mabuse of the Far East. Brace yourself for a series of heart-pounding film adventures that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Dr. Max Wallner and Hans Vietzke have crafted a story that capitalizes on every opportunity to deliver non-stop suspense. The eerie and chaotic backdrop of Shanghai, a city besieged by Japanese troops, adds to the film’s desire for explosive atmosphere.

The European Club, located in the tightly secured foreigner reservation of Shanghai, becomes the epicenter of the unfolding events. Here, amidst the backdrop of horrified Chinese refugees pressing against its gates, our daring American sleuth picks up the trail of the gangs that terrorize China. Equipped with extensive powers by the American government, he mobilizes the combined forces of European warships and troops, both on land and in the air, for his mission.

To bring this complex narrative to life, director Rolf Randolf deftly navigates the intricacies of the plot, demonstrating his skill and enthusiasm. With dedication and precision, he guides the film through its thrilling phases, ensuring an exciting experience for the audience.

The ensemble cast is superbly chosen, bringing together a group of talented actors who understand their roles perfectly. Theodor Loos, portraying the gang leader, lends the character a distinct and impressive presence. His concentrated and intense performance highlights the essence of the role, devoid of any frivolity, and elevates the film to a higher level.

Opposite him, Peter Voss portrays a smoother and more agreeable character, serving as a worthy opponent. Voss effortlessly showcases heroism and daring deeds, integral to such adventurous tales, with a relaxed and natural ease. His simple and likable masculinity is remarkably charming.

Gerda Maurus, though initially feeling out of place as the owner of “The Poppy Blossom” tea house, delivers moments of captivating intimacy. She skillfully portrays her character’s passionate devotion to the notorious criminal and hints at her premonition of his ultimate fate.

Else Elster, Georg John, and Chinese actor Mammey Terja-Basa provide impressive performances, supporting the overall impact of the film. Technically, Tod über Schanghai satisfies all the audience’s expectations, thanks to Willi Hameister’s accomplished cinematography and the clear sound design.

At the recent premiere, both the director and lead actor were greeted with thunderous applause, called to the stage multiple times by the enthusiastic audience. Their efforts were recognized and appreciated, cementing the success of this thrilling cinematic experience.