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Peking Express is a remake of Shanghai Express, a 1932 Paramount release, directed by Joseph von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook and Anna May Wong (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). Story author Harry Hervey and adaptor Jules Furthman are credited on both films. A December 25, 1950 pre-production ParNews item states that the film was based on screenwriter John Lucas' "original story" and does not mention Shanghai Express as a source. According to an April 1951 New York Times item, Peking Express was the first Hollywood film "laid in Communist China." The New York Times item also does not mention Shanghai Express, suggesting instead that Lucas had been commissioned to write an original adventure story about Peking. The plots of Shanghai Express, which is set during the Chinese civil war, and Peking Express are very similar, however.
Charlton Heston was announced as Corinne Calvet's co-star in the ParNews item. As noted in a November 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, Peking Express was suddenly withdrawn from exhibition in India, after neighbor China protested its release. Modern sources claim that exterior train footage from Shanghai Express was reused in Peking Express.