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MGM advertised this tale of mutiny and madness as the first all-talking film shot entirely on the high seas. That claim is debatable -- the only location listed for the picture is the studio's Culver City back lot -- but that doesn't dim the excitement of its plot. Louis Wolheim, one of the early talkies' great character stars, plays a deranged ship's steward with a pathological hatred of the rich. That would not necessarily make him the best choice to join the crew on a yacht carrying members of the upper crust from Shanghai to San Francisco, but with the entire voyage arranged on a whim, his wealthy employers have to take what they can get. Before long, Wolheim has incited the crew to take over, leaving the one society girl with a soul, played by the beautiful Kay Johnson, to save the day. The Ship From Shanghai offers a fascinating look at the talent at MGM during the early days of talking pictures, as the studio was just beginning to assemble it's legendary contract list. Conrad Nagel and Carmel Meyers had both been silent stars at the studio, the former cast as millionaire playboys, the latter most famous as the exotically dressed seductress in Ben-Hur (1925). The film's director had a Ben-Hur connection, too. Charles Brabin was that film's original director before being fired after the disastrous location shoot in Rome. Together, they crafted a film more justly advertised as "A Tornado of Human Emotions!"
By Frank Miller