Movies / Home Theatre

The Sand Pebbles (1966)


By Hervé St-Louis
April 10, 2022 - 14:39

First Class Petty officer Jake Holman transfers to join the USS San Pablo, also known as the Sand Pebble. The boat patrols the Yangtze River in the 1920s during the revolutionary civil war in China, attempting to protect American interests in China, like many other Western powers at the time. The transfer to the Sand pebble is one of numerous ones for Holman who rarely follows rules. Arriving on the Sand Pebble, he finds a demoralized crew who allows coolies to perform all their task aboard the ship. Travelling in a tight corner with so many Chinese factions at war, the Sand Pebble and its crew is soon embroiled in a conflict with locals after the false accusation of murder of a Chinese woman attributed to Holman. Can Holman and the crew escape from conflict with the local Chinese population while protecting American interests?

The Sand Pebbles is classic 1966 film released by 20th Century Fox retelling the story of the similarly named novel by Richard McKenna. This is a historical movie that last just above three hours and even features a break in the middle, after covering the first half of the movie. It is also a classic Steve McQueen movie where he played yet again, a stoic rebellious protagonist.

The film has the potential to be a difficult production to feature or discuss because of the representation of Chinese people. They are all subservient to the Americans and other foreigners. They speak with funny accents and appear to be idiots. Similar portrayal of Asians and Blacks in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Gone with the Wind called for the re-evaluation of these productions critically. However, for this film, the American perspective of the Chinese was important, and to some extent, they were demonized for resisting foreign influence for close to a century.

The movie does address Western colonialism in China, and I admit it is effective at showing conflict between the two cultures. Yet the white saviour is strong in this film which continues to be a historical epic. I cannot foresee Hollywood studios releasing such epics anymore. Only a star like McQueen could pull off such a film. I was surprised to see romance, adventure, rowdiness, and friendship in this film.

McQueen played his usual self here and was not different from other characters he played in the past. While the movie was good, I don’t understand the nomination he got for an Oscar award, as he was not playing nor developing a new character nor breaching new grounds. Candice Bergman wasn’t great in this film as the awkward and clueless optimist. I’m glad that I watched this classic film regardless of my review which seems negative. I did enjoy the film very much.

Rating: 8 /10

Last Updated: April 11, 2022 - 08:26

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