The Sand Pebbles


3h 13m 1966
The Sand Pebbles

Brief Synopsis

A naval engineer stationed in 1926 China defies local authorities to rescue a group of missionaries.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1966
Premiere Information
New York opening: 20 Dec 1966
Production Company
Argyle Enterprises; Solar Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna (New York, 1962).

Technical Specs

Duration
3h 13m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 1926, as strong feelings of nationalism are sweeping through China and the followers of Chiang Kai-shek, as well as the war lords and communists, are demanding that all foreigners leave Chinese soil, the U. S. gunboat San Pablo is patroling the Yangtze River. The newest member of the crew, who call themselves "sand pebbles," is Jake Holman, a machinist with 8 years previous Navy duty. Although Jake's independent nature is regarded with suspicion by most of the men, he wins the friendship of Frenchy, a sailor in love with an English-educated Chinese girl, Maily, who has been sold into enforced prostitution. When Chiang Kai-shek moves against the feudal war lords, the United States decides to treat the upheaval as a civil war, and the San Pablo is ordered to confine its function to protection of American civilians in the area. Included among them are Mr. Jameson, a missionary, and Shirley Eckert, a schoolteacher whom Jake met earlier. In an attempt to draw the San Pablo 's fire, the Chinese capture Jake's coolie assistant, Po-han, and torture him by slashing his chest with a knife. Unable to bear his friend's agonized screams, Jake grabs a gun and puts a bullet into Po-han's head. Later, Frenchy buys Maily's freedom and takes her as his common-law wife because they cannot legally marry. While the San Pablo is forced to remain in a state of siege, Frenchy swims ashore each night to visit his pregnant wife. But the icy waters precipitate pneumonia and he dies in Maily's room. When Jake visits the bereaved woman, the Chinese beat him and put Maily to death. They then brand Jake as the murderer and demand that the San Pablo hand him over for trial. The crew agrees that Jake should be tried, and when Captain Collins refuses the demand and orders the crew to fire on the Chinese the men nearly mutiny. The captain takes advantage of the rising tide and moves his ship into deep water. When word arrives that full-scale fighting has led to the landing of U. S. Marines in Shanghai, Captain Collins decides to give his humiliated ship and disgraced crew a chance for glory by heading for Jameson's mission and a rescue attempt. After a bloody fight, the San Pablo breaks through a Chinese blockade and reaches the mission. But Jameson and Shirley declare themselves stateless and rebuke the captain for interfering in China's affairs. Jake wants to desert, but neutrality is no longer possible. Nationalist troops, incensed by the San Pablo 's defiance of the blockade, storm the mission and kill both Jameson and Collins. Pushed into making a last stand, Jake orders the other crew members to take Shirley to safety while he covers their getaway. But he is killed by a Chinese bullet. As he dies, he cries "I was home. ... What the hell happened?"

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1966
Premiere Information
New York opening: 20 Dec 1966
Production Company
Argyle Enterprises; Solar Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna (New York, 1962).

Technical Specs

Duration
3h 13m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1966
Steve McQueen

Best Art Direction

1966
Boris Leven

Best Cinematography

1966

Best Editing

1966

Best Picture

1966

Best Score

1966

Best Sound

1966

Best Supporting Actor

1966

Articles

The Sand Pebbles


Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough tunneled out of a World War II prison camp together in The Great Escape, scoring a major hit in the process, so pairing them again in The Sand Pebbles made excellent sense three years later. The setting of the 1966 production is China in the wake of World War I, when the United States Asiatic Fleet roamed through the region enforcing the Open Door Policy, designed to keep China free of foreign control (and safeguard American interests) at a time when the only goal shared by squabbling nationalists, communists, and warlords was the immediate removal of all outside presences from their country.

The drama plays out largely aboard the San Pablo, an American gunboat - nicknamed "the Sand Pebbles" by its sailors - patrolling the Yangtze River in 1926. The crewmembers, also called "sand pebbles," include Lieutenant Collins (Richard Crenna), the rigid and uncompromising captain; Frenchy Burgoyne (Attenborough), a good-natured machinist's mate with secret ties to Maily (Marayat Andriane), a Chinese woman who lives within swimming distance of the ship; Stawski (Simon Oakland), an ill-tempered seaman who stirs up trouble; and Jake Holman (McQueen), a newly arrived machinist's mate assigned to oversee the engine room. Also present are numerous "coolies," Chinese laborers who do the hard work and heavy lifting that keep the vessel and its operations running smoothly. The most important on-shore characters are Jameson (Larry Gates), a pacifistic missionary, and Shirley Eckert (Candice Bergen), a schoolteacher who works for him.

Conflict breaks out on two levels as soon as The Sand Pebbles gets underway. On the large historical stage, the Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek launches an aggressive campaign against the country's warlords; deeming this an internal Chinese matter, naval authorities order Collins to do nothing beyond protecting American civilians, but hostilities intensify between the Americans and Chinese, bringing dire consequences. Within the confines of the ship, Holman's strong streak of independence rubs Collins and some fellow crewmembers the wrong way, as does his friendship with Po-Han (Mako), the chief coolie in his engine room. The story's personal and historical aspects come together after Maily's death at nationalist hands, leading to a barricade of the ship, a horrifying death for Po-han, and a doomed effort to rescue the missionaries, who delusionally think they don't need rescuing at all. The conclusion is as stark and unsparing as any Hollywood finale of its day, and Jake's last words (often quoted by reviewers) can be taken as a blow against the futility of war: "I was home. What happened? What the hell happened?!"

In some respects, Robert Wise seems an unlikely director for The Sand Pebbles, which has little in common with his previous picture, The Sound of Music (1965), or other recent productions like the musical melodrama West Side Story (1961), the romantic comedy Two for the Seesaw (1962), and the supernatural thriller The Haunting (1963). Wise was an amazingly versatile filmmaker, however, with a track record stretching from horror and science fiction to biopics, war movies, and noir.

While he never developed the kind of personal style associated with cinema's great auteurs, Wise learned a great deal from his experiences as a film editor in the 1930s and 1940s, and his connections with Orson Welles's early features - he edited Citizen Kane in 1941 and chopped The Magnificent Ambersons a year later - gave him a taste for expressive montage and deep-focus camerawork that served him well for decades to come. Working with the superb cinematographer Joseph MacDonald and the equally gifted production designer Boris Leven, he spent four years (shooting took seven months) and more than six million 1960s dollars - including $650,000 for McQueen and $250,000 for a San Pablo set, built in Hong Kong to keep expenses down - turning The Sand Pebbles into three hours of genuinely epic entertainment. MacDonald shot it in Panavision, which was replacing CinemaScope as Twentieth Century-Fox's widescreen process of choice, and its visual qualities enhance both the individual dramas on the ship and the geopolitical dramas raging nearby.

"There is a total of forty-seven speaking parts in The Sand Pebbles," the Fox press book boasted, "and on some days...extra calls ran upwards of one thousand." That's a lot of faces on the screen, and the acting is as solid as the movie's other key elements. As the top-billed star, McQueen is at the peak of his considerable powers, bringing Jake's charm, integrity, courage, and stubbornness into admirable balance. Every star needs first-rate teammates, though, and Attenborough shines in his crucial supporting role, partnering McQueen's compelling performance while building Frenchy into a richly three-dimensional character with personality to spare. Coming between his marvelous work in Robert Aldrich's lean Sahara drama The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) and Richard Fleischer's overinflated musical fantasy Dr. Dolittle (1967), his portrayal of the trustiest sand pebble testifies to the vast resourcefulness he displayed as an actor (much more than as a director) throughout his long career. Kudos also go to Crenna as the crusty captain, Oakland as the loutish Stawski, Mako as the unfortunate Po-han, and Bergen as Shirley; she isn't the best of actresses in her early films (this was just her second outing) but she proves nicely up to the job here.

The Sand Pebbles ended up doubling its original budget but reaped huge rewards, garnering more than $30 million in revenues. Attenborough earned the Golden Globe as best supporting actor, and although the film left the Academy Awards with no trophies in hand, it was nominated for eight, including best picture, actor (McQueen), supporting actor (Mako), color cinematography, art direction, music (Jerry Goldsmith), editing (William Reynolds), and sound. An array of critics liked and respected it as well. Variety deemed it a "sensitive, personal drama" and applauded the acting by Attenborough and others. The review in the Los Angeles Times praised Attenborough's "professional polish," and while New York Times critic Bosley Crowther didn't much like Attenborough's performance, he praised the film as an implicit Vietnam War parable aiming "a forceful and depressing blast at getting into trouble over our heads." The picture seems as relevant as ever in today's troubled world.

Director: Robert Wise
Producer: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Richard McKenna; based on the novel by Robert Anderson
Cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald
Film Editing: William Reynolds
Production Design: Boris Leven
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
With: Steve McQueen (Jake Holman), Richard Attenborough (Frenchy Burgoyne), Richard Crenna (Lieutenant Collins), Candice Bergen (Shirley Eckert), Mako (Po-han), Marayat Andriane (Maily), Larry Gates (Jameson), Simon Oakland (Stawski), Charles Robinson (Ensign Bordelles), Ford Rainey (Harris), Joe Turkel (Bronson), Gavin MacLeod (Crosley), Joseph di Reda (Shanahan), Richard Loo (Major Chin), Barney Phillips (Franks)
Color-182m.

by David Sterritt
The Sand Pebbles

The Sand Pebbles

Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough tunneled out of a World War II prison camp together in The Great Escape, scoring a major hit in the process, so pairing them again in The Sand Pebbles made excellent sense three years later. The setting of the 1966 production is China in the wake of World War I, when the United States Asiatic Fleet roamed through the region enforcing the Open Door Policy, designed to keep China free of foreign control (and safeguard American interests) at a time when the only goal shared by squabbling nationalists, communists, and warlords was the immediate removal of all outside presences from their country. The drama plays out largely aboard the San Pablo, an American gunboat - nicknamed "the Sand Pebbles" by its sailors - patrolling the Yangtze River in 1926. The crewmembers, also called "sand pebbles," include Lieutenant Collins (Richard Crenna), the rigid and uncompromising captain; Frenchy Burgoyne (Attenborough), a good-natured machinist's mate with secret ties to Maily (Marayat Andriane), a Chinese woman who lives within swimming distance of the ship; Stawski (Simon Oakland), an ill-tempered seaman who stirs up trouble; and Jake Holman (McQueen), a newly arrived machinist's mate assigned to oversee the engine room. Also present are numerous "coolies," Chinese laborers who do the hard work and heavy lifting that keep the vessel and its operations running smoothly. The most important on-shore characters are Jameson (Larry Gates), a pacifistic missionary, and Shirley Eckert (Candice Bergen), a schoolteacher who works for him. Conflict breaks out on two levels as soon as The Sand Pebbles gets underway. On the large historical stage, the Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek launches an aggressive campaign against the country's warlords; deeming this an internal Chinese matter, naval authorities order Collins to do nothing beyond protecting American civilians, but hostilities intensify between the Americans and Chinese, bringing dire consequences. Within the confines of the ship, Holman's strong streak of independence rubs Collins and some fellow crewmembers the wrong way, as does his friendship with Po-Han (Mako), the chief coolie in his engine room. The story's personal and historical aspects come together after Maily's death at nationalist hands, leading to a barricade of the ship, a horrifying death for Po-han, and a doomed effort to rescue the missionaries, who delusionally think they don't need rescuing at all. The conclusion is as stark and unsparing as any Hollywood finale of its day, and Jake's last words (often quoted by reviewers) can be taken as a blow against the futility of war: "I was home. What happened? What the hell happened?!" In some respects, Robert Wise seems an unlikely director for The Sand Pebbles, which has little in common with his previous picture, The Sound of Music (1965), or other recent productions like the musical melodrama West Side Story (1961), the romantic comedy Two for the Seesaw (1962), and the supernatural thriller The Haunting (1963). Wise was an amazingly versatile filmmaker, however, with a track record stretching from horror and science fiction to biopics, war movies, and noir. While he never developed the kind of personal style associated with cinema's great auteurs, Wise learned a great deal from his experiences as a film editor in the 1930s and 1940s, and his connections with Orson Welles's early features - he edited Citizen Kane in 1941 and chopped The Magnificent Ambersons a year later - gave him a taste for expressive montage and deep-focus camerawork that served him well for decades to come. Working with the superb cinematographer Joseph MacDonald and the equally gifted production designer Boris Leven, he spent four years (shooting took seven months) and more than six million 1960s dollars - including $650,000 for McQueen and $250,000 for a San Pablo set, built in Hong Kong to keep expenses down - turning The Sand Pebbles into three hours of genuinely epic entertainment. MacDonald shot it in Panavision, which was replacing CinemaScope as Twentieth Century-Fox's widescreen process of choice, and its visual qualities enhance both the individual dramas on the ship and the geopolitical dramas raging nearby. "There is a total of forty-seven speaking parts in The Sand Pebbles," the Fox press book boasted, "and on some days...extra calls ran upwards of one thousand." That's a lot of faces on the screen, and the acting is as solid as the movie's other key elements. As the top-billed star, McQueen is at the peak of his considerable powers, bringing Jake's charm, integrity, courage, and stubbornness into admirable balance. Every star needs first-rate teammates, though, and Attenborough shines in his crucial supporting role, partnering McQueen's compelling performance while building Frenchy into a richly three-dimensional character with personality to spare. Coming between his marvelous work in Robert Aldrich's lean Sahara drama The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) and Richard Fleischer's overinflated musical fantasy Dr. Dolittle (1967), his portrayal of the trustiest sand pebble testifies to the vast resourcefulness he displayed as an actor (much more than as a director) throughout his long career. Kudos also go to Crenna as the crusty captain, Oakland as the loutish Stawski, Mako as the unfortunate Po-han, and Bergen as Shirley; she isn't the best of actresses in her early films (this was just her second outing) but she proves nicely up to the job here. The Sand Pebbles ended up doubling its original budget but reaped huge rewards, garnering more than $30 million in revenues. Attenborough earned the Golden Globe as best supporting actor, and although the film left the Academy Awards with no trophies in hand, it was nominated for eight, including best picture, actor (McQueen), supporting actor (Mako), color cinematography, art direction, music (Jerry Goldsmith), editing (William Reynolds), and sound. An array of critics liked and respected it as well. Variety deemed it a "sensitive, personal drama" and applauded the acting by Attenborough and others. The review in the Los Angeles Times praised Attenborough's "professional polish," and while New York Times critic Bosley Crowther didn't much like Attenborough's performance, he praised the film as an implicit Vietnam War parable aiming "a forceful and depressing blast at getting into trouble over our heads." The picture seems as relevant as ever in today's troubled world. Director: Robert Wise Producer: Robert Wise Screenplay: Richard McKenna; based on the novel by Robert Anderson Cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald Film Editing: William Reynolds Production Design: Boris Leven Music: Jerry Goldsmith With: Steve McQueen (Jake Holman), Richard Attenborough (Frenchy Burgoyne), Richard Crenna (Lieutenant Collins), Candice Bergen (Shirley Eckert), Mako (Po-han), Marayat Andriane (Maily), Larry Gates (Jameson), Simon Oakland (Stawski), Charles Robinson (Ensign Bordelles), Ford Rainey (Harris), Joe Turkel (Bronson), Gavin MacLeod (Crosley), Joseph di Reda (Shanahan), Richard Loo (Major Chin), Barney Phillips (Franks) Color-182m. by David Sterritt

Robert Wise (1914-2005)


Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.)

Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.

Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).

Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.

At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.

The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).

by Roger Fristoe

Robert Wise (1914-2005)

Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.) Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films. Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945). Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox. At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story. The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963). by Roger Fristoe

Quotes

What happened? I was home. What the hell happened?
- Jake Holman
Valve.
- Jake Holman
Wow.
- Po-han
Valve.
- Jake Holman
Wow.
- Po-han
Wow.
- Po-han
Holman, I'll have you shot as a mutineer!
- Captain Collins
Well shoot something!
- Jake Holman

Trivia

'Steve McQueen' 's first and only nomination for an Academy Award (Best Actor).

The steam engine was located in California and renovated for the film. The whole engine room was built around it, on a sound stage.

Robert Wise's first choice to play Jake Holman was 'Paul Newman' .

Notes

Location scenes were filmed in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The running time has been listed at 155, 162, 182, 191, 193 and 195 min. Marayat Andriane was also known as Emmanuelle Arsan.
       The Sand Pebbles received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Picture; Actor, Steve McQueen; Supporting Actor, Mako; Art direction (Color), Boris Leven for Art director and Walter M. Scott, John Sturtevant and William Kiernan for Set decoration; Cinematography (Color), Joseph MacDonald; Film editing, William Reynolds; Music (Original music score), Jerry Goldsmith; and Sound, Twentieth Century-Fox Studio Sound Department, James P. Corcoran, Sound director. The film marked the motion picture debut of Japanese-born actor Mako (1933-2006), who previously had acted on television and continued to act in both film and television until shortly before his death. In 1965, Mako was one of the founders of the East-West Players, a prominent Asian-American theatrical company in Los Angeles.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States August 1997

Released in United States on Video May 2, 1989

Released in United States Winter December 20, 1966

Shown at Locarno International Film Festival (50 Years of American Film) August 6-16, 1997.

Released in United States on Video May 2, 1989

Released in United States August 1997 (Shown at Locarno International Film Festival (50 Years of American Film) August 6-16, 1997.)

Released in United States Winter December 20, 1966