The Sand Pebbles

From Academic Kids

The Sand Pebbles is a 1966 film which tells the story of an American gunboat plying the rivers of China in the 1920s. It stars Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna, Candice Bergen, Makoto Iwamatsu, Emmanuelle Arsan, Simon Oakland, Ford Rainey and Gavin MacLeod.

The movie was adapted by Robert Anderson from the 1962 novel by Richard McKenna. It was directed by Robert Wise. Wise had wanted to make the film for years, but studio executives were reluctant to finance the project. Eventually, a green light was given, but due to the extensive location scouting and other pre-production work, Wise saw that it would take at least a year before he would be able to begin filming. At the studio's insistence, Wise agreed to do a filler project in the mean time. That film was The Sound of Music, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed movies of the 1960s.

Much of the film was filmed on location in Taiwan. Because of frequent rain, and tremendous production difficulties, the film was almost never finished. Steve McQueen took an entire year off from film-making after production was done because he was so exhausted. He later said that whatever sins he had committed in his life were paid for when he made the film.

The film deals with the racism and colonialism of the era, both in the small scale of how the American sailors treat coolies on the boat and bar girls on shore, and in the large scale of how gunboat diplomacy was used on under-developed China. The film is considered by some to be a commentary on the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. However, at the time the film came out, anti-Vietnam feelings were nowhere near the peak they would achieve three years later.

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Steve McQueen), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mako), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color, Best Cinematography, Color, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Music Score, Best Picture and Best Sound. It is now available on DVD with an extensive commentary track by the director and several of the remaining actors.


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