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The Sand Pebbles

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Tom’s recommended Film of the Week

The Sand Pebbles

Director, producer Robert Wise was at the apex of his career in the mid 1960’s, having made his bones by turning out more that 50 films by 1966. In 1965 he moved up to larger scale films, what they called Roadshow films at the time. These were meant to emulate and compete with stage play and theatre productions. They were longer than most films at the time and had overtures playing as you entered the theater. There was usually an intermission, also with music. Sometimes you had to resrve your tickets in advance!

Wise was just finishing up work on The Sound of Music when things started rolling on The Sand Pebbles. As I said, he was at the height of his game when he made this film and it shows. The story is eye opening for both the characters and viewer. Set in 1926 China, as the era of Warlords and foreign powers was coming to a close and Sun Yat-sen was trying to unite China under new politcal concepts. Wise had purchased the film rights to Richard McKenna’s novel in 1962 and asked Robert Anderson to construct a screenplay. Building a strong cast of dedicated actors, Wise gave Steve McQueen the most challenging role of his career, while Candice Bergen, Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna and new comers Marayat Andriane and Mako each played key rolls in their relationships to McQueen. The acting is good, the story is better and the production quality is great.

The Sand Pebbles has become an almost lost film in many ways, overshadowed by other films of the era with broader audience appeal. But I have found it to be one of the most visually stunning and emotionally complex films ever made. This film will stick with you long after viewing, giving you much to think about and relate to situations in the world today.

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