The Sand Pebbles (1966)


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Movie Info

Steve McQueen received his only Academy Award nomination for his performance in this epic-scale war drama, based on the novel by Richard McKenna. In 1926, as China teeters on the edge of political revolution in the midst of a civil war, the USS San Pablo, is ordered to patrol the Yangtze River to represent and protect American interests. While the San Pablo may be an American ship, much of the labor is actually performed by Chinese locals willing to work for American money, while stern but … More

Rating: PG-13 (For violence and sexual material)
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure, Romance, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Richard McKenna, Robert Anderson
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 15, 2001
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment


as Jake Holman

as Captain Collins

as Frenchy Burgoyne

as Shirley Eckert

as Po-Han

as Jameson

as Ens. Bordelles

as Bronson

as Shanahan

as Maj. Chin

as Chief Franks

as Restorff

as Jennings

as Cho-jen

as Chien

as Mama Chunk

as Victor Shu

as CPO Wellbeck

as Coleman

as Waldron

as Lopeye Shing

as Englishman

as Ensign Bordelles

as Customer
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for The Sand Pebbles

All Critics (19) | Top Critics (3)

Full Review… | July 30, 2008
Top Critic

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Full Review… | May 9, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Steve McQueen gives a dominant performance in Robert Wise's ambitious but flawed period drama, which offers interesting parallels to the US involvment in Vietnam.

Full Review… | March 15, 2011

The drama wavers between being compelling and reaching too far for greater historical significance, that it loses its bearings.

Full Review… | December 26, 2009
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Underrated Robert Wise classic starring McQueen in his finest acting role.

November 3, 2008

Audience Reviews for The Sand Pebbles

This is further proof that Robert Wise was one of the most versatile and diverse directors out there.

Set in China in 1926, this is the story of a burnt out and apathetic sailor who gets transfered to a ragged American gunboat whose main mission is to protect U.S. interests in China without causing an international incident, something not all that easy given how China is in the midst of all kinds of turmoil and revolution.

The main things the movie deals with are imperialism, the impact of nationalism and protesting, race relations, and cultural traditions, etc. It's full of substance and thought, but also contains lots of human drama and action as well. Considering the long running time, the fact that this is all so jammed packed is good, because there's plenty of time for everything to get fleshed out and dealt with.

For the most part, this is all pretty successful too. The action seems really disjointed given how the bulk of it is saved for the third act, but the build up to it does have some suspense and tension, as you get the feeling throughout that eventually things will finally boil over. It's also nice to see the rather sensitive way racism and cultural issues are dealt with, especiually how in the mid 60s this sort of thing could have gone really bad. It is Robert Wise though, so I don't think you need to be too worried.

The sets, costumes, and locations are great, there's wonderful cinematography, the music is thrilling, and there's a little bit of everything here, so this can be appreciated by a wide audience.

Performance wise, it's all top notch. It's surprising that Steve McQueen only got one Oscar nomination during his career, but that it happened here is fine. He's great as always, and not once is he ever boring to watch. Rochard Attenborough is likewise great as rthe one sailor who is able to look past the flaws of McQueen's character and be his only real friend and ally. It's awesome seeing Richard Crenna in a pre-Rambo related role, even though he's still playing a military part. Mako is also great here, though I really wanted more of him. What presence he does have is splendid though, and his Oscar nod was also quite deserved.

All in all, this is a really good movie. It is quite long, and occasionally it is uneven and runs out of steam from time to time, but even then it always has something good going for it, and has a lot to offer.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Wonderful film with a wonderful story.

Christian C

Super Reviewer

An apathetic American sailor gets caught in the crossfire between ill-fated western colonialism and the Chinese revolution. A compelling drama full of passion and raw human decency, expertly directed by the legendary Robert Wise.

Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

The Sand Pebbles Quotes

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