The Sand Pebbles Reviews

  • Oct 06, 2019

    Robert Wise is responsible for the wonderful films in The Sound of Music (1965) and I Want to Live! (1958) but he dropped the ball with this lengthy epic that lacks in meaning or emotion. If you could say anything positive about this film it is that the visuals are stunning as the film was shot in Hong Kong and Taiwan and the filmmakers had access to several beautiful filming locations in addition to working under the guidance of legendary cinematographer Joseph MacDonald. The story that the film follows, which was meant to comment on the contemporary Vietnam War, is hardly compelling as the characters are underwritten and their relationships never complex or fascinating. What a shame when considering all of the talent involved as you would think a film with this incredible pedigree would amount to something. Petty Officer Jake Holman, Steve McQueen, transfers to the San Pablo ship in 1926 while conflict rages in China over the involvement of the United States in their political affairs. While Holman is disliked by most of his fellow naval officers he finds a kindred spirit in Frenchy Burgoyne, Richard Attenborough, who falls in love with local prostitute Maily, Marayat Andriane, whose freedom he wants to purchase. Meanwhile Holman engages in a tentative romance with missionary Shirley Eckert, Candice Bergen, while mentoring the Chinese Po-han, Mako, in how to work on the ship and face his American enemies. Po-han is murdered for being a traitor and this traumatizes Holman while angry crowds prevent the ship from leaving the port for a significant amount of time. After Burgoyne buys Maily the two are married and he tries to see her often but one night he dies of pneumonia. After a mutiny on the ship the crew band together to face down hostile Chinese ships and attempt to rescue Eckert and the other missionaries but when they arrive they do not achieve their expected result. What the film is trying to say, I think, is that the Americans should not be interfering overseas because the people in these foreign nations are negatively impacted by their aggressive intervention. This is a good, important message and one that would have been timely in 1966 but the film doesn't send this message very effectively and is often repetitious. It is also tripped up in it's unwillingness to represent it's heroes as objectionable and the fact that we are meant to separate their actions from those of the others in the navy seems unfair. The Chinese characters are also represented poorly as they are either saintly, Po-han, or evil and nameless, the protesters who surround the San Pablo, and this makes it difficult to see the two sides of the argument. Had the Chinese characters been humanized and their perspective been recognized the film would earn the right to comment on issues as serious and complicated as American intervention in foreign nations. The writing of the film is a real let down as the characters do not have any real dimension to them and their relationships feel flat while the supposed ‘drama' introduced in the plot is never urgent. Romance in particular feels contrived and forced as the relationship between Malie and Burgoyne was questionable in it's ethics while the romance between Eckert and Holman felt so one sided it was hard to invest. The two women are given roles with little to no room for an actual performance as Andriane is asked to look beautiful and act demure and Bergen spends most of the film gazing at McQueen adoringly. The romantic dialogue between McQueen and Bergen grates as she tries her hardest to endear herself to him and he refuses to talk to her at all. The shift between him consciously distancing himself from her to them kissing in town and declaring their love to one another during a shoot out was dramatic and never really explained. You don't feel the devastation and hurt of these characters when they die or lose the women they love but they are not identifiably human and do not have emotions that we can connect to. I cannot see why this was nominated for Best Picture in 1966 when there were so many better contenders in A Man and a Woman (1966) and Morgan! (1966).

    Robert Wise is responsible for the wonderful films in The Sound of Music (1965) and I Want to Live! (1958) but he dropped the ball with this lengthy epic that lacks in meaning or emotion. If you could say anything positive about this film it is that the visuals are stunning as the film was shot in Hong Kong and Taiwan and the filmmakers had access to several beautiful filming locations in addition to working under the guidance of legendary cinematographer Joseph MacDonald. The story that the film follows, which was meant to comment on the contemporary Vietnam War, is hardly compelling as the characters are underwritten and their relationships never complex or fascinating. What a shame when considering all of the talent involved as you would think a film with this incredible pedigree would amount to something. Petty Officer Jake Holman, Steve McQueen, transfers to the San Pablo ship in 1926 while conflict rages in China over the involvement of the United States in their political affairs. While Holman is disliked by most of his fellow naval officers he finds a kindred spirit in Frenchy Burgoyne, Richard Attenborough, who falls in love with local prostitute Maily, Marayat Andriane, whose freedom he wants to purchase. Meanwhile Holman engages in a tentative romance with missionary Shirley Eckert, Candice Bergen, while mentoring the Chinese Po-han, Mako, in how to work on the ship and face his American enemies. Po-han is murdered for being a traitor and this traumatizes Holman while angry crowds prevent the ship from leaving the port for a significant amount of time. After Burgoyne buys Maily the two are married and he tries to see her often but one night he dies of pneumonia. After a mutiny on the ship the crew band together to face down hostile Chinese ships and attempt to rescue Eckert and the other missionaries but when they arrive they do not achieve their expected result. What the film is trying to say, I think, is that the Americans should not be interfering overseas because the people in these foreign nations are negatively impacted by their aggressive intervention. This is a good, important message and one that would have been timely in 1966 but the film doesn't send this message very effectively and is often repetitious. It is also tripped up in it's unwillingness to represent it's heroes as objectionable and the fact that we are meant to separate their actions from those of the others in the navy seems unfair. The Chinese characters are also represented poorly as they are either saintly, Po-han, or evil and nameless, the protesters who surround the San Pablo, and this makes it difficult to see the two sides of the argument. Had the Chinese characters been humanized and their perspective been recognized the film would earn the right to comment on issues as serious and complicated as American intervention in foreign nations. The writing of the film is a real let down as the characters do not have any real dimension to them and their relationships feel flat while the supposed ‘drama' introduced in the plot is never urgent. Romance in particular feels contrived and forced as the relationship between Malie and Burgoyne was questionable in it's ethics while the romance between Eckert and Holman felt so one sided it was hard to invest. The two women are given roles with little to no room for an actual performance as Andriane is asked to look beautiful and act demure and Bergen spends most of the film gazing at McQueen adoringly. The romantic dialogue between McQueen and Bergen grates as she tries her hardest to endear herself to him and he refuses to talk to her at all. The shift between him consciously distancing himself from her to them kissing in town and declaring their love to one another during a shoot out was dramatic and never really explained. You don't feel the devastation and hurt of these characters when they die or lose the women they love but they are not identifiably human and do not have emotions that we can connect to. I cannot see why this was nominated for Best Picture in 1966 when there were so many better contenders in A Man and a Woman (1966) and Morgan! (1966).

  • May 01, 2019

    A very compelling example of a war movie caught between two eras of cinematic storytelling, "The Sand Pebbles" very much embodies both the classical stylistic elements of Old Hollywood and the post-modern stylings of the new era. Do these elements clash? Sure, but it's not for lack of intellectual fodder. You have scenes of tremendous thematic complexity and counterculturalism clearly displayed over staged sets, using occasionally antiquated styles of editing, blocking, and framing to deliver these ideas. You also have thrilling battle sequences featuring our hero -- very classically -- leading the proverbial charge into danger, only to see a conclusion to the character's arc that's about as deconstructionist as you can get. It's a fascinating balancing act; one that's not subtle at all times, but nonetheless worth the watch.

    A very compelling example of a war movie caught between two eras of cinematic storytelling, "The Sand Pebbles" very much embodies both the classical stylistic elements of Old Hollywood and the post-modern stylings of the new era. Do these elements clash? Sure, but it's not for lack of intellectual fodder. You have scenes of tremendous thematic complexity and counterculturalism clearly displayed over staged sets, using occasionally antiquated styles of editing, blocking, and framing to deliver these ideas. You also have thrilling battle sequences featuring our hero -- very classically -- leading the proverbial charge into danger, only to see a conclusion to the character's arc that's about as deconstructionist as you can get. It's a fascinating balancing act; one that's not subtle at all times, but nonetheless worth the watch.

  • Feb 02, 2019

    The best movie score ever composed!

    The best movie score ever composed!

  • Jul 24, 2017

    Tragic, funny, romantic and exciting. The pacing slugs every once in a while, and the romance between Bergen and McQueen can feel tacked on, but the film is an effective look into Navy life while overseas.

    Tragic, funny, romantic and exciting. The pacing slugs every once in a while, and the romance between Bergen and McQueen can feel tacked on, but the film is an effective look into Navy life while overseas.

  • Jan 08, 2017

    Good movie with a good story and acting. But, I didn't like how it seemed like it was split into two different stories split by an intermission. The movie was way too long.

    Good movie with a good story and acting. But, I didn't like how it seemed like it was split into two different stories split by an intermission. The movie was way too long.

  • Aug 06, 2016

    Epic tale of people caught up in events that were beyond control. Just goes to show that history is often written by those who barely understand events.

    Epic tale of people caught up in events that were beyond control. Just goes to show that history is often written by those who barely understand events.

  • Jul 24, 2016

    Although clocking in at 3 hours, The Sand Pebbles never has a dull or boring moment. A journey through emotions.

    Although clocking in at 3 hours, The Sand Pebbles never has a dull or boring moment. A journey through emotions.

  • Feb 19, 2016

    Great performance by Steve McQueen offset by unfocused, badly paced, meandering plot. 1926. China is in the middle of a revolution. US, British and French gunboats patrol the rivers, but are meant to be neutral in the conflict, though this does not stop them from being attacked. Onto one such US gunboat, the USS San Pablo ("Sand Pebble" to its crew) steps Petty Officer Jake Holman, newly-appointed chief engineer. Not your typical Steve McQueen movie. For the most part this is more a human drama than an action movie. McQueen here is more an anti-hero than a hero, and displays a rare sensitivity and vulnerability in his performance. The performance garnered McQueen his one and only Oscar nomination. Remember that at the next trivia night! The script, however, undermines his efforts. For the first two hours or so it meanders without any real point. Even worse, it is quite schmaltzy and trite. After a point the pace lifts dramatically and you feel that at last the movie has found its direction. This is then all undone by the last few scenes where we have naive idealism (that seemed to come from nowhere), idealism shown up (so, which side is the writer on?), implausible gung-ho military tactics and a very unoriginal, predictable and conventional conclusion. Overall, it's okay, though quite uneven, especially in the pacing and the message.

    Great performance by Steve McQueen offset by unfocused, badly paced, meandering plot. 1926. China is in the middle of a revolution. US, British and French gunboats patrol the rivers, but are meant to be neutral in the conflict, though this does not stop them from being attacked. Onto one such US gunboat, the USS San Pablo ("Sand Pebble" to its crew) steps Petty Officer Jake Holman, newly-appointed chief engineer. Not your typical Steve McQueen movie. For the most part this is more a human drama than an action movie. McQueen here is more an anti-hero than a hero, and displays a rare sensitivity and vulnerability in his performance. The performance garnered McQueen his one and only Oscar nomination. Remember that at the next trivia night! The script, however, undermines his efforts. For the first two hours or so it meanders without any real point. Even worse, it is quite schmaltzy and trite. After a point the pace lifts dramatically and you feel that at last the movie has found its direction. This is then all undone by the last few scenes where we have naive idealism (that seemed to come from nowhere), idealism shown up (so, which side is the writer on?), implausible gung-ho military tactics and a very unoriginal, predictable and conventional conclusion. Overall, it's okay, though quite uneven, especially in the pacing and the message.

  • Nov 16, 2015

    Good ole classic...fight scenes compared today's are comical, but good film.

    Good ole classic...fight scenes compared today's are comical, but good film.

  • Jul 26, 2015

    Great movie with Steve Mc QUEEN esp. the scene where he has to kill his new found friend, the coolie Pohan. EMONTIONAL.

    Great movie with Steve Mc QUEEN esp. the scene where he has to kill his new found friend, the coolie Pohan. EMONTIONAL.