“Hello, engine; I’m Jake Holman.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
To that end, his insistence on rigorous maintenance while aboard the San Pablo becomes the catalyst driving two key narrative threads: his contentious relationship with his superior (Crenna, whose only interest lies in continuing to manifest a strong American “presence” in China), and the racial tensions that ensue when he tries to take over responsibilities traditionally handled by Chinese “coolies”.
Given its lengthy running time (nearly 3 hours) and epic ambitions, there’s a lot more going on in The Sand Pebbles than “just” Jake’s identity as a naval engineer. His inevitable romantic interest is played by Candice Bergen (just 19 years old!) as a do-gooding teacher — but the primary romantic subplot is filled by Jake’s shipmate Richard Attenborough and his Eurasian flame Maily (Emmanuelle Arsan), whose “forbidden” love affair has tragic consequences.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of exciting action sequences sprinkled throughout, and Joseph MacDonald’s cinematography brings the Chinese landscape to vibrant life. But the film isn’t uniformly entertaining: the story immediately begins to drag whenever Attenborough and Arsan’s romance is given screentime, and despite an initial attempt at humanizing the Chinese (as evidenced in Mako‘s Oscar-nominated performance as a doomed “coolie” who briefly befriends McQueen), they ultimately turn into an amorphous mass of “Others”. Nonetheless, McQueen’s impressive performance is reason enough for film fanatics to check this film out at least once.
Note: Wise was apparently so proud of his work on this film that he hosted annual cast reunions for years after its release; click here for a website devoted exclusively to the film.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: