This weekend I had a chance to catch a classic from 1966 from director Ray Wise called The Sand Pebbles. The name is a reference to a boat an engineer Jake Holman (Steve McQueen) is assigned to off of mainland China in the 1920's. Wise was flying high off of the tremendous success of The Sound of Music so he was able to do this epic tale of the Chinese revolution with some good ol' racism, lots of budget, and romance thrown in for good measure.
The aformentioned engineer is a simple man. Give him his engine and he is fine... unfortunately the crew on the San Pablo is relying mostly on Chinese workers to do all the grunt work. Enter the racism with tensions amongst the crew while the revolution starts to take hold.
There are the usual plot points of one sailer (Richard Attenborough) falling in love with a hostess of a brothel and wanting to buy her freedom. Add to the mix Holman meeting a teacher (Candice Bergin) on her way to a missionary camp. He apparently finds her much more desirable than I did coz he has thoughts of going AWOL and running away with her. Toss in a proud captain played by Richard Crenna (Col. Trautman for you Rambo fans) who is not going to let his crew go and committ mutiny after a string of unfortunate events happen.
The Sand Pebbles is exquisitely shot with gorgeous colors... each frame on screen is sight to behold. The leading men are all well suited to their roles with the only weak link being the wooden Candice Bergin. She is unable to bring any life to the role of Shirley Eckert. Ah but that is a small qualm in 3 hours of masterful filmmaking. Look for little parts with actors like Mako (Sidekicks) and James Hong (Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China or as Snotty in Revenge of the Nerds pt 2). An underrated film that netted McQueen his only Oscar nomination.