55 Days at Peking (1963) Poster

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For 55 days they played the same tune.
Spikeopath25 March 2012
55 Days at Peking is directed by Nicholas Ray and Andrew Marton and collectively written by Philip Yordan, Bernard Gordon, Robert Hamer and Ben Barzman. It stars Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven and Flora Robson. Music is scored by Dimitri Tiomkin and cinematography is by Jack Hildyard.

1900, Peking, China. The Boxer Rebellion. 13 of 18 provinces are under foreign rule and the Chinese have had enough. With Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi secretly supporting the Boxer societies, the foreign powers come under attack and are forced to defend the legations' compound until reinforcements from the military arrive. The defence would last for 55 days.

Lavish, full of pictorial scope, often stirring, yet it's saggy in the middle, too long, killed Nicholas Ray's career (and nearly himself since he collapsed on set) and apparently offensive to some with its imperialistic trumpeting. It has been called the magnificent failure, and in truth that's about as apt a tag line as you could get. For production value it's up with the best of them as producer Samuel Bronston oversees the building of the wonderful Peking sets (Veniero Colasanti & John Moore) at his Madrid base, and it is a joy to behold. Tiomkin's score pings around the locale with aural pleasure and when the action does come it considerably raises the pulses.

Acting performances are mostly OK, especially when Niven and Heston share scenes as it's great to see a genuine screen presence playing off of classy elegance. Gardner, whilst not in any shape or form bad, gets one of those annoyingly dull romantic interest roles that a film of this type didn't need. It doesn't help that there is zero chemistry between Gardner and her "borderline" beau, Heston. It's no surprise to find that Heston thought Gardner was a pain during the shoot!

As for the troubling thematics? Where the Chinese are portrayed as Christian slaughtering savages and the foreign imperialists as noble defenders of the right to take over China? Well the picture does come off as trying to excuse foreign imperialism in China, but it helps to note that this is merely a movie about one event in that part of history. With that in mind, anyone viewing it expecting anything other than the 55 day siege told from the legation's viewpoint is always going to be in for a let down! And right from the off we are shown and told with a tint of sarcasm that all these "foreign" countries want a piece of China as they raise their flags and trundle out their national anthems.

The Peking Alamo? Well maybe? Best to go into it expecting your eyes and ears to be dazzled rather than your brain. 7/10
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Breathtaking costume epic film , shot in Spain , depicting the Chinese Rebellion Boxer and the fate of Europeans trapped in the midst of the chaos
ma-cortes9 September 2015
Historical and monumental film with big budget financed by the great producer Samuel Bronston . In this grand picture there are struggles , epic events , a love history and results to be very interesting , in spite of the fact that the runtime is overlong : 154 min and was filmed in Technicolor and Technirama . And including colorful photography and Dimitri Tiomkin's fascinating as well as romantic musical score , being masterfully directed by Nicholas Ray . During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion (Pekin , now Beijing) against foreigners in China, U.S. Army Major Matt Lewis (Charlton Heston), the head of the American garrison , aided by British Consul Sir Arthur Robertson (David Niven) , devises a strategy to keep the rebels at bay until an international military relief force arrives . The Boxers receive a tacit and undercover support by the ruler , Dowager Empress of China Tzu-Hsi (Flora Robson) , and her favorites as Prince Tuan (Robert Helpmann) . Meanwhile , Matt falls in love for a beautiful Baroness, Natalie Ivanoff (Ava Gardner) . Then , Matt Lewis (this role was loosely based on the real-life officer in charge of the marine guard at the US Legation, then Captain, later Lieutenant General, John Twiggs Myers) sets the forefront of some of the toughest fighting in the besieged legations . As a handful of men and women held out against the frenzied hordes of bloodthirsty fanatics and caught in the midst of the mayhem . All of them try to stop them pending the arrival of a relief force.

The movie is very spectacular , it's an excellent film , partially based on historical deeds . Runtime picture is overlong but is neither boring , nor tiring , but entertaining because happen many events . In the film, there are epic , mammoth spectacle , history , a love story , wonderful scenarios and is a pretty enjoyable movie . The final confrontation battle between the military Britishers , American soldiers , other foreigners and the Boxers enemies is overwhelming and outstanding . Nice performances by big name actors , an all-star cast . And extraordinary support cast such as John Ireland , Harry Andrews , Leo Genn , Kurt Kasznar , Philippe Leroy , Paul Lukas , Elizabeth Sellars , Massimo Serato ,Eric Pohlmann , Robert Urquhart , Burt Kwouk , Mervyn Johns , Jacques Sernas , among others . And brief interpretations from Spanish cast as Carlos Casaravilla , Jose Nieto , Félix Dafauce , Alfredo Mayo , Conchita Montes , Fernando Sancho and ¡Paul Naschy¡ .

Lavishly produced by Samuel Bronston , as he constructed a set representing turn-of-the-century Peking in Madrid at a cost of $900,000 . When Bronston was making the set for the Forum Romanum from ¨The fall of the Roman Empire¨ and it was actually being built , then Heston rejected the script but expressed an interest in '55 Days at Peking' instead . Bronston immediately ordered that the work on the Forum be stopped and the landscaping and foundation work be adapted for the Peking set . After filming, the Peking set was torn down and replaced by the Forum , if you look carefully, both sets share a very similar topography . Veniero Colosanti and John Moore production as well as costume design are breathtaking and impressive . Battles well staged are incredible and overwhelming . Due to mainland China's hostility and isolation from the Western world, a full-scale 60-acre replication of Peking 1900 -sewers and all- was built in the plains outside Madrid, and Chinese/Asian extras were flown in from all over Europe to provide the local Peking citizenry . The production grew so strapped for extras and equipment they borrowed them from Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which was filming concurrently in Almeria and Seville . A number of costumes for the Royal Chinese Court were authentic ones from Tzu Hsi's actual court .

Evocative as well as rousing musical score by the classic Dimitri Tiomkin . Ray direction is splendid and Jack Hildyard -David lean's ordinary cameraman- cinematography in Super Technirama 70 is fascinating . The flick was superbly handled by Nicholas Ray . However ,the production was troubled almost from the beginning. It ran into financial troubles, there were conflicts among the cast, and director Nicholas Ray argued so violently with producer Samuel Bronston that he eventually walked off the set and quit the picture, and soon afterward suffered a severe heart attack. Andrew Marton and Guy Green finished directing the picture, uncredited . The motion picture will appeal to historic story buffs and spectacular film lovers .
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The One Great Moment of International Cooperation That Was Lost
theowinthrop25 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In 55 DAYS AT PEKING, Samuel Bronston tried to retell the story of how in 1900the Chinese decided to risk everything to get rid of foreign devils. Another comment on this board presented the story pretty fairly. For nearly one hundred years the Portuguese and then the British had made in roads into China, taking over territory on the coasts, and making increasingly arrogant demands on the weakened Manchu dynasty for trade and territorial concessions. After 1870 the French, Germans, Russians, and Japanese got into the act. The U.S. too had a large trade with China, but it never got involved with territorial demands (we were developing the American West in the period). However, many American based missionaries did set up their missions in China - and could be somewhat demanding on the local populations.

But what is not usually gone into is the other side of the coin. China was not well governed for the bulk of the population. In fact, in the 1850s and 1860s there was a long and bloody Civil War (The Taiping Rebellion) that was to make an international figure out of the British General who finally put it down (Charles George "Chinese" Gordon). The reason for the rebellion was partly religious, but it was also partly economic - the peasantry was tired supporting the Manchu Court in Beijing (the Peking of the movie title). A succession of weak emperors were plaguing the country, who were manipulated by Tzu - Hsi (one of the most unscrupulous monarchs in history).

Tzu - Hsi would basically control the Chinese Government from 1860 to 1908, when she died. Her idea of government responsibility is illustrated by a famous act of selfishness she performed. When China's navy was trounced in the Sino - Japanese War of 1894 (Japan had a modern navy), it was decided to use tax money to build up the Chinese navy to compete with Japan again. The Dowager Empress agreed - she took the money earmarked for battleships, and built a super battleship. Only it was made of marble, in the shape of a battleship, and was put on land as a summer palace. It is still standing as a tourist attraction.

Humiliations were not only done by Europeans, Americans, and Japanese. If you recall the geography lesson scene in THE KING AND I, the children are unconvinced about the small size of Siam as opposed to China. The Crown Prince points out that China can't be that big - it's monarchy is considered weak, while Siam's is strong. Well, in this period, Siam (Thailand) also had managed to get some territory back from China - and to become rather important in the area of southeast Asia. This would not have been the case in the 17th or 18th Centuries.

In 1900 the Chinese finally exploded. The people had been forming para-military groups in the late 1890s (in the wake of the defeat by Japan) which were ultra-Nationalist, fervently anti-foreign, and fervently in favor of Chinese religious beliefs over Christian. The Dowager Empress realized that it would be advantageous to her to let these energies be expanded towards the foreigners: it would keep these people looking too closely at her misrule. Without officially countenancing these groups (called "Boxers" because their translated names - like "Harmonious Fists" - were mistaken by westerners to refer to boxing terms), the Empress allowed them to erupt.

Her motivation was mostly self-protection, but there was another key to it that the westerners were aware of. China, with close to 500 million inhabitants, was the most populated state in the world. They might be able to field army after army long after the other states were drained of manpower. There is some evidence the Empress believed this wishful thinking, not realizing that at some point the population of China would also be seriously hurting by such casualties.

It was the intention of the Boxers to kill or drive out the foreign devils. This is what the story is about, and how the various foreign embassies in Beijing joined forces to fight for their lives.

The acting in the film is pretty good, in particular the troubled David Niven as the British Ambassador, who even at the end wonders if his own ambitions dictated his policies. He was in a backwater embassy, and did he subconsciously help raise the crisis to a boil to make a name for himself. Flora Robson's empress is delightfully evil, until she realizes that she has brought forth the very powers that will destroy her. Charlton Heston is good as the American military leader, who keeps finding ways to stave off the tens of thousands of armed Chinese from invading the legislative compound. Ava Gardner is not great in the romantic portions with Heston, but she does shine in her scenes with her brother-in-law Kurt Kazner (the Russian Ambassador), who blames her for his brother's death, and in her scenes with Paul Lukas (as the German doctor) tending the wounded and dying, until Lukas is forced to watch her die as well (a good performance by him too).

What was ironically missed in 1900 was that the Chinese managed to do what a century of "peace" in Europe failed to: the major powers did cooperate to rescue their legations, and put down the Boxers. It was the only instance of this during the age of imperialism - but there was no Bismarck or Disraeli or Castlereagh or Metternich about to build on it! Had there been such, possibly some of the causes that led to World War I fourteen years later would have been avoided. Instead, the great powers resumed bickering again.
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Fine, somewhat old-fashioned epic
trpdean25 July 2004
This movie fits comfortably in the epic category of the 1950s-1960s - historically based with exotic locales. Thus, we had Dr. Zhivago, Ben Hur, War and Peace, Lawrence of Arabia, Le Cid, Julius Caesar, Nicholas and Alexandra, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Taras Bulba, The Robe, Bridge on the River Kwai, A Man for All Seasons, The Sand Pebbles, Cleopatra, Spartacus, Samson and Delilah, The Brothers Karamazov, Becket. My guess is that if you like most of these movies, you'll like this one.

I'd like to correct some misstatements on this board about the setting of the movie.

Unlike most of the world, China was never a colony - nor part of any empire other than its own. (Do not confuse this with India or much of Africa - the situations were very different!).

The impetus from the West (until well into the 19th century, the West really meant Britain) was from the beginning simply a desire to trade freely with China. Free trade was seen by late 18th and 19th century Britain as far more than an economic benefit to the world - but one that promoted peace, progress, and international good-will. Moreover, China had for centuries been fabled for its wealth.

At first, the Manchu Emperors did not mind trade (from foreigners whom they very much regarded as inferiors - "monkeys" was a common term) - so long as the foreigners were kept strictly at a distance. Thus, for example, the British were strictly limited in where they could live (a tiny enclave in the city of Canton), they could not bring their wives (to make the stays temporary), they were barred from learning Chinese.

The British merchants (and Britain was the world's greatest trading nation) found the restrictions chafing, irrational, primitive and of course profit-reducing. There was little demand in China for British finished goods, but British merchants gradually found a product for which there was enormous Chinese demand -- opium, which the Manchu Emperors had banned. However, the Emperors did not enforce the ban very strictly - in part because they made money from all trade (there were heavy taxes on the foreigners) - thus the government officials would deliberately send out their coast guard boats long after the British ships had unloaded and sold the opium at the wharves, fire one or two cannon shots from out of range, and report that they had "scared the British ship away".

However, internal pressure from reformist groups in China caused the Manchu Emperors to feel they had to act far more forcefully against the trade - and they twice declared war against Britain (the two "Opium Wars" were separated by some 20 years) to "punish" them. In declaring war, the Manchus were entirely ignorant of how primitive the Chinese navy and shore batteries would be against the British Navy - who swiftly and crushed the Chinese forces.

The resulting peace treaties were disastrous to China's exclusionary policy - the wars' peace terms required China to open up four, and then nine, small separate enclaves within coastal cities (the "Concessions") for westerners to live, bring their families, police themselves within the enclaves under their own laws, begin their own industries in those enclaves - and permit foreign missionaries to enter, travel, proselytize freely and establish missions in China.

Moreover, the peace terms required that Britain be authorized to collect and turn over all the trade duties on behalf of the Chinese. (The last unexpectedly proved a boon to the Chinese Court - the efficient and honest British customs collections more than tripled the Court's revenues).

The loss of the wars obviously was a great humiliation to the Chinese who had always regarded China as the center of the universe (the "Middle Kingdom") and their emperors as appointed by Heaven to rule the earth. (Beijing for example has the "Temple of the Sun" at one side, the "Temple of the Moon" on the other, the curved "Temple of Heaven" to the south).

In the mid-19th century, a revolution began in the center of the country against the Manchus - in part due to the humiliation from the loss of the wars - it was savagely put down - and the Chinese massacres of the missionaries caused Britain to respond by burning the palace where the revolt began to the ground.

Meanwhile, other nations such as the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Japan all began to compete with Britain in trading with China. Indeed, this was, for example the source of the wealth of the Roosevelt family in New York - and led to a great sentimental fondness for FDR during World War II. The China trade became one of the great romantic escapist careers for Americans seeking adventure -- the "China clipper" ships built in the U.S. became world-renowned - as did the courage and skill of their skippers.

America soon began to out-strip all other nations in sending missionaries to China - throughout the U.S., churches raised money and their prayers to support the Chinese missions where the congregants were assured the missionaries were doing God's work. And in fact, millions of Chinese were converted to Christianity and benefited from local charity provided by the missionaries.

Such famous Americans as Henry Luce (founder of Time, Life and Fortune), novelists John Hersey and Pearl Buck, the diplomats John Stewart Service and John Paton Davies - were all children of missionaries, grew up in China and were extraordinarily fond of the Chinese. Back home, Americans heard from those who visited the missions about all the wonderful work they performed, the need to continue their contributions for the Lord's work, and the gratitude of the Chinese.

By the late 19th century, Russia and Japan sought to carve areas out of the obviously weak China. In 1895, Japan crushed China in a local war - and took Korea, Taiwan, railroad and industrial licenses in Manchuria. Russia seized Outer Mongolia and demanded industrial concessions in northern coastal China. The British and other European nations failed to object - but the U.S., sentimental about the Chinese, reacted strongly to the foreign incursions - and Secretary of State John Hay pronounced the "Open Door" policy, insisting that no nation should obtain territorial advantages or further exclusive concessions in China. Popular sentiment in America was fiercely pro-Chinese and against the Japanese and Russian "brutes". Japan was finally forced by the American-led western powers to disgorge some of its gains from the war.

This was the situation at the time of the Boxer Rebellion - western powers were freely trading with China, and had begun great industries in their concession areas in nine coastal cities - meanwhile many Chinese were humiliated by their failure to have kept the foreigners completely out of China - yet many others flocked to the foreign concessions where they were employed in sweatshop conditions in foreign industry. The coastal cities exploded in population due to Chinese migration to work for the foreign industries.

Millions of other Chinese had very much grown up around the thousands of Christian missions situated throughout the country - and felt Christianity to be the more "modern" progressive religion because it was associated with the West which had proved itself more powerful and prosperous. This aroused equally hostile feelings among other Chinese toward the Christian religion and its missionaries, associating such "foreign" culture with Chinese humiliation at foreign hands and resenting the very implication from the missions' existence that the Chinese were backward and must be taught by the foreigner.

The Boxers were a fanatical and murderous semi-religious sect (best seen as like the Mahdi's Dervishes in Sudan or the Wahabbi sect of Islam that bedevils the Saudis today) so named by the westerners due to the closed fists of the sect's adherents. They swore to kill all the foreigners and to drive them out of the country. They were in no sense a positive force - merely a fierce and frenzied organization of hate for the West and all its ways.

Naturally, the Boxers' primary target was missionaries and the Chinese Christian converts -- they were defenseless and located throughout the country. The torture, rape and massacres of the missionaries and converts of course aroused outrage back in the U.S. and Britain - where tens of millions had contributed to "help the Chinese" all their lives -and now they and the charitable subjects of their savings - were being slaughtered.

The Western powers took no military action - but to evacuate as many missionaries as possible - and attempt to persuade/threaten the Manchu court to put down the rebellion itself. The Manchu court was undecided, split between those who believed the Boxers could throw out the foreigner and restore China's pride - and those who believed that if they sided with the Boxers and lost, the western nations would themselves take victorious action and the Manchu court would wind up paying a price in further concessions.

And so our movie begins!
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55 Days at Peking 2008 compared to 1963
Samuel Cohen27 September 2008
I am commenting on the DVD version that I have now and I have not seen since 1963. There is a very big difference as in 1963 not only I was much younger but Cinema has changed. 55 Days was a Large Screen Movie compared with the Ten Commandments, Cleopatra of the same year 1963 and The Sound of Music and many others at that period. In those days of Cinema Hollywood convinced people to go to the Cinema with Movies that are not the same on Black and White TV on Small Screen. Watching it on DVD is not the same. Technirama an Advanced Technicolor, Dolby Stereo not as big as Cinerama. I specifically remember sitting in the cinema and the sound moved behind us. For example the Musical Bands in the opening scenes playing the anthems. About the History of China read the other comments. Still a very exciting Movie where a minority overcomes the Mass's winning at the end. David Niven does an interesting part that reminds me of the Guns of Navarone. Heston and most other actors do it very well too. Nine out of Ten in Sam's Scale.
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Spectacular and Enjoyable Epic
James Hitchcock29 April 2005
The fifties and early sixties were the golden age of the large-scale historical epic. Most of these dealt with either Biblical, Classical or Mediaeval history, but there was also a fashion for making movies on a similar epic scale dealing with more recent historical events. Many of these dealt with some aspect of European colonialism or with relations between Westerners and the inhabitants of some other part of the globe, such as "Bridge on the River Kwai", "Lawrence of Arabia", "Khartoum" or "Fifty-Five Days at Peking" which relates, from a Western viewpoint, the story of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. My thanks are due to T R P Dean for his helpful review setting out the historical background to this event.

The film narrates the story of how the foreign residents of the Legation Quarter of Peking (it was obviously not the fashion to call it "Beijing" in 1963) managed to hold out for a siege of nearly two months in the summer of 1900 before being relieved by a multi-national expeditionary force. The main characters on the Western side are Major Lewis, the commander of the small detachment of American marines in Peking, and Sir Arthur Robertson, the British ambassador. The main characters on the Chinese side, although we see less of that side, are the Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi and her counsellors, the devious and anti-foreigner Prince Tuan and the more liberal General Jung-Lu, who favours rapprochement with the foreigners.

There were a few things about the film that I did not like. Like a number of others, I felt that it would have been an improvement if the leading Chinese characters had not been portrayed by Western actors. I do not hold to any principle of political correctness that states that a character should not be portrayed by an actor of a different nationality, but in this particular case I felt that Chinese actors would have been more convincing. The action in the second half of the film tended to drag a bit, especially the episode where the Westerners make a raid to destroy the Boxers' arsenal. The decision to add some love-interest in the form of a romance between Lewis and a Russian princess was definitely a mistake. Charlton Heston was generally fine as an action hero but less convincing, as here, as a romantic one. Ava Gardner's performance as Princess Natasha was very much below par; there is little passion in the scenes between her and Heston.

I do not, however, agree with the criticism that the film should have showed more of the historic background to the Boxer Rebellion. The aim was to make an epic adventure story about one particular episode during that rebellion; to have attempted to explore the complexities of Chinese politics during the years leading up to it would have resulted in a very lengthy and tedious film, especially if the filmmakers had tried to include reference to events as remote in time as the Opium Wars, as some have suggested. In the main, that aim was a successful one. At the centre of the film are two fine contributions, particularly from David Niven as Robertson. Robertson is the Westerners' equivalent of Jung-Lu, a liberal by the standards of his period who (unlike many of the other Europeans) hopes to avoid war by taking a conciliatory attitude towards the Chinese. When war comes, he is forced to look inside himself to find reserves of courage and stoicism. Apart from his scenes with Gardner, Heston is also good as Lewis, the tough man of action. Although he is a very different character from Robertson, the two men discover a respect for each other as the crisis brings them together. The spectacular action scenes were mostly well done, and the costumes and architecture of this period of Chinese history were reproduced on a grand scale. Despite a few faults, this was a film that I enjoyed. 7/10
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Even in wartimes, a valuable gift placed high enough can work miracles…
Nazi_Fighter_David30 August 2007
"55 Days at Peking" is the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China, in the summer of the year 1900, where the violent wind of discontent disturbs the land…

Separated from the foreign compound by a mere wall and a gate is the Forbidden City, where, in untouchable isolation, Empress Dowager Tzu—protected by an army of eunuchs—earnestly advises Sir Arthur (David Niven) that all foreign residents, including diplomatic personnel, to leave Peking within 24 hours…

For the Empress of China (Flora Robson), the situation in Peking cannot be expected to become tranquil because of the projected draught, because of hunger and unrest among the people, because of the merciless demands of the foreign powers… Prince Tuan (Robert Helpmann) counsels the empress a reckless adventure, while Gen. Jung-Lu (Leo Genn) counsels prudence and patience…

That morning, Sir Arthur came to the Imperial Palace with the truth, the truth that is already known to the German government, and to all other powers, asking the empress to take action against Prince Tuan who commanded the Boxers to drag and kill the German minister…

Obviously, the empress rejected Sir Arthur's truth and his protest, informing him that Prince Tuan is her closest and most trusted adviser and she appointed him to head the foreign office… The ambassadors realizing now that Prince Tuan succeeded in getting the support of the empress, vote on whether to stay or leave Peking…

Niven demonstrated both his capacity and his potential as the English diplomat with no intention of displaying fear of the Boxers, nor of handling the victory to Prince Tuan…

Ava Gardner looks beautiful as the Russian Baroness who knows that her sublime trinket sure glitters…

Lynne Sue Moon steals the show in her moving portrayal of the abandoned Oriental 12-year-old child in need of love and care and who has been promised, by her father, to be taken home to America… Her best scene comes at the climax of the movie when Heston— riding out at the head of his Army—stops, looks down at the girl, and says, "Here, take my hand." He pulls her upon his horse and they ride together out of Peking…

Nicholas Ray's direction and the actors' performance appear sincere enough… Those merely looking for an epic spectacle are likely not to get satisfaction from it as a motion picture… In spite of its aspirations, "55 Days in Peking" isn't enough to keep us engaged, while, there's no denying, succeeded in entertaining us for a while…
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Not A Racist Film
Theo Robertson3 June 2003
Watching this film in a PC era like today you may find allegations of racism being made against it , but you have to remember that 55 DAYS AT PEKING was made in 1963 . The war in the Pacific had ended less than 20 years earlier and the horrors of the Burma railway and the Bataan death march were still fresh in the memory . Likewise the UN had fought a dirty and bloody war against North Korea and Communist China ten years earlier and 1963 was a year when America started committing ground troops to South Vietnam , so this was an era where many people were worried about " the yellow peril " . One thing you can't really accuse the film of being is geo-nationalist , a coalition featuring diverse nations like Germany , Russia , Italy and France fighting alongside Britain and America ! You can tell this was made a long time ago and if it was made today the Americans would have saved the day single handed while portraying everyone else as total cowards . At least the makers of 55 DAYS AT PEKING had the decency of showing a factual historical event without having to totally rewrite history . I do hope present day Hollywood producers will take note .

My only problem with this film is that the main story is held up with a romantic subplot featuring Charlton Heston who's not exactly romantic material , but this is soon forgiven when the battle scenes arrive and what battle scenes they are . Watching these scenes today I was struck as to how they were achieved by a combination of stuntmen and stuffed dummies . That's what I hate about modern day blockbusters that rely on cartoonish CGI figures running around . It's a lot more fun seeing a couple of man sized dolls falling a couple of hundred feet with dubbed screams on the soundtrack , Hollywood doesn't seem to do this type of action sequence anymore which is a great pity
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Opening the Open Door
bkoganbing23 February 2006
For a while there Samuel Bronston was in a contest with Dino De Laurentis to see who would inherit the mantle of Cecil B. DeMille for producer/director of big budget spectacles. Bronston's 1963 entree is 55 Days in Peking about the Boxer Rebellion and the attack on the foreign compound in Peking.

A Chinese made film on this would certainly tell a different tale. Since the Opium War when Great Britain humiliated China and was granted all kinds of trading concessions a whole flock of other powers came in and nibbled off chunks of China. There were pieces of that country on the coast that were colonies in all, but name. The latest nibbler was Japan who defeated them in the Sino-Japanese War a few years earlier and they are among those in the foreign compound.

A Chinese made film this was not, it is an American produced European made film and the concentration is on the heroic resistance of the foreigners. The Boxers are a secret society who's symbol is the clenched fist. They start the rebellion against the Chinese government, but the government directs them against the foreigners.

One thing that must be remembered. It's common even today to have one's military personnel, a corporal's guard of them, stationed at embassies all over the world. But you can see for yourself that there sure were a lot more troops than a small guard force.

David Niven and Elizabeth Sellars are the British Minister and his wife who lead the resistance. They bring the others in line, including the Americans who have no colonies as such, but sure are looking for some better trading rights. The American minister who is played by director Nicholas Ray is ill so the marine commander Charlton Heston is making the decisions for the USA. Heston's also got some romantic entanglements with Ava Gardner the widowed sister-in-law of the Russian minister Kurt Kaszner.

Another perceptive viewer mentioned that Heston and Gardner were not a great romantic team and waited patiently for the action to begin during the romantic interludes. Heston and Gardner did not get along during the filming of 55 Days at Peking, so Heston says in his autobiography. Got along great with David Niven though, but then again I can't think of anyone who didn't.

One of Heston's men who is killed in the siege is the father of a AmerAsian child who is now an orphan. Some of the best scenes involving the personal issues raised in this film are with Heston and the child. Heston has to confront some of his own feelings there and his character grows as a result.

The outcome of this for the Americans was our Secretary of State John Hay issuing the Open Door declaration, guaranteeing Chinese sovereignty. Sad to say, but with the best of intentions it just wasn't possible. China as we all know worked out her own salvation at a terrible price.
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Never mind the history -- how about the acting?
Igenlode Wordsmith25 May 2005
I actually enjoyed this film a good deal more than I was expecting to; Charlton Heston epics aren't my thing, and when I noticed the overall running time my heart sank. To be honest, the only real reason I sat down to watch it was because I'd just finished David Niven's highly entertaining autobiography 'The Moon's a Balloon' -- and I was curious to renew my acquaintance with his actual work!

But the film grabbed me from the first, and I simply wasn't aware of its length. And while Heston's still not my favourite actor, mercifully neither he nor the US Marines were allowed to steal the show -- what could so easily have been produced as a 'simple soldiers good, morally compromised diplomats bad' gung-ho display is here allowed more intellectual depth. As Matt Lewis, Heston doesn't get to personally rescue the entire cast from liquidation -- although he does make an attempt! -- and contemporary concepts of 'face' and international affairs are taken into account. The film makes a good stab at explaining the historical background to the events from both sides of the conflict: I can't answer for its accuracy, but it comes across as reasonable and clear-headed, as the Empress first temporises and then commits her full authority to the gamble to expel the foreigners. No individual is exempt from misjudgements or doubt, and as a result none of the characters become really annoying.

So far as watching Niven was concerned I was lucky, as it happened -- he's certainly in a plum part here, cast in a leading 'character' role against the all-American action hero but arguably more central to the story. And it has to be said he makes a very good job of it, aided by an intelligent script; the only scene that seemed a little gratuitous was the arsenal sequence, where this middle-aged diplomat is suddenly taking part in undercover action when he is neither suited to the task nor dispensable from his own duties, with no real rationale provided. (My guess, 'in-story', would be that he was tired of sitting inactive with the deaths of others on his hands -- but if so, it's not given, and one is left to fall back on the story-external suspicion that the actor wanted to be seen to have a part in the heroics...)

As the Russian Baroness Natalie, Ava Gardner is somewhat elusive: ''I have you in my hands; but you keep slipping through my fingers,'' Lewis complains, and she remains cool and detached from life and the concerns of the others -- her surrender to Lewis comes across as that of a woman who no longer values her own body rather than a passionate gift. This would be an excellent piece of characterisation if it were intentional... unfortunately, I strongly suspect that it isn't! Heston is credible in the opening hotel scene as the no-frills soldier out for a quick liaison, with the rules understood on both sides, but he's pretty wooden when it comes to providing genuine emotion; and when the Baroness is challenged on their relationship after several weeks during which we've scarcely seen them exchange a word, I was assuming that she would truthfully retort that there was nothing between them... As a love affair it certainly doesn't look like a grand passion, and she seems to put more devotion into her work in the hospital and the old man in the shop outside that she does to Lewis. The trouble is, I think we're supposed to take it seriously.

Heston's performance is fairly one-note throughout -- the scenes with the little girl are particularly stilted, although it's hard to be sure in that case if it's the character's inability to cope or the actor's -- and I have to say I found it hard to warm much to Major Lewis. His closest touches of humanity seem to be with the fellow-Marines under his command, which could, again, simply be brilliant characterisation rather than limited acting... he's fine when he's being square-jawed and heroic, and at the beginning of the film he does show a dry wit for which there is understandably little scope later on. Otherwise, I'm afraid I felt the film succeeded despite rather than because of Heston's star billing, wisely keeping him to a relatively restrained role in an ensemble cast. I suspect this failure to build up the part of the hero is the root cause of the criticism that '55 Days at Peking' spreads its action over too many unimportant characters, but I found it arguably one of the major strengths of the production.

This film admirably fulfils the function of the epic in that it has a big story to tell and makes a gripping narrative of it through all its ebbs and flows. If the romantic sub-plot is rather weak, this is also a convention of the genre... and it *is* only a sub-plot! For my money, David Niven carries off the acting laurels among the principals, while Ava Gardner's damaged Natalie is intriguing even if not tragic; the script rarely allows us to relax, even in what seem like tranquil moments. There is always a new twist around the corner, and the running-time passes like a flash.

This could have been a thoroughly obnoxious piece of military posturing, but it isn't. To my surprise, I rather liked it.
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Anglo-Saxons save the world
heckles12 February 2001
The siege of the Peking legation is sure-fire material for a dramatic movie. A mixed impromptu defense force from eight nations (Austria-Hungary as not depicted here) repelled many times their number of Boxer insurgents, who almost certainly would have massacred all the inhabitants had they overcame the defenders.

At the risk of being condemned as one of those 'politically correct people' this movie for the most part is a product of the time and place of its making. Charlton Heston and David Niven are given front and center treatment; the contributions of the other, non-Anglo-Saxon nations are mostly limited to depictions of extras or a few lines. There is an adorably cute mixed blood girl who is doted on by her U.S. Marine father, foreshadowing a similar Asians-as-children image used in "The Green Berets".

Yet the film has its moments of taking a less one sided view than say, "The Alamo" or "How the West Was Won". The drought that drove the tensions to the boiling point is mentioned; and the Empress Dowager is given a minute or two to describe the humiliations China had recently suffered at the hands of the Western powers and Japan. To add to what she said, one must also note the activities of Christian missionaries, who are mentioned only as victims of Boxer massacres. While the missionaries may have been independent, even sometimes critical, of their imperialist governments, it was not hard for common Chinese to equate the two. To the Chinese peasant, even one missionary in a region preaching this new religion came as an uncomfortable shock. The exclusivist doctrines of Christianity were taken by many, if not most, Chinese as disparaging of one's ancestors and therefore insulting.

The best scenes in the film deal with the interplay between the pure soldier Heston and the diplomat Niven, who takes considerations other than military into account. The movie implies that both talents were necessary to hold the legation. (Niven has the best moment: appearing before the Empress, he kicks aside the cushion placed there for him to kneel) Sexual politics comes into play at two points. When Heston marches his Marines into Peking, he says "pay cash, and don't expect any free samples"; you can bet the commodity he is referring to isn't pork fried rice. And Ava Garner (diva-ing up a storm) is treated by her fellow Russians as a pariah. Later in the movie you find out why: she had a Chinese general as a lover.

The silliest sequence concerns a raid launched by the principals to destroy a Boxer arsenal in order to embarrass a pro-Boxer prince. The raiders are disguised in what seem to be captured Boxer outfits. Other than the amusement afforded by seeing Niven looking like a Ninja, one wonders how they got the outfits; and if they got them off of dead Boxers, how many did they have to go through to find one that would fit the 6' 4" Heston?

Someday they'll make another depiction of the Legation siege, this time with actual Chinese locations - not to mention real Chinese. For now, this film will hold the interests of those with an interest in the period or the leads. A word of warning: the video copy I rented had terribly washed out colors.
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Good action story
lora6426 May 2001
Others have used a fine comb to go over the plot details so I needn't repeat it here. Quite simply, this is an action movie intended to entertain, not educate as some would prefer. One needn't look for drop-by-drop authenticity since purportedly they didn't use a speck of African soil when filming "Casablanca" either, although no one would ever guess it.

I was surprised to note Flora Robson as the Dowager Empress as I felt sure it must have been Gale Sondergaard, being her kind of role. There's a superb cast and well-moving script, some of the mannerisms were overdone but then that's what acting is about at times. It's good entertainment and deserves more than one viewing to absorb it entirely.
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Even in an epic,Ray will be Ray.
dbdumonteil26 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Hats off to Epdean,the user who did the hard task of letting us know about the situation in China when our film begins.I wish every "historical" movie had an user like him.

What about the movie?It' s perhaps not as absorbing as "Dr Zhivago" (it's important to notice that anyway Robert Bolt took liberties with Pasternak's novel),but it's a very worthwhile epic ,with a very good cast including David Niven,Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, the most beautiful woman Hollywood ever knew.But the best performance comes from Flora Robson as the empress, a spider on her cobweb.The lines are above average: "we're in the country of poppy and we can't get any morphine!" and China in "55 days" is less "chocolate box" than in "Inn of sixth happiness".

What about Ray?They said he was always drunk during all the shooting.I can feel his touch even there ! Teresa's character is in search of a family,as the heroes of "rebel without a cause" (particularly Plato)of "run for cover" " "they live by night" and more were.And as it often happens in Ray's movies,someone has to sacrifice his/her life so the others can go on:Mitchum in "lusty men" ,Derek in "run for cover" Granger in "they live by night" Mineo in "rebel without the cause....and who-you-know in "king of kings" .

Ava Gardner's death ,while trying to bring food and medicine to the children will lead Heston to something he would probably not have thought of.In his absorbing memoirs "in the arena",he wrote that Ava had to die for another less romantic reason though.
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Who you gonna call? Charlton Heston of course
See it- Outnumbered, surrounded, insurmountable odds. These are all ingredients in the recipe of a good action movie. But these aren't the typical bad guys the good guys are fighting. They're Boxers. This is undeniably the best movie ever made about the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900. And when you've got a rebellion on your hands, who you gonna call? Charlton Heston of course. David Niven teams up with Heston in the defense of Peking with an allied force made up of soldiers from the 10 different nations that had foreign embassies in China. I thought it was pretty cool to watch the various soldiers from the different armies marching around in their respective uniforms. Kind of like the opening ceremony in the Olympics. My only complaint is that this movie is a bit too long. I swear every Charlton Heston movie has an intermission. But you will be surprised by how much action this movie actually has. For some reason this film is largely unknown. But it is very exciting, and has plenty of "storming-the-castle"type siege scenes. Everyone likes an underdog, and this is a very underrated film. 3.5 out of 5 action rating
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The good old fashion type of the movie.
Sunil_Vikashiki16 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Movie is the good old fashion kind with the political and the historical intrigue. Movie about very small group of American and European military and businessmen setting up the possible trade posts in land overpopulated by the China people. Many of the people very primitive compare to the newcomers and very suspicious of ways of newcomers. Of course does not take long for war to start and quickly the Europeans and the Americans are soon surrounding. Fortune keeps striking the ingenious ones as each large massive attacked repelled using the quick thinking and the superior strategy. Soon the supplies to be running out so use of the coy political move made through the daring mission of exploding main ammunition depot to make the large humiliation of the China Queen. Acting in the film very great especially that of Mr. Charlton Heston. Movie quality is very well made as most of film of this era is. If looking for fancy computer effects, not going to find here. Nothing here but the good old fashion movie. Good acting and direction make you be happy every time the good guys in film defeat the bad guys with the multiple countries celebrating at end. Movie get 10 out of the 10.
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I'd like to see this remade.
MartinHafer5 June 2012
I was happy to see this film since it was about the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. To put it in perspective, in the 19th century, various European powers began forcing their way into China--literally threatening the weak Chinese to accept their presence or else! The lowest point was the Opium War where the British forced the Chinese to accept opium into their nation as payment for their goods. The government, for some odd reason, didn't want to see all their people become drug addicts but had to relent when the British massacred the Chinese army and navy. Following this war, EVERYBODY seemed to flood into China--Russians, Germans, Austrians, Americans, Belgians, French and even the Japanese (who'd only recently opened up to the West). All of them carved out sections of China (such as Hong Kong and Macao as well as foreign enclaves in the major cities)--further weakening the Imperial authority. And the Emperor could do nothing or face the further reprisals of these countries.

With the Boxer Rebellion, the Chinese government was in an advantageous position. When these peasants rebelled, the Empress claimed that the Chinese army was NOT responsible for this anti-foreigner uprising--it was 'the people'. It was ironic, because since the government had been terribly weakened by these foreign powers, the Empress said she was thereby unable to stop these people--all the while encouraging the rebels on the side. Across the countryside, foreigners (especially missionaries) were slaughtered--and the weak Empire suddenly became stronger. This film finds the foreign section in Peking surrounded by the Boxers--and certain death seems likely. It's based on actual events, though most of the names have been changed.

The foreigners represented several nations and are made up of mostly British and American actors (such as Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and David Niven). Now here is the interesting part. Since Communist China wasn't about to open up to foreign movie companies (especially when the Boxers' views on colonialism were identical with the Peoples Republic's views), the film had to be made somewhere else. And so, this saga about China was actually filmed in Spain! How they were able to get all these Asian-looking extras is pretty funny (see the IMDb trivia)! Although I must admit, the sets were quite impressive--though I wondered why they didn't film it in Taiwan.

So is it any good? Well, yes and no. The fight sequences are nice and I loved seeing this war dramatized. But on the other hand, the film does seem to be a bit overly long and had one serious problem--changing times. This film does not age well, as the world's views on colonialism have changed. In 1963, the world was changing--French and British colonies were gaining their independence right and left. But films STILL had a bias towards colonialism and expected audiences to root for countries that were occupying land abroad. Today, however, I would think a very, very high percentage of the viewers would sympathize with and/or root for the Boxers. They wanted their nation back--and an end to enforced contact with the outside world. Unfortunately, killing ALL foreigners (including children) ultimately just brought on significant reprisals.

Another thing that doesn't age well is seeing the main Chinese characters all played by folks who clearly AREN'T Asian. Today, the notion of having Brits like Flora Robson and Leo Genn play Chinese people is pretty nasty and paternalistic. Of course, seeing Johnny Depp playing Tonto in the upcoming "The Lone Ranger" isn't exactly enlightened! So, I guess some things never change!

Overall, the film is moderately interesting and worth seeing from a historical perspective. However, I'd really love to see it remade in China and showing BOTH sides of the issue and having actors playing the correct ethnic groups! Until this happens, this film is all we've got and is worth a look--provided you think it's worth 156 minutes of your life when the film is only fair to middling.
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55 Days sure seems like it.
st-shot3 February 2010
Charlton Heston and David Niven provide plenty of stoic heroics in 55 Days at Peking a tepid epic that crawls along for most of its two and a half hour running time under the misguided direction of Nicholas Ray. Ray seems an odd choice to be directing in Lean territory and he more than proves it with this lackluster effort that stifles his vaunted skills (They Drive by Night, In a Lonely Place) as one of America's most unique and original filmmakers.

It's the Eight Nation Alliance versus The Righteous Fists of Harmony in a struggle for the hearts and minds of China. The Europeans are intent in colonizing (the US had no stake in acquiring a far east state) and exploiting China when a mighty force of rebels known as the Boxers incite Nationalist fervor in an attempt to drive these foreign devils from their land. Starting with the slaughter of Christian missionaries and their converts The Boxers begin to gain favor and support from the Empress Dowager and it is against this backdrop a band of stereotypes hold up inside a Peking Embassy compound in an attempt to repel the Boxers.

Along with Heston and Niven's cardboard heroes we have Ava Gardner as a shrewd and manipulative Russian Baroness who attains beatific redemption by the final reel obliterating the far more interesting character we are introduced to in the first half hour. It is left up to supporting players Flora Robson as the ED and in need of a manicure Boxer Booster Prince Touan played by Robert Helpman to provide characters of any interest.

The genre of blockbuster epics tends to adhere to a more formulaic stilted blueprint than the more quirky and imaginative areas (noir, contemporary drama) Ray excelled at. Rather than presenting us with the complex characters he is noted for he spends most of the film directing close order drill traffic and conducting national anthems making sure he dispenses equal amounts of courage and honor to each imperialistic nation. Aside from a couple of subversive jabs at the powers that be Ray's enormous talent remains invisible. This was his second epic in a row following King of Kings (featuring a blue eyed Jesus) and it all but ended his career. He would never get another Hollywood assignment or enough backing to make the smaller budgeted pictures that oozed the style and originality of this true auteur.
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Days of Glory
I just finished watching this for the first time and I just have to comment on it. I've been quite pleased with Samuel Bronston's mega-productions before. "El Cid" was cheesy but wonderful; "King of Kings" was an excellent dramatization of an overdone story. "55 Days at Peking" has so many highlights. Charlton Heston gives the performance of a lifetime-- it's seriously almost as good as his "Ben-Hur" and "Planet of the Apes" work. David Niven is also very good, and Ava Gardner is wonderful simply because she plays a Russian character without choking on a thick Russian accent. Dimitri Tiomkin also does some career-topping composing and conducting here. Bronston, as usual, threw a lot of money into the mix, but you can see every single penny and it pays off tremendously. The explosive battle sequences are much more effective than anything Michael Bay could crank out, and it's always so satisfying to know that every single person in every single frame is a living, breathing human. And actors like Flora Robson and Leo Genn play their Chinese characters with the awkward touch of "The Good Earth," but they do manage to eschew caricature and (mostly) stereotype. Someone ought to release this in America as a valid DVD.
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Talkie Epic
Ephraim Gadsby18 October 2004
A top-notch cast recreates a portion of the so-called "Boxer Rebellion" at the turn of the twentieth century, when Chinese reactionaries (a group called "Boxers"), opposing westernization, tried to drive western traders, missionaries and diplomats out of China.

Though "55 Days at Peking" is extremely simplified, since its history is probably unknown to most movie buffs, there is a lot of exposition, which means a lot of talk. The best epics (such as "Lawrence of Arabia") allow the images to do most of the talking. But the necessity of setting up the dilemma of western diplomats trapped in their compound by the hoards of reactionary Boxers requires a history lesson.

It also tends to dilute the tension. Unlike a similar film (and slightly later) film "Zulu", "55 Days at Peking" tends toward the "Grand Hotel" or "Ship of Fools" style of movie-making that would be pursued in the '70s disaster flicks, making it more study of soap-opera characters than about the tension of events. Though most viewers will not know the fictional characters, there are far too many (characters and fictional characters), which diffuses the interest in them too far (does anyone feel much sympathy for diplomats, in any case?), even though Heston, Niven, Harry Andrews and the rest act their hearts out. And there are many cloying sub-plots.

While it's the foundation of a pretty good (if superficial) story on the Boxer Rebellion, it never quite achieves its promise. It's too bad a movie can't be made about the Rebellion in these highly charged times in the early twenty-first century, when moviemakers seem to think all westernization is wrong.
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Epic Film from a politically incorrect viewpoint
David Diamond13 June 1999
It's easy to understand how a film about the Boxer Rebellion gets made, it's a major historical event in Chinese history. But why make a film about the Western imperialist viewpoint? Easy, this is a 1962 Hollywood extravaganza - where European actors still play Asian roles. It would be decades before moviegoing audiences would be interested in seeing a film from the Chinese viewpoint,(eg. Last Emperor). All I learned from this film is that the Chinese were devious, calculating barbarians who wanted to rid their nation from foreign interventionists. Aside from the script, which was interesting, if not factual,was the massive production of this film. This is worth viewing for that reason alone. This was a Samuel Bronston production, with an all-star cast, epic sets and costumes, Dmitri Tiomkin music score. In short, everything for a good epic. The big problem, is that we don't come away with a good understanding of the events that prompted this battle and the movie tends to go off on these unimportant character stories. I kept wanting for more Chinese politics. Heston, as always, takes command, however, he was only a major who acted like a general, I felt.
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Glorious Ava
AndersonWhitbeck10 December 2007
Allied Artists Pictures was a small boutique movie studio. Willima Wyler's splendid "Friendly Persuasion" with Gary Cooper movie was among the fine films distributed by AA other Allied Artits films were "Love In The Afternoon" with Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn, "El Cid" with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, "Soldier In the Rain" with Steve McQueen and future hits would be "Cabaret" with Oscar Winner Liza Minneli, and "Papillion again with Steve McQueen, and a great John Huston film "The Man Who Would Be King" with Sean Connery. AA had no big studio lot to offer other companies to rent and hence had little or no rental Income, and had no TV division as did Warners, 20th and MGM.

Allied Artists did manage to bankroll this fine film set in China but filmed in Spain. Starring Charlton Heston, David Niven and the too beautiful Ava Gardner it is a stirring film set in the Boxer Rebellion. I remembered this fine film when it premiered, and it was a hit. Produced by super producer Samuel Bronston in the league of Sam Spiegel and David Selznick as maestro producers.

Sadly even though AA did manage to lure the only sure fire box office at the time Elvis Presley to film "Tickle Me" and the other films mentioned above it could not compete with the major film companies and went out of business. Its last film of note was Billy Wilder's brilliant "Fedora" with William Holden, Henry Fonda and a cast of great character actors however AA could not give that film its proper distribution and that film failed too.

Someday someone will do a book on Allied Artits.

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Beautiful Tiompkin score and intelligent scripting win out
kreeper20 February 2000
This much maligned Bronston epic, known perhaps more for its production disasters than its actual on-screen merits, has, after nearly 40 years, finally blossomed into a respectable epic of the early 60's- less logy than Bronston's EL CID (1961) and less misguided than his FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964) and perhaps his best elephantine production of all. A pungent script by Philip Yordan reportedly written and the film was shot creates a powerful ambiance of the politics of 1900 china and the intricate background of the then world power's conspiring to undermine each other for the sake of nationalism and the humility of confronting man-power over brain-power. An undeserved footnote in film- and a near-classic has the Ava Gardner romance sub-plot been excised entirely- 55 Days at Peking rates a 9.
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Just a Standard Expensive Product
ragosaal27 September 2006
"55 Days at Peking" is one of those historical epics so common in the late 50's and early 60's. It deals with the Boxers revolt against the occidental most powerful nations domination in 1900's imperial China.

The film looks as an epic, has good moments, lots of extras, great settings, expensive gowns, impressive action sequences and doesn't lack big spectacle. But at the same time it has too many weaknesses that hurt the final product badly.

First of all it is too long and it becomes boring at times; it looks as if director Nicholas Ray felt forced to add time to the running just because epics are expected to last long. Caucasian actors playing Chinese characters -though usual in the 50's and 60's- don't seem to fit here; in fact some of them don't even look Chinese after make up. The final sequence when armies of all nations involved reach the surrounded legacies in Peking and enter the city in each one's marching style looks more appropriate for a musical comedy act.

The cast is uneven. Ava Gardner is no more than correct as a mysterious Russian Countess with a past in a part that gave more chances; Charlton Heston as American Mayor Lewis looks no different at all from other of his tough hero roles. Robert Helpmann as Chinese Prince Tuan looks more like a James Bond archenemy. Leo Genn as a Chinese General is one of those that doesn't even look Chinese. On the other side, David Niven shows his undeniable acting class as the British Ambassador who leads the resistance and Flora Robson is convincing as the Chinese empress who knows all the time and deep inside her dynasty is over. Harry Andrews plays one of his usual accurate supporting roles as a catholic priest.

All in all, the film is watchable if you enjoy action spectaculars, but not much more than that.

One final thought: I've always wondered on this movie who are the good guys and who the bad guys here. Foreigners who refuse to live China for strictly economic and political interests ot natives who fight to free their country and just want to be left alone in their own land and with their ancient culture?
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Chuck Heston is brilliant!
DDP-23 August 1999
Charlton Heston is the greatest film actor who ever lived, and this is another great film for him. The only thing I didn't like was the pointless subplot with the Baroness girl.

This is not meant to be a political film; but rather a "western" set in China. As such, some of the politically correct brain-washed out there may complain about things such as: --all they learned from this movie is that the Chinese are barbaric, when they would have rather learned that Westerners are barbaric,

--Or they might complain about Chinese extras being "forced" to act like savages, when they were in fact actors who were working of their own free will

--Or they may insinuate that a movie from a Chinese point of view like "The Last Emperor" (as if Bernardo Bertolucci is Chinese) is innately better because it is a Chinese perspective, and not of the evil Western P.O.V.

--Or they may complain that this movie should have been about the Opium Wars--even though this movie did not want to be about the Opium Wars; it wanted to be about the Boxer Rebellion.

--Or they may complain about John Wayne for no logical reason. In any event, this movie is a good Chuck Heston action flick, and not meant to be a political statement. Enjoy this movie without succumbing to the P.C. Thought Police's mandate that anything pro Western is automatically bad...
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Wayne, Heston 55 Days in Peking and 3 Chinese in entire flick
DY-37 May 1999
I couldn't decide whether I should laugh or be angry. With all the melodrama of the soldier losing a leg, and a little boy got shot, etc. etc., the movie forgot these people are in China about 5 min into it. You'd think they are defending the Alamo or something. It's a decent movie with a good cast about an epic event from a really screwed up point of view. I feel sorry for all the Chinese extras that were told to play "the savages" and be blown to pieces by cannons, while John Wayne and Heston are trooping around like cowboys. I wonder why they never made a movie about the opium wars, but I guess showing Europeans cramming opium into China at gunpoint wouldn't make a feel-good movie. Too bad since that explains the background of the Boxer Rebellion.
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