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55 Days at Peking
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108 out of 154 people found the following review useful:

Fine, somewhat old-fashioned epic

Author: trpdean from New York, New York
25 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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28 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

The One Great Moment of International Cooperation That Was Lost

7/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
25 February 2006

*** This review may contain 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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31 out of 44 people found the following review useful:

Even in wartimes, a valuable gift placed high enough can work miracles…

7/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
30 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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41 out of 65 people found the following review useful:

Not A Racist Film

7/10
Author: Theo Robertson from Isle Of Bute, Scotland
3 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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26 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

Spectacular and Enjoyable Epic

7/10
Author: James Hitchcock from Tunbridge Wells, England
29 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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18 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

55 Days at Peking 2008 compared to 1963

9/10
Author: shmulik-cohen from Israel
27 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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12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

For 55 days they played the same tune.

7/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
25 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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23 out of 40 people found the following review useful:

Never mind the history -- how about the acting?

7/10
Author: Igenlode Wordsmith from England
25 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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27 out of 48 people found the following review useful:

Opening the Open Door

8/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
23 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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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Breathtaking costume epic film , shot in Spain , depicting the Chinese Rebellion Boxer and the fate of Europeans trapped in the midst of the chaos

7/10
Author: ma-cortes from Santander Spain
9 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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