The Sand Pebbles (1966)

Approved  |   |  Adventure, Drama, Romance  |  20 December 1966 (USA)
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Engineer Jake Holman arrives aboard the gunboat U.S.S. San Pablo, assigned to patrol a tributary of the Yangtze in the middle of exploited and revolution-torn 1926 China. His iconoclasm and... See full summary »



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Nominated for 8 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 13 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Emmanuelle Arsan ...
Maily (as Marayat Andriane)
Larry Gates ...
Charles Robinson ...
Ensign Bordelles
Ford Rainey ...
Joe Di Reda ...
Shanahan (as Joseph di Reda)
Richard Loo ...
Major Chin


Engineer Jake Holman arrives aboard the gunboat U.S.S. San Pablo, assigned to patrol a tributary of the Yangtze in the middle of exploited and revolution-torn 1926 China. His iconoclasm and cynical nature soon clash with the "rice-bowl" system which runs the ship and the uneasy symbiosis between Chinese and foreigner on the river. Hostility towards the gunboat's presence reaches a climax when the boat must crash through a river-boom and rescue missionaries upriver at China Light Mission. Written by Martin H. Booda <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


THE STORY OF who disturbed the sleeping dragon of China as the world watched in terror! See more »


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

20 December 1966 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El Yang-Tsé en llamas  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$12,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (BBFC submission before censorship) | (roadshow)

Sound Mix:

(70 mm prints) (Westrex Recording System)| (35 mm prints) (Westrex Recording System)


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Pat Boone badly wanted the lead role. He says he believes he didn't get it because director Robert Wise wanted a "real actor" instead of a singer-turned-actor. See more »


During one of the scenes where the San Pablo is in danger of being boarded by hostile Chinese, the crewmen are issued Springfield rifles. But they are not given any ammunition belts. Even if the rifles were loaded, which they would not normally be while in storage, they would hold only five cartridges (six with a round in the chamber). Such a limited supply of ammo would not have been enough to turn back the large number of Chinese if they had attempted to board the ship. See more »


Jake Holman: Hello, Engine; I'm Jake Holman.
See more »

Crazy Credits

There is a credit for 'Diversions by Irving Schwartz' in tribute to a mysterious, unknown correspondent whose letters proved a morale booster to cast and crew during trying location work in Hong Kong and Taiwan. See more »


Featured in Steve McQueen: The King of Cool (1998) See more »


Sleepy Time Gal
Music by Richard A. Whiting and Ange Lorenzo
Lyrics by Ray Egan and Joseph R. Alden
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Robert Wise's Masterpiece
7 May 2003 | by (nashville, tn) – See all my reviews

... and that's saying quite a bit, given his impressive filmography.

There are just a couple of points I'd like to add to the preceding commentary:

To really appreciate this movie, you must see it in letterbox, preferably on DVD. Joseph MacDonald's cinematography is breath-taking; you could take almost any individual frame of "The Sand Pebbles" and hang it on your wall as a work of art.

The second is that Wise himself (if you believe his commentary) wasn't trying to draw explicit parallels to Vietnam, where things did not begin to drastically escalate until near the end of filming for this movie. It's just that history has a sad habit of repeating itself.

If you get the DVD, listen to the commentary at least once: It's worth the time spent. Poor Candice Bergen: She comes across as simultaneously grateful for the opportunity to have worked on this film, and embarrassed that -- as a 19-year-old with little acting experience -- she didn't make a better job of it.

She should have credited Wise with seeing her possibilities a little better than she could. Bergen's gawky shyness is a pretty good fit with her role as a virginal, idealistic missionary newly arrived in China. Her often tentative body language works beautifully as a counterpoint to McQueen's assured and seemingly effortless performance, giving their doomed love affair great believability and poignancy.

This is an example of 60s' epic film-making at its best.

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