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?


Opening scenes were shot on the battleship USS Texas in Houston, Texas. These shots of Machinist Mate First Class Jake Holman (Steve McQueen) transferring off the battleship did not make it into the final print. 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: Hit him. He's getting tired.
Po-han: Maybe he tired hit me.
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 »


Referenced in The Counselor (2013) 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

Steve McQueen remains the focal point in ambitious, sometimes rambling film...
28 August 2006 | by (U.S.A.) – See all my reviews

STEVE McQUEEN makes a completely believable machinist's mate aboard a U.S. Navy gunboat who finds himself enmeshed in the politics of unrest that existed in 1926 China during the period of the Boxer Rebellion. It's probably one of the finest roles of his career--honest, vexating, and completely true to the emotions of his character whose only real concern is taking care of his engines.

There are plenty of other good performances. RICHARD CRENNA is the Captain, uncertain of just how the U.S./Chinese friction should be solved, and CANDACE BERGEN is lovely as a missionary who has a tender romance with McQueen.

The exotic locales (it was filmed mostly in Taiwan), the lush background score by Jerry Goldsmith, and the confrontation between the U.S. Navy and the Chinese authorities which supplies the necessary suspense before an action-filled climax, all serve to make THE SAND PEBBLES a fascinating look at a period in history that is seldom explored. And, of course, it raises questions as to our role in imperialism and our interaction with the culture of foreign countries that make the film relevant today.

It's a long film, rather uneven in places, but directed with rare sensitivity by Robert Wise and richly detailed period atmosphere.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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