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Diplomats, soldiers and other representatives of a dozen nations fend off the siege of the International Compound in Peking during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. The disparate interests unite for survival despite competing factions, overwhelming odds, delayed relief and tacit support of the Boxers by the Empress of China and her generals.Written by
Martin H. Booda <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Charlton Heston later recalled that during filming his chauffeur was not being paid by the production company. Heston twice confronted one of the producers about this and twice he got a very elaborate and flamboyant show of outraged indignation from the producer screaming over the phone at someone else, but the chauffeur was still not paid for his work. This annoyed Heston so much that he personally paid the chauffeur himself, and when he confronted the producer over it the producer then handed over enough money to reimburse Heston. See more »
When the Boxers are coming over the wall, there is a brief scene of US Marines manning a machine gun. That machine gun is a water-cooled Browning M-1917. This was introduced in 1917 during WWI, hence it's nomenclature. This film is set in 1900. US Marines *did*, in fact, have and use machine guns during the siege. But these guns were Browning-Colt M-1895 machine guns, which were distinctly different from the gun shown. See more »
To receive a 'U' certificate in the UK (making the film suitable for all ages) significant cuts were made by the BBFC. These included the scene of the priest being drowned by the water-wheel, a shortening of the screaming sounds made by the soldier before his leg amputation, and a removal of all references by Lewis to local women being made available for soldiers. To retain the same certificate all video releases also featured the same cut print. The 2014 DVD features the uncut version and is upgraded to a PG. See more »
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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