During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion against foreigners in China, U.S. Marine Major Matt Lewis, aided by British Consul Sir Arthur Robertson, devises a strategy to keep the rebels at bay until an international military relief force arrives.
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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>
It is still possible to walk around the area of Beijing which was the actual location of the Siege of the Peking Legations in 1900, and to recognize sites and street layout depicted with admirable accuracy by the sets constructed in Spain for '55 Days At Peking'. The former legation quarter is east of Tiananmen Square, bounded in the north by Changan Avenue and south by Qianmen Street. One such important site is the gate of the former British Legation in Zhengyi Road, looking remarkably as it did in photos taken in 1900. Much of the area has been occupied for many years by Chinese Government agencies. Most of the heritage buildings remaining of the old legation quarter are reconstructions after the Boxer uprising. The area's tourist potential has been little exploited. The post-Boxer former French Legation post office is the foyer of the Dongjiaominxiang Hotel. The site of the former U.S. Legation has been renovated for up-market restaurants, bars and event venues. See more »
Despite many weeks of campaigning in the Chinese countryside, all units in the relief force arrive in spotless uniforms. 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 »
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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