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Another of my all time favorite movies and compliments of the Russians complete and on line. Gunboat diplomacy at its best in a crucial time and place. ENJOY Steve McQueen at his best.


The Sand Pebbles is a 1966 American period war film directed by Robert Wise. It tells the story of an independent, rebellious U.S. Navy Machinist's Mate, First Class aboard the fictional gunboat USS San Pablo in 1920s China.

The Sand Pebbles features Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna, Candice Bergen, Mako, Simon Oakland, Larry Gates, and Marayat Andriane (later known as a writer of erotic fiction under the nom de plume Emmanuelle Arsan). Robert Anderson adapted the screenplay from the 1962 novel of the same name by Richard McKenna.

In 1926, Machinist's Mate 1st Class Jake Holman (Steve McQueen) transfers from the Asiatic Fleet flagship to the Yangtze River Patrol gunboat USS San Pablo. (The ship is nicknamed the "Sand Pebble" and its sailors refer to themselves as "Sand Pebbles.") It has a labor system—condoned by the officers wherein coolies (Chinese manual laborers) do the work, leaving the sailors free for combat drills and idle bickering.

Because he personally enjoys taking care of ships' engines, Holman bucks the "coolie" system, overseeing the operation of the power plant himself - antagonizing not only the chief engine room coolie, Chien, but his shipmates as well. Although he becomes close friends with one seasoned, sensitive seaman, Frenchy (Richard Attenborough), most of the other crew members see Holman's attitude as a threat to their cushy arrangement.

Holman discovers a serious defect that the superstitious coolies have not fixed. Holman informs the gunboat's captain, Lieutenant Collins (Richard Crenna), who declines to repair it. Only after the Executive Officer declares an emergency does Collins acquiesce. The chief engine room coolie, Chien, insists on taking Holman's place and is accidentally killed. The chief coolie, Lop-eye Shing, blames Holman.

Holman asks Collins to allow him to run the engine room properly, but is ordered to train a replacement coolie. Holman selects Po-Han (Mako) and trains him. In time, the two become friends.

Po-Han is harassed by a sailor named Stawski (Simon Oakland), leading to a boxing match on which the crewmen place bets. Po-Han's victory leads to more friction between Holman and crew members, as well as the chief coolie, who wants to kick Po-Han off the ship, but is foiled by Holman.

An incident involving British gunboats (off screen) leads to Collins ordering the crew not to fire on, or return fire from the Chinese, to avoid diplomatic incidents as well as to prevent xenophobic propaganda from being utilized against the San Pablo and her crew, especially by the Communists. Po-Han is sent ashore by the chief coolie and is captured. He is tortured by a mob of Chinese in full view of the crew. Collins attempts to buy Po-Han's release, but without success. Po-Han begs for someone to kill him. Holman disobeys orders and ends Po-Han's suffering with a fatal rifle shot.

The San Pablo is stuck in port at Changsha for the winter due to low water levels. It must deal with increasingly hostile crowds surrounding it in numerous smaller boats. Lt. Collins fears a possible mutiny.

Frenchy has saved an educated Chinese woman, Maily (Emmanuelle Arsan), from prostitution by paying her debts. He marries her and regularly swims to shore to visit her, but dies of pneumonia one night. Holman finds Maily sitting by Frenchy's corpse. Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) militia burst in, beat Holman, and drag Maily away.

The next day, several Chinese demand Holman be turned over to them as the "murderer" of Maily. Holman informs Collins what really happened. When the Chinese demand is rejected, they blockade the San Pablo. The American crew fears for their safety and demand that Holman surrender to the Chinese. Order is not restored until Collins fires a Lewis Gun across the bow of one of the Chinese sampans.

With spring at hand, Lt. Collins decides to try leaving. The San Pablo sails away, but receives radioed orders to return to the coast. Collins decides to evacuate idealistic, anti-imperialist missionary Jameson (Larry Gates) and his school teacher assistant, Shirley Eckert (Candice Bergen), from their remote mission up the Yangtze River.

To reach the missionaries, the San Pablo must fight past a boom made up of junks carrying a massive rope blocking the river. A boarding party is sent to cut the rope. Fighting breaks out. Holman cuts it with an axe while under fire. He kills a Chinese attacker before returning to the San Pablo. The ship then proceeds upriver, leaving smoking wrecks behind.

Collins leads a patrol of three sailors, including Holman, ashore. Jameson resists being rescue. Jameson shows Collins a document claiming that he and Eckert have renounced their U.S. citizenship and are therefore not under Collins's authority or American jurisdiction. Collins orders Holman to forcibly remove Eckert and Jameson, but Holman refuses to obey and announces he is going to stay with them.

The argument is interrupted by Nationalist soldiers who attack the mission. They kill Jameson. Collins takes a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), orders the patrol to return to the ship with Eckert, and remains behind to provide covering fire. Collins is killed, leaving Holman in command. Holman returns and recovers the rifle. He takes Collins' place to cover the escape. In the ensuing shootout, Holman kills several soldiers before he himself is fatally shot just as he starts to leave himself.

Eckert and the two remaining sailors reach the ship, and the San Pablo sails away.

Posted by George Freund on January 3, 2014 at 3:38 PM 4168 Views