55 Days At Peking

First Chinese Man:  What is

that terrible noise?

(Listening to the cacophony of national anthems played at the foreign legations.)

Second Chinese Man: 

Different nations

saying the same thing,

We want China.

Screenplay, 55 Days at Peking




Lately Youtube has been posting some great older movies with ads, and some not so old movies, usually not so great.  Growing up watching movies on TV with commercials, this is a way of viewing films that is second nature for me, and I appreciate this development.  One of the films is 55 Days in Peking (1963).  It allowed the gathering of a large international cast, something all the rage at the time, to tell the story of the besieged foreign legations in Peking by the Divine Fists, (Boxers) movement which sought to rid the dying Chinese Empire of “foreign devils” in 1899-1901.  One of the first examples of the Chinese proclivity to pick up as swift as summer lightning a western trend, in this case nationalism, give it a Chinese face lift, and then take it to extreme lengths.  We would see this again and again in subsequent Chinese history with Republicanism, Communism, Capitalism, etc.

The film itself was a box office bomb, who in 1963 remembered the Boxer Rebellion or cared about it?, and it was one of the epics with casts of thousands, that wreaked such havoc with Hollywood bottom lines at the time, and helped lead to the death of Old Hollywood.  I like it however, as it is filled with fine performances, most notably by David Niven, the British Ambassador, and Charlton Heston as a  US Marine Major.  Below is one of my favorite scenes:

The film was made on location in a suburb of Madrid, one of Franco’s successes in luring big movie productions to Spain.  Only 300 Chinese lived in Spain at the time, and to get the 1500 Chinese extras required by the film, Franco had to import them from the rest of Europe.

It is moving seeing all these nationalities working together to protect themselves in the film from the Boxers, and to realize that most of them in fourteen years will be involved in the elaborate suicide by Europe that goes by the name of World War I.

A sign of the passage of time is that the film is now 57 years in the past, almost as far in time from us, as the film was from the Boxer Rebellion which it depicted.

Published in: on December 16, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on 55 Days At Peking  
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