55 Days at Peking (1963)

55 Days at Peking (1963)

Director: Nicholas Ray
Starring: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven

A detachment of US Marines arrive in Peking as tensions between the Chinese government and the foreign powers are reaching their peak. The Empress Dowager gives her blessing to her advisor Prince Tuan to let loose the Boxer rebels to purge the capital of all foreigners. The besieged foreign legation compound must hold out against impossible odds until relief can arrive.

I find the age of colonialism to fascinating, quite possibly because we're still dealing with the repercussions. Anyway, I'm not planning to get into the politics of it. That's a discussion for another venue. We find ourselves in an interesting point in history with a declining China at the mercy of foreign powers and then we have the blowback in the form of the brutal Boxers. The politics kind of go out the window when the bullets start flying, but maybe that's just my conditioning at work.

If you've seen any of Charlton Heston's big movies, then you should know what to expect from him. He avails himself well as the heroic Major Matt Lewis. David Niven is also quite good as the British minister Sir Arthur Robertson. There's a good mix of action, drama, and even a little humor. It may rub the modern viewer the wrong way that the major Chinese characters (Cixi, Tuan, Ronglu) are all played by white actors, but they all deliver solid performances. The action set pieces are nice and big and the pacing works pretty well even though the film is nearly three hours long.

All in all, I'd say this is definitely worth seeing. If you like Charlton Heston, David Niven, or colonialism, you'll be glad you did.

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