Most of you have never heard of movie The Sand Pebbles. Those of you who have are feeling proud of yourselves. And don’t start thinking you’re old; it’s not that you’re old, you are merely more experienced, more rounded out. I would use the “as wine betters with age” comparison here, but a wine connoisseur, I am not.
However, my favorite wines come from the Duplin Wineries in North Carolina. The wines they produce actually taste like grapes! Most wines that people tend to like are dry. Basically, they are whiskey in different shades of colors. I don’t understand it. What’s the point of a wine, if you can’t tell it tastes like a grape! Why dilute and mask that wonderful flavor? Would you change Cap’n Crunch cereal to taste like Wheaties? What’s wrong with people?
But I digress.
The Sand Pebbles takes place in 1926 China. Steve McQueen is Chief Engineer Jake Holman aboard the navy ship San Pablo. China is in a state of revolution, and the ship and crew are increasingly seen as symbols of American imperialism. Amidst this turmoil, all Holman wants to do is his job where he feels most at home: working on the ship’s engines.
Sounds boring doesn’t it?
It could have been, but, director Robert Wise knows how to make a movie. He also directed The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), West Side Story (1961), and The Sound of Music (1965). Unfortunately, he also directed Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), the second-worst of all the Star Trek movies (it is here that most writers would say: “arguably the second-worst.” What they really mean is: “This is a bold statement, and I’m afraid to not add the caveat ‘arguably’. I am scared.”).
But The Sand Pebbles is a drama of the highest caliber. McQueen’s performance is heartbreaking as a loner who doesn’t fit in with the world around him. Against his instincts, he is touched by others lives, and starts to see, too late, that the human machine is much more important than the mechanical.