The Sand Pebbles (1966)

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.

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7 thoughts on “The Sand Pebbles (1966)

  1. I should feel strongly enough about it to defend those of us who prefer a nice dry Australian shiraz, but no matter (also I bet you like your whiskey straight or with a splash of soda) – but, I digress -you ARE correct about The Sand Pebbles and Steve McQueen, a fine actor who died too young and the only actor meant for the role of Jake Holman.

  2. Excellent movie!!! Not as well known as; The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, and The Sound of Music, however it should be. The fact that you recognize and appreciate it’s value only increases my respect for you as a true movie “connoisseur.” Excellent selection sir.

  3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the second worst? Wow, just wow. I mean i know the internet has a lot of hate and it influences a lot of people’s opinion but Star Trek: The Motion Picture is probably the truest to the original TV series Star Trek. It’s thoughtful, slow-paced, and smart. The action isn’t in the fights but the characters. It’s what Star Trek should be (revamped 2010 version not withstanding). The Star Treks that turn themselves into action movies are the worst and totally miss nuance and detail. Sure Star Trek: The Motion Picture can be perceived as “boring” (even the title lulls you to sleep) but I think it’s people wanting something from Star Trek that it simply isn’t. It makes me think of “Master and Commander”. I know a lot of people thought it was boring because they were expecting great sea battles (there were but few) which you can partially blame on misleading marketing but they totally miss out on a great thoughtful, strategic Peter Weir film. Films are best when you have no expectations, they are worst when you have the wrong expectations.

    Plus second worst? I guess the TNG ones aren’t being included at all. I’m sure they make up the top 5 on their own.

    1. Your comment has inspired the poet in me:

      Roses are Red,
      Violets are Blue,
      Star Trek: The Final Frontier is the #1 worst Star Trek movie ever made,
      Star Trek: The Motion Picture is #2.

      Thank you very much.

  4. “Men stem wow” was a common phrase in my household way back when. This is probably the first movie I ever LOVED. History and entertainment, who could ask for more?

  5. Sand Pebbles is a classic, and your review was awesome. McQueen is arguably 😉 the coolest dude to walk the earth and the story is so compelling. Great review as always.

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