Classic Movie Reviews

The Sand Pebbles Review

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Movie Poster Autographed by the Cast

Signed by Steve Mcqueen + 2 others

1920s -- 1930s    

The Yangtze patrol force was organized in 1921 as a unit of the U. S. Asiatic Fleet. Its purpose was to protect U. S. interests, lives and property, and to maintain friendly relations with the Chinese people. In cooperation with the Royal Navy, the six U. S. gunboats operated along the 1,750 navigable miles of the river. As the main artery of China at the time, the Yangtze was the primary transport route for over 50% of the country's commerce. China at this time was mostly a semi-lawless land, beset by bandits, river pirates and various revolutionary paramilitary groups, as well as corrupt officials. With a home base at Hankow, 700 miles from the river mouth, the larger gunboats of deeper draft were limited to the lower half of the river, with the smaller, shallower-draft boats covering the upper reaches. A problem was that the smaller gunboats were only lightly armed and lacked enough engine power to move upriver when the Yangtze was at high water. Also, many of the gunboats were very old (some captured from the Spanish in the Philippines at the turn of the century) and had been poorly maintained, with no adequate shore facilities to support them. Nonetheless, duty on the gunboats was considered good duty by many sailors because much of the manual labor was done by Chinese hired hands and discipline was less rigorous than aboard a spit-and-polish fleet vessel.


"I wouldn't want to break anybody's rice bowl." 

     Considered by many to be Steve McQueen's best performance. He is a sailor who reports aboard a Yangtze River gunboat, USS San Pablo (the San Pablo sailors call themselves Sand Pebbles). He can't bring himself to accept the way the vessel is operated and soon finds himself in conflict with the commanding officer (Richard Crenna) and most of the crew. He becomes the spark for an explosion of hostility from the Chinese populace along the river. The story, set in 1926, is fiction but is based on actual historical realities. It was written by a Navy veteran of the "China Station" in the years between the world wars and offers a fascinating insight into the American imperialist period.
     Also featured are Candace Bergen and Richard Attenborough and a strong supporting cast. 


1966, Directed by Robert Wise

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