Film Review: Conan The Destroyer (dir by Richard Fleischer)


As you can probably tell just from looking at everything that’s been posted on the site today, I love the Oscars. That said, I realize that the Oscars aren’t for everyone. Some people find Oscar-nominated movies to be boring. Some people find the ceremony to be unbearably pompous. Every year, there’s the lament of “The truly entertaining films always get snubbed!”

Well, fear not! If you’re not into the Oscars, there are alternatives! For instance, you can go over to Prime right now and rent the 1984 film, Conan the Destroyer!

Conan The Destroyer is the sequel to the original Conan the Barbarian, with Arnold Schwarzenegger returning as Conan and Mako returning as the sorcerer who narrates the events of Conan’s life. This film is a continuation of the adventures of the barbarian who would become king, a trip to a world much different from our own, and a study of savagery vs civilization. Of course, to most viewers, Conan The Destroyer is just the film where a weird lizard monster picks up Arnold Schwarzenegger by his feet and spins him around in circles. Have you seen that meme where it’s made to appear as if Kate Winslet is spinning around a helpless Schwarzenegger? Along with Titanic, this is the film that you have to thank for it.

Conan The Destroyer picks up from where Conan the Barbarian ended. Conan is still wandering around the desert, working as a thief and a mercenary. He’s still praying to Crom and missing Valeria. He’s picked up a companion, a cowardly thief named Malak (Tracey Walter). When Conan and Malk are captured by Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas), Taramis offers to bring Valeria back to life if Conan will escort the Queen’s niece, Jehna (Olivia D’Abo), to a temple so that she can retrieve a gem that will be used to …. you know what? I’m just going to be honest here. I have absolutely no idea what the quest is about. It’s just one of those things where Conan and his crew have to break into a castle or a temple and steal something so that a god can either be awakened or defeated. The film, to be honest, is a bit vague about how it all works but then again, the mission is less important than the journey.

It turns out that, with the exception of her insanely tall bodyguard Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain), Jehna has never seen an actual man before and, needless to say, she is quickly fascinated by Conan. (She asks Bombaata if Conan is as handsome as he appears to be, Bombaata reluctantly agrees that he is.) However, Conan only cares for the deceased Valeria. As he leads Jehna, Malak, and Bombaata to the castle where they’ll find the gem, he picks up some other traveling companions. The wizard Akiro (Mako) joins them as does the fierce warrior Zula (Grace Jones). Of course, it turns out that Taramis has an agenda of her own and it all ends in a lot of shouting, swordplay, and muscle flexing.

If Conan the Barbarian was distinguished by the grim and girtty approach that it took to material that others would have played for camp, Conan the Destroyer takes the opposite approach. Of course, a lot of that is because director/screenwriter John Milius did not return to oversee Conan the Destroyer. Instead, Conan the Destroyer was directed by Richard Fleischer, who was one of those veteran directors who made a countless number of films in all sorts of genres but who never really developed a signature style of his own. Fleischer takes a semi-comedic approach to Conan and his quest. As opposed to the brutal warrior and conqueror who appeared in Milius’s film, the Conan in this film is a well-meaning rogue who punches out a camel and who also gets tongue-tied whenever he has too much to drink or when Jehna flirts with him. There’s little of the first film’s violence in this sequel and none of the emotional stakes.

That said, Conan the Destroyer is definitely entertaining. It’s just such a silly movie that you can’t help but enjoy it. Schwarzenegger, apparently understanding that the film is never going to make any sense, cheerfully goes through the motions and he actually does a pretty good job with some of his more comedic lines. The allies and the villains who he collects through the film are all memorably flamboyant. Sarah Douglas is especially entertaining as the over-the-top villainous. If you’re going to be evil in a film like this, you might as well go all out.

Conan The Destroyer was not nominated for an Oscars but it’s still a fun movie.

Film Review: Robocop 3 (dir by Fred Dekker)


“Oh wow, Robocop can fly!”

An odd film, Robocop 3. Released in 1993, this was the third and final film in the original Robocop franchise. While the action is still set in Detroit and Robocop is back (albeit now played by Robert John Burke) and Nancy Allen shows up long enough to get killed off, Robocop 3 feels strangely separate from the previous two Robocop films. If the first two Robocop films were dark, satirical, and over-the-top in their violence, the third film is a family friendly adventure film that reimagines Robocop as being some sort of fair housing activist.

And, on top of all that, Robocop can fly now. Admittedly, that’s because Robocop gets fitted for a jetpack that he didn’t have in the previous films but he still looks incredibly ludicrous flying through the streets of Detroit. Since the Robocop armor has always looked very bulky and very heavy, it’s hard to believe that he could fly as quickly and as smoothly as he does in this film.

There’s a new set of villains too. Rip Torn has replaced Dan O’Herilhy as the CEO. And listen, I like Rip Torn. He will always be a hero to me because he bit Norman Mailer’s ear off. But Torn is far too obviously evil in the role of the CEO. O’Herlihy smartly played the Old Man as being avuncular and amoral. You could look at him and understand how he rose to his position of prominence. Torn’s performance is a bit more cartoonish but then again, Robocop 3 is the most cartoonish of the series.

The CEO wants to tear down Old Detroit so the residents of Old Detroit are fighting back. Leading the CEO’s forces — called the Rehabbers — is Paul McDagget (John Castle), who is a complete and total madman but who, at the same time, is never quite as memorable as Kurtwood Smith or Tom Noonan. He’s really just another generic militaristic bad guy. Normally, you would expect Robocop to be on the side of the company and the police but he’s been reprogrammed by an 8 year-old hacker named Nikko (Remy Ryan). Robocop is now working with the rebels. One of the rebels is played by Stephen Root, proving once again that you never know where Stephen Root might pop up.

Robocop 3 has none of the satiric bite of the first two movies. Instead of being a symbol of authoritarianism gone beserk, Robocop becomes a generic do-gooder. The violence is toned down and, with the addition of a kid sidekick, it’s obvious that this Robocop was meant to be a safer version of the character. Unfortunately, a safe Robocop equals a boring Robocop. You watch this movie and you wonder what happened to the Robocop who shot Ronny Cox out of a window.

“My friend’s call me Murphy,” he says towards the end of the film, “You can call me Robocop.” That seemed to indicate that Robocop had quite a future ahead of him of doing the right thing and standing up to big evil corporations but Robocop 3 was such a bomb at the box office that Robocop’s further adventures would only be seen on TV. The franchise was rebooted back in 2014, in a film that my friend Mark called “Rubber Cop.” After Rubber Cop fell flat, it was announced that Robocop would be rebooted for a second time, this time with a movie that would serve as a direct sequel to the first Robocop and which would ignore the sequels and the first reboot. Personally, I think it might be time to let Robocop retire. He had a good run.

Film Review: Testament (dir by Lynne Littman)


The 1983 film, Testament, is about death.  It’s about the death of a family, the death of a town, the death of a way of life, and the death of hope.

And you may be saying, “Well, gee, Lisa — that sounds like a really happy movie.”

Well, it’s not meant to be a happy movie.  Testament is a painfully grim movie about the end of the world.

The movie takes place in the town of Hamelin, California, which we’re told is 90 minutes away from San Francisco.  It’s a nice town, the type of place where everyone knows each other.  Mike (Mako) runs the local gas station and cares for his disabled son, Hiroshi (Gerry Murillo).  Elderly Henry Abhart (Leon Ames) spends his time on his radio, talking to strangers across the world.  Fania (Lilia Skala) offers up piano lessons.  Father Hollis (Philip Anglim) looks over the spiritual needs of the parish.  It’s a normal town.

The town is home to the Weatherlys.  Carol (Jane Alexander) is a stay-at-home mom who does volunteer work and who is directing the school play.  Tom (William Devane) is a common sight riding his bicycle through town every morning before heading off to work in San Francisco.  They have three children.  Mary Liz (Roxanna Zal) is a teenager who is taking piano lessons.  Brad (Ross Harris) is always trying to impress his father and is looking forward to his 14th birthday.  Scottie (Lukas Haas, in his first film) is the youngest and never goes anywhere without his teddy bear. They’re a normal family living a normal life in a normal town.

And then, one day, everything changes.  Scottie is watching Sesame Street when the program is suddenly interrupted by a clearly terrified anchorman who announces that New York has been bombed.  The president is about to speak but, before he can, there’s a bright flash of light, an distant explosion, and the entire town loses power.

At first, the people of Hamelin try to remain hopeful.  Though Tom works in San Francisco and San Francisco is among the many cities that have apparently been bombed (by who, we never learn), he also left a message on the family’s answer machine, telling them that he was on his way home.  Even with Tom missing, Carol continues to insist the he’ll be coming home at any minute.

Tom doesn’t come home.

The rest of the film follows the slow death of the town.  Even though the town was not damaged by the blast, the fallout soon hits.  Cathy (Rebecca De Mornay) and Phil (Kevin Costner) bury their newborn baby after it falls ill from radiation poisoning.  Mike, Henry, and Fania all start to grow physically ill and, in some cases, dementia sets in.  Father Hollis goes from being hopeful to being tired and withdrawn as he tries to attend to each and every death.  Larry (Mico Olmos), a young boy whose parents have disappeared, briefly moves in with the Wetherly family.  He disappears about halfway through the movie and we never learn if he left or if he died.  All we know is that no one mentions him or seems to notice that he’s gone.

Over the course of the film, Carol buries two of her children.  By the end of the film, her remaining child is starting to show signs of being sick, as is she.  Testament, which opened with bright scenes of a happy town, ends in darkness, with only a handful of people left among the living.  Even those who are alive are clearly dying and can only speak of the importance of remembering all of it, what they had and what they lost.

Sounds like a really happy film, right?  Well, it’s meant to be depressing.  It was made at a time when nuclear war was viewed as being not just probable but also inevitable.  Testament is a film that portrayed what a lot of people at the time were expecting to see in the future and, as a result, it’s not meant to be a particularly hopeful movie.  It’s a film that accomplishes what it set out to do, thanks to a great (and Oscar-nominated) performance from Jane Alexander and Lynne Littman’s low-key direction.  Unlike a lot of atomic war films, Testament does not feature any scenes of burning buildings or excessive gore.  That actually what makes it even more disturbing.  Even after the war, Hamelin still looks like it did beforehand, with the exception that many of the houses are now empty and that all of the residents are slowly dying.

(Would I have reacted as strongly to the film if I hadn’t watched it at a time when many people are afraid to go outside?  Perhaps not.  But this pandemic has brought extra power to a lot of films that may not have had as much of an impact in 2018.)

Testament is a powerful film, though not necessarily one that I ever want to watch again.

Cinemax Friday: Sworn to Justice (1997, directed by Paul Maslak)


Janna (Cynthia Rothrock) is a psychologist who is also a martial arts expert.  One night, she comes home to discover that her sister and her nephew have been murdered and that the killers are still in the house!  Though Janna manages to fight off the attackers, she also gets a nasty bump to the head.  Weeks later, after she’s gotten out of the hospital and she’s ready to get back to work, she discovers that she now has ESP!

All Janna has to do is touch someone or hold something in her hand and she has visions of the past and sometimes the present.  (She has those special ESP powers that do whatever needs to be done at the moment.)  When she finds her sister’s brooch, she flashes back to the night of the attack and sees the faces of the men who attacked her sister.  Using her newfound power, Janna sets out to get revenge.

But even as she tracks down the thugs who killed her sister, Janna still does not know the identity of the person who ordered the hit.  She just knows that he’s known as “The Man.”  Could he have something to do with the arrogant cop killer (Brad Dourif!) for whom Janna is serving as an expert defense witness?  Or could The Man by the publisher (Kurt McKinny) with whom Janna is having a steamy affair?  (This was a late night Cinemax film, after all.)  Or could it be the detective (Tony Lo Bianco) who is supposed to be investigating her sister’s death?

As far as Cynthia Rothrock martial arts films are concerned, Sworn to Justice is pretty good.  Rothrock was not only a force to be reckoned with in fight scenes but, as this film shows, she was a likable actress, too.  For the most part, she’s able to hold her own even when acting opposite seasoned scene stealers like Brad Dourif, Tony Lo Bianco, Mako, and even Walter Koenig, who plays Janna’s mentor with an outrageous German accent.  While the film’s fight scenes are just as good as you would expect from a Cynthia Rothrock fick, the ESP twist adds just the right amount of weirdness to keep Sworn to Justice from coming across as just another low-budget martial arts film.  The film doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Even while she’s getting revenge for their deaths, Janna never seems to be that broken up over the deaths of her sister and her nephew.  At worse, she’s seems to be annoyed by the inconvenience of it all.  It’s just something else that she has to find the time to deal with.

There are a few scenes that are so darkly lit that it’s almost impossible to see what’s happening but then there are other scenes, like the one where Janna shows off her favorite martial arts moves to her new boyfriend, that work surprisingly well.  This is a 90s production all the way, which means a saxophone-scored sex scenes and synthesizer-scored action scenes.  Sworn to Justice is a good Cynthia Rothrock film, even if most audiences will end up figuring out the identity of The Man long before she does.

 

A Movie A Day #250: Taking Care of Business (1990, directed by Arthur Hiller)


Jimmy Dworski (Jim Belushi) is a convicted car thief who only has a few days left in his criminal sentence but still decides to break out of prison so he can go see the Cubs play in the World Series.  Spencer Barnes (Charles Grodin) is an uptight ad executive who needs to learn how to relax and have a good time.  When Spencer loses his organizer, Jimmy finds it.  Before you can say “The prince and the pauper,” Jimmy has access to all of Spencer’s money and the mansion that Spencer is supposed to be staying at over the weekend.  While Spencer tries to survive on the streets and track down his organizer, Jimmy is living it up, spending money, impressing a Japanese businessman (Mako), romancing the boss’s daughter, and taking care of business.

Made in the uncertain period between the end of the culture of 80s materialism and the start of the 90s indie boom, Taking Care of Business is a rip-off of Trading Places that came out six years too late to be effective.  Everything that needs to be known about Jimmy and Spencer is apparentl from the minute that Charles Grodin’s and Jim Belushi’s names appear in the credits.  Grodin was usually the best when it came to playing uptight yuppies but he seems bored in Taking Care of Business.  Belushi mugs through his role, overplaying his character’s blue collar roots.  The movie builds up to a huge confrontation between Belushi and Grodin but it never really delivers, instead devolving into a predictable buddy comedy, complete with a trip to Wrigley Field and an elaborate plan to sneak Belushi back into prison before the warden (Hector Elizondo) discovers that he’s been gone for the weekend.  Taking Care of Business has a few laughs but it’s never as good as the BTO song.

A Movie A Day #157: Pacific Heights (1990, directed by John Schlesinger)


Michael Keaton is the tenant from Hell in Pacific Heights.

In San Francisco, Patty (Melanie Griffith) and Drake (Matthew Modine) have just bought an old and expensive house that they can not really afford.  In order to keep from going broke, they rent out two downstairs apartments.  One apartment is rented by a nice Japanese couple.  The other apartment is rented by Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton).  Carter convinces Patty and Drake not to check his credit by promising to pay the 6 months rent up front.  The money, he tells them, is coming via wire transfer.

The money never arrives but Carter does.  Once he moves into the apartment, Carter changes the locks so that no one but him can get in.  At all hours of the day and night, he can be heard hammering and drilling inside the apartment.  Even worse, he releases cockroaches throughout the building.  When Drake demands that Carter leave, the police back up Carter.  After goading Drake into attacking him, Carter gets a restraining order.  Drake is kicked out of his home, leaving Patty alone with their dangerous tenant.

Pacific Heights is the ultimate upper middle class nightmare: Buy a house that you can not really afford and then end up with a tenant who trashes the place to such an extent that the property value goes down.  As a thriller, Pacific Heights would be better if Drake and Patty weren’t so unlikable.  (When this movie was first made, people like Patty and Drake were known as yuppies.)  Much like Drake’s house, the entire movie is stolen by Michael Keaton’s performance as Carter Hayes.  Carter was not an easy role to play because not only did he have to be so convincingly charming that it was believable that he could rent an apartment just by promising a wire payment but he also had to be so crazy that no one would doubt that he would deliberately infest a house with cockroaches.  Michael Keaton has not played many bad guys in his career but his performance as Carter Hayes knocked it out of the park.

One final note: Keep an eye out for former Hitchcock muse (and Melanie Griffith’s mother) Tippi Hedren, playing another one of Carter’s potential victims.  Her cameo here is better than her cameo in In The Cold of the Night.

 

A Movie A Day #37: The Challenge (1970, directed by Alan Smithee)


A U.S. spy satellite has crashed onto an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean.  Both the United States and an unnamed communist country (described as being “a fifth-rate China,” but obviously meant as a stand-in for not only China but North Korea and North Vietnam as well) have both lay claim to the satellite.  To prevent a possible war, the two countries agree to a compromise.  One American and one communist will be dropped off on the island and will fight to the death.  The survivor gets the satellite.  The communists send the disciplined Yuro (Mako).  The American select Jacob Galley (Darren McGavin), a grizzled Vietnam veteran-turned-mercenary.  Jacob is armed with the latest advancements in weaponry, including a double-barreled sub-machine gun.  Yuro is armed mostly with his wits and an endless supply of booby traps.  Jacob and Yuro fight to a stand still, growing to respect each other even as each tries to kill the other.  However, both countries are willing to cheat to win the challenge.

Originally made for television, this is one of the many films to have been credited to Alan Smithee, the pseudonym that directors used to use whenever they felt that the finished film, usually because of studio interference, did not properly represent their vision.  According to the imdb, The Challenge was actually directed by veteran television directed George McGowan, whose other credits includes episodes of shows like Fantasy Island, Starsky and Hutch, and Charlie’s Angels.  I am surprised that McGowan chose to take his name off of The Challenge because, for a television movie, it’s not bad.  The Vietnam analogy is laid on a little thick but the action is exciting and both McGavin and Mako give excellent performances as the two very different combatants.

The Challenge can be viewed on YouTube.  Keep an eye out for a very young Sam Elliott, in the role of America’s insurance policy.

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Everybody Goes Home!: P.O.W. The Escape (1986, directed by Gideon Amir)


Pow_the_escape_posterP.O.W. films were all the rage in the 1980s.  For a country just starting to get back its confidence, refighting the Vietnam War onscreen was a way to deal with the lingering trauma of that conflict.  In Rambo: First Blood Part II, Sylvester Stallone asked, “Do we get to win this time?” and for a while, the answer was yes.  By sending action stars like Stallone and Chuck Norris to rescue American soldiers still being held captive in Asia, we would win this time (if only in our dreams).

P.O.W.: The Escape (also known as Behind Enemy Lines and Attack Force ‘Nam) is one of the many P.O.W. films that was produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus during their legendary time at Cannon Films.  In place of their usual star, Chuck Norris, P.O.W.: The Escape stars David Carradine as Col. James Cooper.  Cooper is a U.S. Airborne commando who, in 1973, is sent to North Vietnam on a special missions to rescue the soldiers behind held in a POW camp.

Why has Cooper been selected for this mission?

As one officer puts it, “Aside from being the best, he’s got one rule and it’s never been broken.  Everybody goes home!”

When the rescue mission goes awry, Cooper is himself captured and sent to the POW camp.  He gets his fellow prisoners back into fighting shape and, when the cowardly Sparks (Charles R. Floyd) challenges his leadership, Cooper reminds him of who the senior officer in charge is.  When the camp commandant, Vinh (Mako), offers to help Cooper escape in return for Cooper helping Vinh reach the United States, Cooper simply responds with his name, rank, and serial number.  When Vinh threatens to kill the prisoners unless Cooper helps him, Cooper agrees on one condition: “Everybody goes home!”

When Sgt. Johnston (played by perennial action sidekick, Steve James) learns of the plan, he argues that “Everybody goes home is a slogan, not a religion!”

“Speak for yourself,” Cooper replies.

Even, if like Sparks, they betray you and run off with a cache of gold, the religion of Everybody Goes Home means that no one gets left behind.  Even if it means having to trek through the jungle and going over a waterfall in a canoe, everybody goes home.  That is something that Sparks only comes to realize as he watches a prostitute undress and starts to have flashbacks to earlier scenes in the movie.  Suddenly, Sparks understands that everybody goes home and it gives him an opportunity for some last minute redemption.

Even though it is not as well-known as Missing in Action or First Blood Part II, POW: The Escape is enjoyably mindless entertainment in the legendary Cannon style.  As the world’s least likely paratrooper, David Carradine gets to show off some sweet kung fu moves.  By the end of the movie, Carradine is literally wearing an American flag.  Nothing about POW: The Escape is subtle but what’s important is that “Everybody goes home!”

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #100: Pearl Harbor (dir by Michael Bay)


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“And then all this happened…”

Nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) in Pearl Harbor (2001)

The “this” that Evelyn Johnson is referring to is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  You know, the date will live in infamy.  The attack that caused the United States to enter World War II and, as a result, eventually led to collapse of the Axis Powers.  The attack that left over 2,000 men died and 1,178 wounded.  That attack.

In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, that attack is just one of the many complications in the romance between Danny (Ben Affleck), his best friend Rafe (Josh Hartnett), and Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale).  The other complications include Danny briefly being listed as dead, Danny being dyslexic before anyone knew what dyslexia was (and yet, later, he’s still seen reading and writing letters with absolutely no trouble, almost as if the filmmakers forgot they had made such a big deal about him not being able to do so), and the fact that Rafe really, really likes Evelyn.  Of course, the main complication to their romance is that this is a Michael Bay film and he won’t stop moving the camera long enough for anyone to have a genuine emotion.

I imagine that Pearl Harbor was an attempt to duplicate the success of Titanic, by setting an extremely predictable love story against the backdrop of a real-life historical tragedy.  Say what you will about Titanic (and there are certain lines in that film that, when I rehear them today, make me cringe), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had genuine chemistry.  None of that chemistry is present in Pearl Harbor.  You don’t believe, for a second, that Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are lifelong friends.  You don’t believe that Kate Beckinsale is torn between the two of them.  Instead, you just feel like you’re watching three actors who are struggling to give a performance when they’re being directed by a director who is more interested in blowing people up than in getting to know them.

Continuing the Titanic comparison, Pearl Harbor‘s script absolutely sucks.  Along with that line about “all this” happening, there’s also a scene where Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jon Voight) reacts to his cabinet’s skepticism by rising to his feet and announcing that if he, a man famously crippled by polio and confined to a wheelchair, can stand up, then America can win a war.

I’ve actually been to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  I have gone to the USS Arizona Memorial.  I have stood and stared down at the remains of the ship resting below the surface of the ocean.  It’s an awe-inspiring and humbling site, one that leaves you very aware that over a thousand men lost their lives when the Arizona sank.

I have also seen the wall which lists the name of everyone who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor and until you’ve actually been there and you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you really can’t understand just how overwhelming it all is.  The picture below was taken by my sister, Erin.

Pearl Harbor 2003If you want to pay tribute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor, going to the Arizona Memorial is a good start.  But avoid Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor at all costs.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: The Sand Pebbles (dir by Robert Wise)


The_Sand_Pebbles_film_posterAfter watching Witness For The Prosecution, I continued TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar by watching the 1966 Best Picture nominee, The Sand Pebbles.

Considering that The Sand Pebbles is close to four hours long, it’s interesting how little there is to really say about it.  Taking place in 1926, The Sand Pebbles follows the crew of the USS San Pablo, a gunboat that patrols the Yangtze River in China.  The San Pablo is there to protect American business interests, which are in particular danger because China is caught up in a communist revolution.  For the most part, the crew of the San Pablo are portrayed as being lazy and racist.  They have little interest in understanding the culture of the people around them and they use Chinese laborer to do the work on the boat.

When Jake Holman (Steve McQueen) is transferred to the San Pablo, he upsets his fellow crewmen by insisting on working in the ship’s engine room himself, the fear being that if Holman is willing to work then the rest of them will be expected to work as well.  The ship’s commander, Lt. Collins (Richard Crenna), views Holman as being a threat to morale and starts to make plans to get Holman off of his boat.  But, first, the boat is going to have to get out of China…

The Sand Pebbles is an episodic film and some of those episodes are more interesting than others.  Typically, an episode will start out positively and then end with some sudden tragedy.  For instance, Holman trains one laborer (Mako) to be a boxer and then watches as he beats the most racist crewman on the ship.  However, just a few minutes later, the laborer is captured and savagely tortured by the communists and Holman is forced to perform a mercy killing.

In another subplot, Holman’s only friend, Frenchy (Richard Attenborough), marries a local prostitute (Emmanuelle Arsan, who would later write an autobiography that would serve as the basis for a very different type of film).  However, in order to see his wife, Frenchy has to continually swim to shore in the middle of the night.  Frenchy soon develops pneumonia and dies while his wife is dragged off and apparently executed.

And finally, Holman strikes up a romance with Shirley Eckert (Candice Bergen), an innocent missionary.  However, when her arrogant and naive boss, Jameson (Larry Gates), refuses to leave the country despite the revolution, the San Pablo is ordered to rescue them.  This, of course, leads to a final battle with the communists which leaves a good deal of the cast dead.

As I watched The Sand Pebbles, my main impression was that it was an extremely long movie.  The film’s climatic battle was exciting and Steve McQueen (not to be confused with the director of 12 Years A Slave and Shame) gave a good performance but otherwise, the film often seemed to drag.  While the movie’s theme of Americans struggling (and failing) to understand another country’s culture had a definite resonance, The Sand Pebbles did not seem to be quite sure what it truly wanted to say about it.

Let’s face it — over 500 films have been nominated for best picture.  And, while a good deal of them hold up surprisingly well and are still entertaining to watch, there’s also a handful like The Sand Pebbles, ambitious films that never quite reached their potential but were probably nominated because they seemed like the type of epic film that should be nominated.  Many of these films were nominated and a few even won.

However, in the case of The Sand Pebbles, a nomination would have to be enough.  That year, the Oscar for Best Picture was won by A Man For All Seasons.