I went down to the New Beverly to check out The Sand Pebbles, a 1966 film starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborogh, Candace Bergen, Richard Crenna, Mako, and featuring my pal James Hong.
The print was striped with 4 track magnetic sound, and it did sound great, a lot of dynamics, and an extended frequency range. The score sounded incredible, (Jerry Goldsmith) and there was a lot of music in this film. The print was pretty faded so it was kind of like watching a Black and White film with pink overtones, every once in a while a bit of color would appear but after a minute back to pinkville.
The Great James Hong as Shu
I had never seen the film before and this 3 hour and 15 minute version (complete with intermission) is longer than the regular release. A Road Show Print was usually longer or had mag tracks or maybe was struck from the original negative. These were screened at big venues, NYC, Chicago, LA. before the film went into wide release. Now I am not sure what scenes were included in this version that were left out of the regular release but I have a feeling that there was more engine room footage in this long version. Why? Because there is a 20 minute sequence of Steve McQueen lovingly working on the steam powered ship’s engine and it is great!
McQueen was a motor nut, racing cars, motorcycles and amassing a huge collection of both. I think he really identified with Jake Holman, the character he’s portraying. One of the best scenes in the movie is a tense sequence of repairing the massive engine, a tour de force of suspense. McQueen’s company, Solar Productions co-produced the film and I think he had a lot of say as to what went into the final product. It feels like a personal film for McQueen. Maybe the fascination with machines, with the mechanics of things says something about McQueen’s world view.
There is also a great battle scene as the ship (The San Pablo) runs a barricade in the Yangtze River. Great stuff.
I relly liked a scene in a chapel where Richard Attenborogh marries his Chinese girlfriend Maily while McQueen and Candace Bergen look on. Something about that scene, the way it’s staged, it just feels like a movie scene from another era, but in a good classical way.
Robert Wise does a great job directing this film. He directed classics in so many genres, a great filmmaker. William Reynolds, a super editor cut it. I met him once at Genghis Cohen, an L.A. Chinese restaurant, having lunch with his crew. A good friend of mine, another great editor Bud Smith, worked with McQueen on the television show Wanted:Dead or Alive. He and McQueen bonded, both were avid motorcyclists and car racers. They spent time riding in the SoCal desert. And if you ever find yourself at Casa Bianca, waiting for a tomato pie, look on the wall. There amidst the many celebrity 8X10’s is a picture of Steve McQueen from Wanted:Dead or Alive. I guess he was a fan of their pizza too.