Fifty-Five Days at Peking (aka 55 Days at Peking): Nicholas Ray’s Historical Epic

Samuel Bronston produced this historical epic blockbuster, shot in Super Technirama 70.

Nominally directed by Nicholas Ray (who makes a brief appearance as the U.S. ambassador), Ray was fired and replaced by Andrew Marton.

Well cast, Charlton Heston stars as Maj. Matt Lewis, the leader of an army of multinational soldiers who head to Peking during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

As the saga, intelligently co-written by Philip Yordan and Bernard Gordon unfolds, the foreign embassies in Peking are being held in terror as the Boxers set about massacring Christians in an anti-Christian nationalistic fever.

Inside the besieged compound, the finicky British ambassador (David Niven) gathers the beleaguered ambassadors into a defensive formation. Included in the group is a sultry Russian Baroness (Ava Gardner, at her most beautiful) who is attracted to Lewis upon his arrival at the embassy with his soldiers.

As Lewis and the group conserve food and water and try to save some hungry children, they await the arrival of expected reinforcements, but the tricky Chinese Empress Tzu Hsi (Flora Robson) is plotting with the Boxers to break the siege at the compound with the aid of Chinese recruits.

Oscar Context

Dimitri Tiomkin was nominated for the Best Score, but the winner was John Addison for “Tom Jones,” a movie that swept most of the Oscars in 1963.

Credits

Running time: 150 Minutes.
Directed By: Nicholas Ray
Written By: Philip Yordan and Bernard Gordon