55 Days at Peking (1963)

Unrated   |    |  Action, Adventure, Drama

55 Days at Peking (1963) Poster

During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion against foreigners in China, U.S. Marine Major Matt Lewis, aided by British Consul Sir Arthur Robertson, devises a strategy to keep the rebels at bay until an international military relief force arrives.

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  • David Niven and Ava Gardner in 55 Days at Peking (1963)
  • 55 Days at Peking (1963)
  • 55 Days at Peking (1963)
  • Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner in 55 Days at Peking (1963)
  • 55 Days at Peking (1963)
  • Leo Genn and Robert Helpmann in 55 Days at Peking (1963)

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Reviews & Commentary

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User Reviews

25 March 2012 | Spikeopath
| For 55 days they played the same tune.
55 Days at Peking is directed by Nicholas Ray and Andrew Marton and collectively written by Philip Yordan, Bernard Gordon, Robert Hamer and Ben Barzman. It stars Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven and Flora Robson. Music is scored by Dimitri Tiomkin and cinematography is by Jack Hildyard.

1900, Peking, China. The Boxer Rebellion. 13 of 18 provinces are under foreign rule and the Chinese have had enough. With Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi secretly supporting the Boxer societies, the foreign powers come under attack and are forced to defend the legations' compound until reinforcements from the military arrive. The defence would last for 55 days.

Lavish, full of pictorial scope, often stirring, yet it's saggy in the middle, too long, killed Nicholas Ray's career (and nearly himself since he collapsed on set) and apparently offensive to some with its imperialistic trumpeting. It has been called the magnificent failure, and in truth that's about as apt a tag line as you could get. For production value it's up with the best of them as producer Samuel Bronston oversees the building of the wonderful Peking sets (Veniero Colasanti & John Moore) at his Madrid base, and it is a joy to behold. Tiomkin's score pings around the locale with aural pleasure and when the action does come it considerably raises the pulses.

Acting performances are mostly OK, especially when Niven and Heston share scenes as it's great to see a genuine screen presence playing off of classy elegance. Gardner, whilst not in any shape or form bad, gets one of those annoyingly dull romantic interest roles that a film of this type didn't need. It doesn't help that there is zero chemistry between Gardner and her "borderline" beau, Heston. It's no surprise to find that Heston thought Gardner was a pain during the shoot!

As for the troubling thematics? Where the Chinese are portrayed as Christian slaughtering savages and the foreign imperialists as noble defenders of the right to take over China? Well the picture does come off as trying to excuse foreign imperialism in China, but it helps to note that this is merely a movie about one event in that part of history. With that in mind, anyone viewing it expecting anything other than the 55 day siege told from the legation's viewpoint is always going to be in for a let down! And right from the off we are shown and told with a tint of sarcasm that all these "foreign" countries want a piece of China as they raise their flags and trundle out their national anthems.

The Peking Alamo? Well maybe? Best to go into it expecting your eyes and ears to be dazzled rather than your brain. 7/10

Critic Reviews

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Did You Know?


In his diaries, Charlton Heston remarks that the the set was so large, that he recommended to producer Samuel Bronston that he should let Orson Welles use it to film a spy thriller simultaneously. Apparently there were portions of the set were never used during filming.


German Ambassador: You have to admire Sir Arthur; he always manages to give the impression that God must be an Englishman.


The British legation has a substantial military band as seen at the beginning of the movie with the raising of the Union Flag and at the end. The duties of a military band assigned to an embassy was perform at embassy functions. Consequently the British Legation would not have used a Chinese orchestra to perform British/European music at the British Ball, especially music well within the capacity of any British service band.

Alternate Versions

To receive a 'U' certificate in the UK (making the film suitable for all ages) significant cuts were made by the BBFC. These included the scene of the priest being drowned by the water-wheel, a shortening of the screaming sounds made by the soldier before his leg amputation, and a removal of all references by Lewis to local women being made available for soldiers. To retain the same certificate all video releases also featured the same cut print. The 2014 DVD features the uncut version and is upgraded to a PG.


So Little Time
(The Peking Theme)
Recorded by
Andy Williams on CBS Records
Words by Paul Francis Webster
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin


Plot Summary


Action | Adventure | Drama | History | War

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