The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on May 12, 1963 · 398
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · 398

Los Angeles, California
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 12, 1963
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ELIZABETH SELLARS, DAVID NIVEN AND CHARITON HESTON AND AVA GARDNER IN SCENES FROM THE NEW SAMUEL BRONSTON FILM "55 DAYS AT PEKING" 'Peking' Bronston's Great Leap Forward? BY PHILIP K. SCHEUER 11 this keeps on, we'll obviously have to call him the new Cecil B. De" Mille. While re-writing history on the grand scale, Samuel Bronston Insists on the same attention to the small detail; he makes his easts as all-star as the market will allow, and his spectacles are filled with outsized heroics in a tradition as old as movies. The only difference is that Bronston doesn't do the actual writing or (as De Mille did) the actual directing, himself. These he leaves to his aides the screenplays to the incredibly and improbably prolific Philip Yordan, the direction to .Nicholas Ray or Anthony Mann, and the world's greatest second-unit director ("Een-Hur," "Cleopatra"), Andrew Marton. Bronston masterminds, produces and perhaps most remarkably if not most Importantly of all raises the money before a camera turns, lie is Hollywood's gift to Franco a fact which Franco probably appreciates mote than Hollywood does. Bronston missed with "John Paul Jones," nearly missed with "King of Kings," hit the jackpot with "El Cid." About to be released is "55 Days at Peking." Coming up (you toss them off casually) are "The Fall of the Roman Empire," "The French Revolution" and "Ferdinand and Isabella." 55 Days at Peking" Is a Chinese Alamo" filmed in Spain. Breathtaking as 'El Cid' For sheer color magnificence photographed by Jack Hildyard in Super Technirama-70 it is as breathtaking as "El Cid." Only this time, instead of medieval Spain, it is the China of 1900, complete with Forbidden City and surrounding legations. It should hold and fascinate spectators for its two-and-a-half hours of sheer, pell-mell moviemaking, even though its characters are stereotypes whose melodramatics are as dated as the period Itself. The most serious shortcoming in the sense of an opportunity lost dne-matically is its failure to communicate the over-all claustrophobic pressures endured by a few hundred men, women and children, the nationals of 11 "foreign" countries, hemmed in and besieged in a few acres of walled compound for the 55 days from June 20 to Aug. 14, 1900. Am I trying to say that they do not suffer enough? Something like that. For this is the story of the Boxer Rebellion, the historical uprising of fanatical Chinese against all foreigners in Peking. While it lasted, hundreds died on both sides; it is ended only when Allied forces march victoriously Into the city though it may be hard to believe they converged simultaneously from as many nations as are depicted in the film. Dramatic license! Of these parading bands "They're all playing different tunes," complains David "Niven, as Britain's envoy, to Charlton Heston, who has headed a detachment of Marines defending the American Embassy. "For 53 days," the weary major reminds him grimly, "we played the same tune." In the Forbidden Palace, the dowager empress, Tzu Hsi (Flora Robson), gazes about the now-deserted throne room and murmurs that she is the last of the Manchu rulers. Throughout the siege she has been caught between the pleaded policies of Gen. Jung-lu (Leo Genn) halt the Boxers before the foreigners send in their armies and of Prince Tuan (Robert Helpmahn) let the Imperial Chinese Armies Join the Boxers and wipe out all foreigners. The camera leaves her with her bitter tea. Heston, acting all over the place, is involved almost at once in an affair with the still handsome Ava Gardner, cast as a femme fatale, the Baroness Natalie Ivanoff. He escorts her to a Queen Victoria birthday ball tt the British Embassy which is the last word in opulence. The baroness, Incidentally, is being hounded by a vengeful brother-in-law, the Russian minister to Peking (Kurt Kasznar). Other non-Chinese figuring prominently in the action are John Ireland (sergeant) and Jerome Thor (captain) of U.S. Marines, Harry Andrews as a .feisty French priest, Paul Lukas as a physician, Ichizo Itami as a Japanese colonel and Elizabeth Sellars as the Wife of envoy Niven. There is also an appealing round-eyed child, Lynne Sue Moon, supposedly half-Oriental, who is, however, overplayed for pathos. Some Standout Performers Strongest performances are those of Niven, who, mistakenly or not, talks the representatives of the 10 other powers into standing pat when the empress gives them all 24 hours to get out; and Genn, Helpmann and Miss Robson of the Forbidden Palace. But it is Marton, presumably rather than Nicholas Ray whose direction crackles with excitement in the rain of knives, the defense of the wall With one old German cannon and a flaming ram, a hit-and-run foray by the Allies against the Forbidden City, the launching of rockets from a weird moving tower rigged by the Boxers. Much, too, is made of the panoply of flags and marching men of the various nations. Unfortunately, the story line isn't always easy to follow; the cutting is uneven and there are glaring gaps in the narration. Bound to be noticed by female viewers Is the inexplicable manner in which, as she gropes her terrified way through a street battle, Miss Gardner's dress keeps changing. Bernard Gordon collaborated with Yordan on the screenplay. Other credits must go to Dimitri Tiomkln for a suitably stirring score, Venlero Oolas-anti and John Moore for their splendiferous sets and Dong Kingman for the atmospheric title paintings. "Peking" is an Allied Artists release, due shortly. THE FOREIGN COMPOUND AS DEPICTED IN "55 DAYS AT PEKING"

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