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the horror, the horror

Sunday, 22 May 2005

Well, I watched 55 Days in Peking (see previous post). Let’s set aside my utter hatred of Charlton Heston for now and just go with the things I said/shouted at the TV:

“If they’d had that many men in military marching bands they wouldn’t have been so beseiged.”

“The Jade River was dry!”

“Why is the Dowager Empress a) holding court in the Temple of Good Harvest b) granting Westerners audiences?”

“Prince Tuan was a warrior, not an Evil Viser from a Disney film.”


“Why isn’t Morrison in this scene?”

“Since when was the Fu a temple? It was a palace.”

“Old Betsy never blew up like that.”

“Oooh, it appears to have turned from a psuedo-Western into a psuedo WW2 commando film.”

“They never did that.”

“Or that.”

“Hang on…there was no Major within the walls. The highest rank was captain*. Heston shouldn’t even be there.”

“Where are the militia? And Fort Halliday was more than a ring of sandbags.”

“It’s not the end – the dynasty continued for another twelve years.”

“I see we’re not going to get the looting of the Imperial City by the foreigners then.”

So, safe to say, not a terribly accurate portrayal of the Boxer Rising. It does play half as a Western (clearly remembering the Alamo again) and half as a WW2 commando film. When Heston starts showing off his manly muscles with a red strip of material tied about his head and ripped clothing, all I could think of was Rambo. Given the film was made in 1955, you do wonder if a subtext about beleagued countries setting aside their differences to stave off the evil hordes is the usual reds-under-the-bed fear.

What does it matter, you’re thinking, if the film was good. But it wasn’t. Direction, even by 1950s standards, was poor; the acting was dire; the music was intrusive and any drama in any scenes was leached away by the poverty of the script. And, since the Boxer Rising is not particularly heard of in the UK, this is likely to be the version people know. And it’s wrong. If, OTOH, you only know of the Boxers via the Buffy/Angel episodes Fool for Love and Darla - don’t watch this film! Seriously, Buffy is more accurate in 10 minutes than this entire film is in 150.

*I just looked it up: there were 53 US Marines, of whom 3 were ranked Captain. The British actually had the largest force within the Legation, with 79 men (3 of whom were Captains) and 3 sailors.

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