The Sand Pebbles

Synopsis: Engineer Jake Holman arrives aboard the gunboat U.S.S. San Pablo, assigned to patrol a tributary of the Yangtze in the middle of exploited and revolution-torn 1926 China. His iconoclasm and cynical nature soon clash with the "rice-bowl" system which runs the ship and the uneasy symbiosis between Chinese and foreigner on the river. Hostility towards the gunboat's presence reaches a climax when the boat must crash through a river-boom and rescue missionaries upriver at China Light Mission.
Director(s): Robert Wise
Production: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
  Nominated for 8 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 13 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
182 min

- You got orders?

- Yeah.

Check in on the double.

Stay off the streets. There's no liberty.


- Where's Mitch?

- He died a couple months ago.

- What happened?

- Just didn't wake up one morning.

I was a shipmate of his.

The name's Baxter.

Ex-chief signalman.

I took over.

- Everything?

- Yeah, everything.

Give me a U.B.

Of whiskey.

He was all right though.

They start liberty again?

Nah, transferring

to a new ship, the San Pablo.

You can have my part of that.

Them gunboats are nothing.

- They got engines, ain't they?

- Sure.

Then they ain't nothing.

- You likee me?

- Oh, much like. Oh, the sailor man.

The uniform gets them every time.

We can't threaten these people

into being our friends.

- Exactly.

- Then what's the point?

You can hate the gunboats and what they

represent as much as you like, Jameson...

but you missionaries are only tolerated here

because we have the gunboats.

- I question that.

- The Chinese would run you out otherwise.

They hate you and despise you.

Dare you know that?

I dare love them in return,

and I dare trust God rather than guns.

Yes, but when there are

anti-foreign riots and mobs...

how often have you fled

to the gunboat for protection?

To my shame, twice,

but never again.

- My name is Hamilton.

- Holman.

How do you do?

This is Miss Eckert and Mr. Jameson.

As you may have gathered,

Mr. Jameson is a missionary. Miss Eckert too.

- This is Mr. Outscout.

- How do you do?


Where are you headed?

The San Pablo.


If I were you, I'd jump overboard

while I still had time.

- Do you know anything about her?

- Uh-uh.

American gunboats in central China

are a painful local joke.

And the most painful

is the San Pablo.

Oh, yeah?

I think she's something

that you chaps inherited from Spain...

after the Spanish-American war.

Well, I missed that one.

They don't let her

on the Yangtze proper.

They keep her up

in some small river.

- You must know it, Jameson. She operates near Changsha.

- Yes, we know her.

Mr. Jameson

dislikes gunboats.

Whatever flag they fly-

English, French, American.

They're symbols of what the great powers

have done to this nation.


Don't be ridiculous.

It's a patchwork quilt of bandits,

warlords, mobs, rape, loot and chaos.

China will be unable to put

her own house in order...

until she is free of your enslaving

and unequal treaties.


collecting her taxes...

placed in charge of her customs,

postal system.

Foreigners enjoying

immunity from her laws.

Would we tolerate

a Frenchman...

who had committed

a crime in America...

not to be tried

in our courts?

You know Chinese justice:

confessions by torture,


Have you seen the executioner

of the warlords walk through the streets?

"Oh... you. Ah, you. "

- You think that's funny?

- Well, you do it kind of funny.

Yes, I know those things happen,

but they're trying.

Responsible Chinese leaders

are trying to put their house in order.

- From the south, the Nationalist Party-

- Mobs.

That's all I see-

mobs that threaten us.

Confusing, isn't it?

And painful.

I bequeath China and her agonies

to you youngsters...

with pity and with the hope

that perhaps...

you can understand what's going on,

can comprehend...

what so many people

are going to have to die for:

the good, the bad...

the innocent.

Excuse me, sir,

but you're talking rot.


A firm hand- that's what's needed.

That's what you're doing here.

Hey, listen...

I run the engine.

All this other

is just look-see pidgin.

- I beg your pardon?

- To make a show- something for the officers.

I don't fool with it.

Oh, don't stop.

I can't do no more.

Just butterflies and rabbits.

Is this your first trip



Did you understand what

they were talking about last night?

- Politics.

- I'd like to know more.

I'm not a missionary.

I'm a teacher.

If I'm gonna teach,

I ought to know more.

You gonna try to teach

the slopeheads?


I taught back home in high school.


Where's your home?

Well, I was born

in Grover, Utah...

but, uh... my home's

whatever ship I'm on.

You're an engineer, huh?

I would have thought that

the engine on a large ship...

would have been more interesting

than the engine on a gunboat.

Too many guys trying

to tell you how to run it.

- Ah.

- You see, on a small ship...

you haven't got any

of that military cra-


they leave you alone.

I had a brother in the navy

during the war.

He was a lieutenant

in the reserve.


- How long have you been in the navy?

- Nine years.

- And out here?

- Seven.

You see...

most China sailors

don't go back.

They pull their 20, 30 years,

shack up with a Chinese girl, open up a bar.

I see.

I keep asking myself the same question

about what I'm doing here.

I'm kind of frightened.

It may be romantic,

but I wanted to be swept up by something.

Then one night, Mr. Jameson came and showed

colored slides in the basement of the church...

slides of his mission,

China Light.

How long you sign up for?

Seven years.

Well... those slopeheads

could use some teaching.

I hope you're good at it.

As long as you're good at something,

they can't bust you down.

Like me, you know,

with the engine.

The reverend will probably tell you

nice American girls don't talk to China sailors.

It's not your brother's navy.

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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