The Sand Pebbles (film)

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The Sand Pebbles is a 1966 American period war film directed by Robert Wise. It tells the story of an independent, rebellious U.S. Navy Machinist Mate aboard the fictional gunboat USS San Pablo in 1920s China.

The Sand Pebbles features Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna, Candice Bergen and Mako. Emmanuelle Arsan, later known as a writer of erotic fiction, is credited under the name of Marayat Andriane. Robert Anderson adapted the screenplay from the 1962 novel of the same name by Richard McKenna.



In 1926, Machinist's Mate 1st Class Jake Holman (Steve McQueen) transfers from the Asiatic Fleet flagship to the Yangtze River Patrol gunboat USS San Pablo (the ship is nicknamed the "Sand Pebble" and its sailors refer to themselves as the "Sand Pebbles"). However, life aboard a gunboat is very different from that on a flagship. The gunboat has a labor system — condoned by the officers — wherein coolies do all of the manual work, leaving the sailors free for combat drills and idle bickering. Because he likes to work taking care of the ship's engines, Holman bucks the system. Although he becomes close friends with one seasoned and sensitive seaman, Frenchy (Richard Attenborough), most of the other crewmen see Holman as a Jonah. Holman's desire to work on the engines also antagonizes the ship's coolie laborers whose "rice bowl" (source of income) is derived from doing the work that the sailors would normally do.

Shortly after coming aboard, Holman discovers a serious defect in the ship's engine that the coolies have not fixed. Holman informs the Captain (Richard Crenna), who declines to authorize an engine shutdown for the repair; however, after the Executive Officer observes the same problem, the Captain agrees to the repair. During the repair, the chief engine room coolie is killed in an accident when the jacking gear slips due to its poor condition. The chief coolie of the ship blames Holman for the death. When questioned, Holman explains to the captain that the death was caused by the deceased coolie's own poor work. Holman blames the ship's system of untrained coolie labor for the death. He asks the Captain to allow him to run the engine room properly, without the use of coolies. Instead, the Captain orders Holman to train a replacement coolie and then concentrate on his military duties.

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