Producer Samuel Bronston shows characteristic lavishness in the pictorial scope, the vivid and realistic sets and extras by the thousands in his reproduction of the capital of Imperial China in 1900. The lensing was in Spain where the company built an entire city.
The screenplay presumably adheres to the historical basics in its description of the violent rebellion of the ‘Boxers’ against the major powers of the period – Great Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States – because of their commercial exploitation of tradition-bound and unmodern (backward) China. These market-seeking nations have in their Peking outpost gallant fighting men who, although only a few hundred in number, withstand the merciless 55-day siege.
While Ray is identified as director, some of the battle scenes actually were directed by Andrew Marton. This came to be in a period when Ray was ill.
David Niven is the British embassy head who stubbornly refuses to surrender, risking the safety of all about him, including his wife and two children. Both he and Charlton Heston perform with conviction, Heston as the American Marine major who commands the defense. Ava Gardner’s role is not too well conceived. Hers is the part of the widow of a Russian bigshot who killed himself upon learning of his wife’s infidelity with a Chinese official.
Lynne Sue Moon gives a poignant performance as an Oriental 12-year-old whose American father, an army captain, is killed in battle. Flora Robson appears strikingly authentic as the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi whose sympathies lie with the outlaws.
Jack Hildyard’s photography is excellent, particularly in getting on the big screen the savage attack scenes which take up the major part of the picture. Dimitri Tiomkin provides engaging music.
1963: Nominations: Best Original Music Score, Song (‘So Little Time’)