C’era una volta Samuel Bronston, produttore di origine moldava con la passione per i colossal, tra cui El Cid, La caduta dell’impero romano, e appunto questo 55 giorni a Pechino. Basato sull’assedio del quartiere delle ambasciate a Pechino nel 1900 durante la rivolta dei Boxer, in cui gli eserciti di 8 nazioni (Austria-Ungheria, Francia, Germania, Italia, Giappone, Russia, UK & USA) unirono le forze per respingere l’aggressione dei boxer, il film fu girato in Spagna, dove Bronston fece costruire un immenso set (250000 m2) con una perfetta riproduzione della Pechino del 1900, prendendo comparse asiatiche da tutta la Spagna, con risultati alquanto buffi:
The film, which was shot in Spain, needed thousands of Chinese extras, and the company sent scouts throughout Spain to hire as many as they could find. The result was that many Chinese restaurants in Spain closed for the duration of the filming because the restaurant staff - often including the restaurant’s owners - was hired away by the film company. The company hired so many that for several months there was scarcely a Chinese restaurant to be found open in the entire country.
Cast imponente, con Charlton Heston, David Niven, Ava Gardner, Philippe Leroy, e anche un giovane Jūzō Itami, il regista di Tampopo; molto belle le musiche di Dimitri Tiomkin, che ricevettero una nomination all’Oscar. Visivamente meraviglioso, girato in Super Technirama 70 (come Zulu), il film appassiona ad ogni visione, pur ovviamente rappresentando un punto di vista alquanto parziale sulla faccenda. Buono il master del dvd francese, extra scarsini.
Da notare che fu praticamente l’ultimo film di Nicholas Ray:
The film maintains a certain curiosity value for cinephiles due to its credited director Nicholas Ray. Best known for his 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean, Ray was a tortured individual at the time of the production of 55 Days at Peking, somewhat akin to the Dean persona he helped to create for Rebel. Paid a very high salary by producer Samuel Bronston to direct 55 Days, Ray had an inkling that taking on the project, a massive epic, would mean the end of him and that he would never direct another film again. The premonition proved correct when Ray collapsed on the set, half-way through the shooting. Unable to resume working (the film was finished by Andrew Marton and Guy Green), he never received another directorial assignment. In the final months of his life, he collaborated with Wim Wenders, on the 1979 feature Lightning Over Water aka Nick’s Film/Nick’s Movie, which recorded his last moments.
Un interessante articolo riguardo gli studi spagnoli con foto e video sulla lavorazione: