Lee, Actually I own a copy of this great film on DVD . . . it's
available as part of the Tohokushinsa Classic Library collection in
Japan: Region 1, 160 minutes . . . and the artwork is fabulous!
Retro responds: Thanks for the tip, Phil. The Weinstein Company owns the rights to the Samuel Bronston films they did a magnificent job of releasing both El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire as deluxe DVD editions, packed with extras. The plan was to also release 55 Days at Peking and Circus World, but to date, they have not appeared. By the way, if you search under these titles on Amazon, you'll see some DVDs come up. Be wary: the ones that say "all region" are bootlegs and the quality can be something to be desired. It appears as though Peking was released on DVD officially, but apparently never in an English-speaking country.
I'm happy that you mentioned the upcoming broadcast of
55 Days at Peking on TCM. Like you, I really like that film, too,
and think it's terribly underrated. I have an Asian DVD of the film which,
while it isn't perfect, at least is in the correct 2:35 ratio and anamorphic as
The film has a fascinating and very troubled production history. The original
director Nicholas Ray (who does a cameo as the American ambassador in the film)
was fired after several weeks of shooting when he suffered a heart attack after
taking speed to cure his alcoholism. he was replaced by Andrew Marton, who was
already working on the film as the second unit director for the action
sequences, which is the reason why the action sequences are so good. (I read an interview with Marton in which he said his first day as the main
director was the ball sequence that Heston and Ava Gardner attend together in
the film) Gardner, who was also heavily drinking at the time,walked off
the film the day after character actor Paul Lukas called her out about her
habit in front of the crew. This is why there's no final death scene between
her and Heston in the film, as there was in the original script (which, of course,
was written by several writers - credited and uncredited)
Retro responds: Thanks for the insights, Sergio. The film was clearly a troubled production and set in motion the decline of Bronstan's career. He was a good filmmaker but a terrible businessman. Still, Peking makes for magnificent entertainment. It makes true the cliche that "they don't make 'em like that anymore".