This Samuel Bronston-produced historical epic (preceded by KING OF KINGS and EL CID), directed by Nicholas Ray, is set during China's Boxer Rebellion of 1900. After the foreign legations in Peking are besieged by the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, better known as the

Boxers, hundreds of missionaries are murdered in a xenophobic and anti-Christian campaign. Maj. Matt Lewis (Charlton Heston) is placed in charge of a small multinational unit of foreign soldiers who take a stand against the Boxers from inside their international compound. For 55 days, Maj. Lewis,

British ambassador Sir Arthur Robertson (David Niven), Russian baroness Natalie Ivanoff (Ava Gardner), and a host of others must defend themselves against the Boxers, running low on food and supplies while awaiting the arrival of reinforcements. Meanwhile, the sinister dowager empress, Tzu Hsi

(Flora Robson), secretly supports the Boxers, augmenting their siege of the international settlement with imperial troops. This massive two-and-a-half-hour epic is not as compelling as it should be. Director Nicholas Ray's talents are better suited to smaller, darker dramas than to this huge,

historical tale. Heston is his usual forceful self and Gardner is effective as well, but Niven quietly steals the show as the witty British ambassador. Though ponderous, the film yields plenty of thrills (many of the action sequences were directed by Andrew Marton, who took over for the

"ill"--uninterested--Ray). The reconstructed 1900 Peking sets by Veniero Colasanti and John Moore are marvels to behold. Dimitri Tiomkin's song "So Little Time" and score received Oscar nominations.