Three years after Steve McQueen became a star thanks to The Great Escape, Steve McQueen is wearing another war film, La Gunnière du Yang-Tsé. A grueling experience for the actor, but also for director Robert Wise and the entire film crew…
The Gunboat of the Yang-Tse : a ship in civil war
Director relaxes in drama (We won tonight, Drawn by hate), musical comedy (Westside Story, The melody of happiness), science fiction (The day the earth stood still), film noir (The stair step) or terror (The Devil’s House), Robert Wise co-signs an extremely ambitious feature film The Gunboat of the Yang-Tse. Released in France in 1967, the war film takes place more than forty years earlier, in 1926. As it travels up the Yangtze, the San Pablo is at the heart of the Chinese civil war between nationalists and communists.
A conflict involving the crew of the American gunboat, made up in particular of the rebellious mechanic Jake Holman (Steve McQueen), Captain Collins (Richard Crenna) and the sailor Frenchy Burgoyne (Richard Attenborough). Candice Bergen, Emmanuelle Arsan, Mako and Larry Gates round out the cast The Gunboat of the Yang-Tsean epic story enriched by gorgeous wide-angle shots, tragic love stories and particularly poignant scenes of violence.
If it goes away empty-handed at the 1967 Academy Awards, the feature film is nominated in eight categories, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Steve McQueen. The character of Jake Holman is incidental the only role for which the star of The Great Escape And Bullitt named. A recognition that comes after a tiring shoot, both for the actor and for the whole team.
A harrowing experience for Steve McQueen
Organized in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the production of The Gunboat of the Yang-Tse includes more than a hundred people and the construction of impressive scenery. While filming is scheduled to take place over 80 days, they eventually spread out over seven monthsaccording to the book Steve McQueen – Portrait of an American rebel by Marshall Terrill. Filming has been delayed amid a particularly tense context between Taiwan and China.
Robert Wise, in particular, had to wait several weeks for the high tide to land the San Pablo on the Keelung River. Once this situation is resolved, the rainy season begins. Steve Ferry, who appears in the film, recalls:
The rain held us up for three weeks, but we still got paid.
To avoid boredom, he has a good time with Steve McQueen:
We’ve spent a lot of time together. We were all stuck on a small boat and having fun as much as we could: playing, diving, swimming…
Jake Holman’s interpreter also observes the residents of Taiwan, a place where, according to him, “everything is different”.. The actor is in a real culture shock and is impressed by the local way of working. With his wife Neile Adams he also goes to an orphanage for young girls who are mostly prostitutes. Angered, Steve McQueen reportedly donated $25,000 to the facility and continued to send her money and goods after returning to the United States. Since you’re not used to missing a day of shooting, it gets more complicated whenhe has to be absent for several days because of a severe flu.
“Everything I did wrong, I paid for in Taiwan
After the filming was completed three months late, assures Robert Wise The Gunboat of the Yang-Tse been the most difficult project of his career. Steve McQueen says:
Anything I did wrong I paid for in Taiwan. I just hope something good comes out of it.
Neile Adams says of the comedian’s experience:
I’ve never seen him work so hard or get bored like he did in those six months in Taiwan. When we got to Taiwan, he couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t wait to get home.
To the point where Steve McQueen would have kissed American soil upon his arrival.