In June 1900, Major Matt Lewis (Charlton Heston) rides into Peking with a detachment of Marines and is appalled to see an American missionary killed by a band of men wearing the red sashes of the rebel Boxers – a peasant secret society whose motto is “destroy the foreigners”.
Within a few days, isolated riots have escalated to a formal war against foreigners and Lewis finds himself in charge of defending the 11 embassies in Peking’s Legation City.
The finicky British envoy, Sir Arthur Robertson (David Niven,) persuades the other diplomats not to surrender to the Chinese, but as weeks pass without the expected reinforcements the situation seems hopeless as the Boxers set about massacring Christians in an anti-Christian nationalistic fever.
Meanwhile, a romance is growing between the American Major and sultry Russian Baroness Ivanoff (Ava Gardner).
As Lewis and the group conserve food and water and try to save some hungry children the tricky Chinese Empress Tzu Hsi (Flora Robson) is plotting with the Boxers to break the siege at the compound with the aid of Chinese recruits
Nominally directed by Nicholas Ray (who makes a brief appearance as the US ambassador), Ray was taken off the film and replaced by Andrew Marton.
Major Matt Lewis
Baroness Natalie Ivanoff
Sir Arthur Robertson
Dowager Empress Tsu Hzi
Father de Bearn
Baron Sergei Ivanoff
Lady Sarah Robertson
Nicholas Ray (1)
Andrew Marton (2)