The Conqueror (film)
|This article is missing information about the film's production. (April 2015)|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Dick Powell|
|Written by||Oscar Millard|
|Music by||Victor Young|
|Edited by||Stuart Gilmore|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Box office||$9 million|
The Conqueror is a 1956 American CinemaScope epic film directed by Dick Powell and written by Oscar Millard. The film stars John Wayne as the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan and co-stars Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and Pedro Armendáriz. Produced by entrepreneur Howard Hughes, the film was principally shot near St. George, Utah.
The film was a critical flop (often ranked as one of the worst films of the 1950s and one of the worst ever) despite the stature of the cast. Wayne, who was at the height of his career, had lobbied for the role after reading the script and was widely believed to have been grossly miscast. Years later, The Conqueror was included as one of the choices in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time and Wayne was posthumously named a "winner" of a Golden Turkey Award for his performance in the film.
Reportedly, Hughes felt guilty about his decisions regarding the film's production, particularly over the decision to film at a hazardous site (see Cancer controversy below). He bought every print of the film for $12 million and kept it out of circulation for many years until Universal Pictures purchased the film from his estate in 1979. The Conqueror, along with Ice Station Zebra, is said to be one of the films Hughes watched endlessly during his last years.
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Mongol chief Temujin (later to be known as Genghis Khan) falls for Bortai, the daughter of the Tartar leader, and steals her away, precipitating war. Bortai spurns Temujin and is taken back in a raid. Temujin is later captured. Bortai falls in love with him and helps him escape. Temujin suspects he was betrayed by a fellow Mongol and sets out to find the traitor and to overcome the Tartars.
- John Wayne as Temujin, later Genghis Khan
- Susan Hayward as Bortai
- Agnes Moorehead as Hunlun
- Pedro Armendáriz as Jamuga
- Thomas Gomez as Wang Khan
- John Hoyt as Shaman
- William Conrad as Kasar
- Ted de Corsia as Kumlek
- Leslie Bradley as Targutai
- Lee Van Cleef as Chepei
- Peter Mamakos as Bogurchi
- Leo Gordon as Tartar Captain
- Richard Loo as Captain of Wang's guard
- Michael Wayne (uncredited) as Mongol guard
- Patrick Wayne (uncredited)
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The Conqueror received an A classification from the British Board of Film Classification but also required cuts to obtain the rating. The film premiered on February 2, 1956 in London before its Los Angeles premiere on February 22 and official theatrical release on March 28.
The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made. The film does not have any major critical reviews on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes; however, it has an 11% audience score based on 1,651 user ratings, with an average rating of 2.5/5.
Despite the film's reputation as a flop, it was the eleventh most successful film at the North American box office in 1956, earning $4.5 million.
The exterior scenes were shot on location near St. George, Utah, 137 miles (220 km) downwind of the United States government's Nevada National Security Site. In 1953, extensive above-ground nuclear weapons testing (11 total) occurred at the test site as part of Operation Upshot-Knothole. The cast and crew spent many difficult weeks on location, and in addition Hughes later shipped 60 tons of dirt back to Hollywood in order to match the Utah terrain and lend realism to studio re-shoots. The filmmakers knew about the nuclear tests but the federal government reassured residents that the tests caused no hazard to public health.
Director Powell died of cancer in January 1963, seven years after the film's release. Armendáriz was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1960, and committed suicide in June 1963 after he learned his condition had become terminal. Hayward, Wayne, and Moorehead all died of cancer in the 1970s. Hoyt died of lung cancer in 1991. Skeptics point to other factors such as the wide use of tobacco — Wayne and Moorehead in particular were heavy smokers, and Wayne himself believed his lung cancer to have been a result of his six-packs-a-day cigarette habit. The cast and crew totaled 220 people. By the end of 1980, as ascertained by People magazine, 91 of them had developed some form of cancer and 46 had died of the disease. Several of Wayne and Hayward's relatives also had cancer scares after visiting the set. Michael Wayne developed skin cancer, his brother Patrick had a benign tumor removed from his breast, and Hayward's son Tim Barker had a benign tumor removed from his mouth.
Dr. Robert Pendleton, professor of biology at the University of Utah, stated, "With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic. The connection between fallout radiation and cancer in individual cases has been practically impossible to prove conclusively. But in a group this size you'd expect only 30-some cancers to develop. With 91 cancer cases, I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up in a court of law." Indeed, several cast and crew members, as well as relatives of those who died, considered suing the government for negligence, claiming it knew more about the hazards in the area than it let on.
Statistically, the odds of developing cancer for men in the U.S. population are 43% and the odds of dying of cancer are 23% (slightly lower in women at 38% and 19%, respectively). Because the primary cast and crew numbered about 220, and a considerable number of cancer cases would be expected, controversy exists as to whether the actual results are attributable to radiation at the the nearby nuclear weapons test site.
- John Wayne filmography
- List of American films of 1956
- List of film accidents
- List of films considered the worst
- List of films featuring whitewashed roles
- "The Conqueror: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
- Drama: Indie Setups Announced by Cummings, Chandler; Hello, Barry Fitzgerald Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 21 Nov 1955: 41.
- "The Conqueror". The Numbers. Retrieved 22 August 2011.
- Francaviglia, Richard V.; Rosenstone, Robert A. (2007). Lights, Camera, History: Portraying the Past in Film. Texas A&M University Press. p. 55. ISBN 1-58544-580-0.
- Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 773. ISBN 1-55783-551-9.
- Adams, Cecil (October 26, 1984). "Did John Wayne die of cancer caused by a radioactive movie set?". Retrieved on September 13, 2010.
- "In 1974, Daily Variety announced that Paramount Pictures was re-releasing the film, but in April 1979, Hollywood Reporter stated that Universal had acquired the rights and that at the time of the purchase, the picture had not been screened publicly for twenty-one years." - Turner Classic Movies
- Rabin, Nathan (2010). My Year of Flops. Scribner. ISBN 1-4391-5312-4.
- Brown, Peter Harry; Broeske, Pat H. (2004). Howard Hughes: The Untold Story. Da Capo Press. p. 349. ISBN 0-306-81392-0.
- Porter, Darwin (2005). Howard Hughes: Hell's Angel. Blood Moon Productions, Ltd. p. 442. ISBN 0-9748118-1-5.
- "THE CONQUEROR (A) (CUT)". British Board of Film Classification. January 19, 1956. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
- Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
- "The Conqueror (1956)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
- Jackovich, Karen G.; Sennet, Mark (1980-11-10). "The Children of John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Dick Powell Fear That Fallout Killed Their Parents". People. Retrieved 2009-03-22.
- Bacon, James (June 27, 1978). "John Wayne: The Last Cowboy". Us Magazine.
- Fuller, John G. (1984). The Day We Bombed Utah. New York, New York: Dutton Books. ISBN 0-453-00457-1.
- Olson, James (2002). Bathsheba's Breast: Women, Cancer and History. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6936-6.
- "Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying From Cancer". American Cancer Society.
- The Conqueror at the Internet Movie Database
- The Conqueror (1956) at DBCult Film Institute
- Adams, Cecil. Did John Wayne die of cancer caused by a radioactive movie set? The Straight Dope; October 26, 1984