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The Conqueror (1956 film)

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 Conqueror
The Conqueror (1956) film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDick Powell
Produced by
Written byOscar Millard
Starring
Music byVictor Young
CinematographyJoseph LaShelle
Edited byStuart Gilmore
Production
company
RKO Radio Pictures
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • February 2, 1956 (1956-02-02) (Premiere-London)[1]
  • February 22, 1956 (1956-02-22) (Premiere-Los Angeles)[1]
  • March 28, 1956 (1956-03-28) (US)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$6 million[2]
Box office$9 million[3]

Despite the stature of the cast and a respectable box office performance, the film was a critical flop; it is often ranked as one of the worst films of the 1950s and one of the worst ever.[4] 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.[5] The Conqueror was listed in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.[6] Wayne was posthumously named a "winner" of a Golden Turkey Award for his performance in the film.

PlotEdit

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.

CastEdit

Production and cancer controversyEdit

Parts of the film were shot in Snow Canyon, Warner Valley, Pine Valley, Leeds, and Harrisburg, Utah.[7] The exterior scenes were shot near St. George, Utah, which is 137 miles (220 km) downwind of the United States government's Nevada National Security Site and received the brunt of nuclear fallout from testing active in this period. In 1953, 11 above-ground nuclear weapons tests occurred at the site as part of Operation Upshot–Knothole. The cast and crew spent many difficult weeks at the site, and producer Howard Hughes later shipped 60 tons of dirt back to Hollywood in order to match the Utah terrain and lend realism to studio re-shoots.[8] The filmmakers knew about the nuclear tests[8] but the federal government assured residents that the tests caused no hazard to public health.[9]

Director Powell died of cancer in January 1963, seven years after the film's release. Armendáriz was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1960, and killed himself 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-pack-a-day cigarette habit.[10] 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 who visited the set also had cancer scares. 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.[9][11]

Reportedly, Hughes felt guilty about his decisions regarding the film's production,[8] particularly over the decision to film at a hazardous site. 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.[12][13] The Conqueror, along with Ice Station Zebra,[14] is said to be one of the films Hughes watched endlessly during his last years.[15]

Dr. Robert Pendleton, then a professor of biology at the University of Utah, is reported to have stated in 1980, "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." 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.[9][16]

Since 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 nearby nuclear weapons test site.[17][18] 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).[19] This statistic does not include the Native American Paiute extras on the film, many of whom went on to die of cancer also.[20]

ReleaseEdit

The Conqueror received an A classification from the British Board of Film Censors but also required cuts to obtain the rating.[21] The film premiered on February 2, 1956 in London before its Los Angeles premiere on February 22 and official theatrical release on March 28.[1]

After Universal purchased the film rights in 1979,[12] the studio released the film on DVD as part of their Vault Series on June 12, 2012.

Critical receptionEdit

A. H. Weiler of The New York Times called the film "an Oriental 'Western'" with a script that "should get a few unintentional laughs." Weiler wrote that John Wayne gave an "elementary" portrayal of Genghis while "constantly being unhorsed by such lines as, 'you are beautiful in your wrath.'"[22] Variety called the film "a fanciful, colorful tale suggestive of the vivid period with a derring-do dash that pays off," adding, "The marquee value of the John Wayne-Susan Hayward teaming more than offsets any incongruity of the casting."[23] Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film had "a storming quality about it over-all. Which unfortunately make some of the love scenes seem all but laughable." He added, "Powell deserves much credit for maneuvering the fierce and sensational battle scenes, which are a big highlight when Mongols and Tartars clash."[24] Harrison's Reports wrote that general audiences "should be more than satisfied" by the "thrilling battle scenes" and "strong romance," but the story "does not come through the screen with any appreciable dramatic force, and the acting is no more than acceptable."[25] John McCarten of The New Yorker called the film "pure Hollywood moonshine ... You never saw so many horses fall down in your life. Still, even though their tumbling is far superior to the antics of the actors, it presently becomes tiresome."[26] Time magazine wrote that Wayne "portrays the great conqueror as a sort of cross between a square-shootin' sheriff and a Mongolian idiot. The idea is good for a couple of snickers, but after that it never Waynes but it bores."[6] The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "a rambling and rather ordinary Western-type spectacle ... the weakly contrived narrative is singularly lacking in dramatic tension, and it is difficult to see this Temujin, for all his high-flown cries to heaven to support his destiny, as a potential world-beater or as even an amiable bandit. He is merely John Wayne struggling with an unfortunate piece of casting and with such embarrassingly silly lines as 'I feel this Tartar woman is for me.'"[27]

The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.[28]

Box officeEdit

The film was the eleventh most successful film at the North American box office in 1956, earning $4.5 million.[29]

Comic book adaptationEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c "The Conqueror: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
  2. ^ Drama: Indie Setups Announced by Cummings, Chandler; Hello, Barry Fitzgerald Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] November 21, 1955: 41.
  3. ^ "The Conqueror". The Numbers. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b Medved, Harry; Dreyfuss, Randy (1978). The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time. Popular Library. p. 61. ISBN 0-445-04139-0.
  7. ^ D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 978-1423605874.[page needed]
  8. ^ a b c Adams, Cecil (October 26, 1984). "Did John Wayne die of cancer caused by a radioactive movie set?". Retrieved on September 13, 2010.
  9. ^ a b c Jackovich, Karen G.; Sennet, Mark (November 10, 1980). "The Children of John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Dick Powell Fear That Fallout Killed Their Parents". People. Retrieved March 22, 2009.
  10. ^ Bacon, James (June 27, 1978). "John Wayne: The Last Cowboy". Us Magazine.
  11. ^ Fuller, John G. (1984). The Day We Bombed Utah. New York, New York: Dutton Books. ISBN 0-453-00457-1.
  12. ^ a b "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
  13. ^ Rabin, Nathan (2010). My Year of Flops. Scribner. ISBN 1-4391-5312-4.
  14. ^ Brown, Peter Harry; Broeske, Pat H. (2004). Howard Hughes: The Untold Story. Da Capo Press. p. 349. ISBN 0-306-81392-0.
  15. ^ Porter, Darwin (2005). Howard Hughes: Hell's Angel. Blood Moon Productions, Ltd. p. 442. ISBN 0-9748118-1-5.
  16. ^ Olson, James (2002). Bathsheba's Breast: Women, Cancer and History. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6936-6.
  17. ^ Esson, Dylan J. (Summer 2003). "Did 'Dirty Harry' Kill John Wayne? Media Sensationalism and the Filming of The Conqueror." Utah Historical Quarterly. pp. 250–65.
  18. ^ "Was The Movie The Conqueror Really Cursed? A Look At Radiation Paranoia – Interscan Corporation". Gasdetection.com. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  19. ^ "Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying From Cancer". American Cancer Society. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  20. ^ A Short History Of Nuclear Folly, by Rudolph Herzog - Melville House (April 30, 2013)
  21. ^ "THE CONQUEROR (A) (CUT)". British Board of Film Classification. January 19, 1956. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
  22. ^ Weiler, A. H. (March 31, 1956). "Screen: 'The Conqueror'". The New York Times. 13.
  23. ^ "Film Reviews: The Conqueror". Variety. February 22, 1956. 6.
  24. ^ Schallert, Edwin (February 23, 1956). Wayne Spectacle Storming Affair". Los Angeles Times. Part II, p. 8.
  25. ^ "'The Conqueror' with John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Pedro Armendariz". Harrison's Reports. February 25, 1956. 32.
  26. ^ McCarten, John (April 7, 1956). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 112.
  27. ^ "The Conqueror". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 24 (267): 28. March 1956.
  28. ^ Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
  29. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  30. ^ "Dell Four Color #690". Grand Comics Database.
  31. ^ Dell Four Color #690 at the Comic Book DB

External linksEdit