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One of the all-time bad movies, an unintentional joke that actually stays
funny for over two hours. John Wayne as Genghis Khan is one of the worst
examples of miscasting in the history in Hollywood, but that's not what
makes the movie so funny. What makes the movie funny is Wayne attempting to
say the ridiculous purple prose of the script, the whole thing is written in
this sort of pseudo-Shakesperian English, and John Wayne was always one of
those rare actors who had serious trouble with anything like a grammatical
sentence. Whenever things start to lag Wayne has to say something like "I
ree-gret that Ah am without sufficient spittle to sa-lute you as you
dee-serve" or the classic "Yore beautiful in yore wrath".
Also memorable for bad supporting performances by Agnes Moorehead and William Conrad, the sight of Wayne in Asiatic eye-makeup and Fu-Manchu moustace (the only biography of Khan I've read says he was white anyway), Susan Hayward doing a clumsy sword dance, a rape scene that would embarrass the tackiest Bodice-ripper, kitschy sets, and a Las Vegas revue act featuring a female dancer in a white leotard with a patch of fringe right *there*.
In the 1950s, people liked Cinemascope and Technicolor movies...
Epic movies with gigantic battles, huge and fantastic sets and costumes, were massive projects and hugely popular...
One of them is 'The Conqueror' played by legendary actors...
The film deals with Mongols, Merkits, and Tartars struggling for survival in a harsh and arid land.. Plunder and rapine were their way of life and no man trusted his brother...
The Mongols, led by Temujin (John Wayne) and his blood brother Jamuga (Pedro Armendariz), attack a Merkit caravan, capturing the untamed princess Bortai (Susan Hayward), daughter of Kumlek (Ted De Corsia), ruler of the Tartars and slayer of Temujin's father...
Temujin's mother, Hunlun (Agnes Moorehead), fears Kumlek's wrath, and she begs Temujin to set Bortai free, but he refuses... Despite his vow to avenge his father's death, Temujin was fascinated by the girl's beauty and fire..
The Merkits attack in an attempt to rescue the hot-blooded Bortai but are defeated... Bortai escapes but is soon recaptured by Temujin, who declares he will make her his wife... But later, she lets him know how much she despises him: 'Before that day dawns, Mongol, the vultures will have feasted on your heart!'
Temujin waits... The Mongols then go on to Urgaa Chinesea town ruled by the powerful Wang Khan (Thomas Gomez).
The mighty ruler welcomes his guests and entertains them at a banquet... Bortai attends and is seated next to him... She suddenly decides to dance for the Khan and, taking two swords, starts her exotic dance... At the end, having discarded one of the swords, she aims the other one at Temujin...
As Genghis Khan, the 12th Century Mongol warrior whose coming changed the face of the world, John Wayne won't disappoint his ardent followers...
The highlight of the film is the sensational veil and swords dance Susan Hayward performs... Hayward looked radiant in her wrath...
Agnes Moorehead nearly manages to steal the show as her imitation of a talking prune is absolutely extraordinary...
Two of Wayne's sons had bit parts as warriors...
John Wayne is the consummate cowboy, only Clint Eastwood comes close to
approaching the title. So it's really jarring to the sensibilities to see
Wayne standing there in a Mongol costume and a cheesy "fu manchu" moustache
spouting barbarian lines in his trademark western drawl. It's like seeing
Alec Guinness start acting like Pee-Wee Herman; some serious misalignment of
the heavens has happened and maybe that guy on the corner saying "the end of
the world is nigh" was right.
That aside, "The Conqueror" plays like an epic Cecil B. DeMille movie, with epic lines, epic scenery, and epic music. Say what you want about modern cinema, recent movies as a whole tend to be better researched, with characters, clothing, and sets that are historically accurate. This movie makes it clear they had no concept what Genghis Khan and his time was like. People, Wayne included, simply say grandiose lines without any inflection, as if they had no idea how to act the part.
Through it all, I kept expecting Susan Hayward to claim she was an alien or had fallen through a time machine. I doubt very many 12th century Mogolian women had red permed hair and wore low cut dresses. "The Conqueror" is either one of the worst movies you ever saw or one of the funniest.
I saw this film at age 9 when it was newly released, back in the sunset
years of the Technicolor historical spectacular. I knew immediately that
was bad, GLORIOUSLY in-your-face bad! I eagerly taped it about fifteen
years ago off a television broadcast and have gleefully lent the tape to
friends and acquaintances many times since to spread the
The incomprehensible miscasting of John Wayne aside, THE CONQUEROR is bad in so many ways that's it's difficult to focus on the best (or worst) elements. Perhaps most delightfully awful is the dialogue:
"She is woman, Jamuga...much woman. Should her perfidy be less than that of other women?" (John Wayne to Pedro Armendariz)
"Kumlik's daughter! Spawn of the devil! Let your men make sport with her!" "No, mo-ther, I will keep this wo-man for my own plea-sure!" (Exchange between mom Agnes Moorehead and son John Wayne)
"You will love me, Bortai...you will love me of your own will before the sun rises!" "Before that day dawns, Mongol, the vultures will feast upon your heart!" (Love chat between Wayne and Hayward)
These are three of literally dozens of examples of prime dialogue kitsch with which THE CONQUEROR abounds. It is priceless...see it!
I know this is widely considered to be a great travesty of filmmaking, but its problems can be (and have been) over-stated. The costuming, direction, cinematography and choreography are all quite well done and it is surprisingly true to history. Most people can't get beyond the fact that John Wayne plays the title role of Genghis Khan and I admit that it is difficult, but the greatest problem is his accent, not his acting. He delivers his lines exactly as if he were in one of his Western classics and does not attempt a Mongolian accent. The dialogue is (contrary to the previous comments) not inappropriate, but when delivered by Wayne with his western twang, its does often sound comical. I suggest that the audience try to think of this film as just another cowboy movie and try not to take it so seriously. In the end, it is a thoroughly enjoyable film, and that is what matters. The lack of Asian actors is regrettable, but consistent for the era in which is was made.
My friends and I were lounging around watching a boring football game when we chanced onto this 1950's spectacular on TCM. We were astounded, stupefied. I'm not normally one of those people who gets off on really bad films--most bad films are just plain bad. But this was so bad, it was surreal--and hilarious. John Wayne, as usual, plays John Wayne, except this time America's iconic cowboy Real Man is in phony Oriental make-up, prancing around in fuzzy pelt vests, spouting lines in Medieval Mongolian Shakespearian barbarian-speak with a Western twang. (Example: "Ya didn't suckle me ta be slain by Tartars, my mo-ther.") With lavish pretensions toward epic grandeur, the sweeping outdoor vistas of the Central Asian steppe looking suspiciously like southern Utah, where the movie was indeed filmed. You think I'm making this up? I beg you, please rent this film! You won't regret it. Unlike most bad films, this film really is so bad that it's good. It's a bona fide disaster!
Whoever made the decision to cast John Wayne as the young Genghis Khan either had too much imagination or too little. I have rarely laughed so hard at a movie which was trying so hard to be serious. My favourite lines: "My heart tells me this Tartar woman is for me" and "Share the booty" (both of which have become regularly quoted catchlines among the friends who have seen this). Gather some friends, have a few drinks (or more than a few), and watch this film. You'll gasp, you'll groan, you'll wonder if the casting director and scriptwriter were legally sane.
It's easy to slam the Duke miscasted as Chinghis Xaan in this film [He was reportedly embarrassed enough not to mention it often in his lifetime] However, the real significance is great numbers of the cast that died of cancer: Susan Hayward, the Duke, Pedro Armendariz, Dick Powell, Lee Van Cleef, De Corsia, Leo Gordon and others. The film was shot on a site where A bomb testing had been conducted and this fact was hushed up for several years. Yes, the film did not have "legs" and is dated. But, I remember seeing it as a young guy and loved it. Years later after completing a doctorate in anthropology, I still love it...bad as it is.
I'd differ strongly from the adverse comments against this film. Coming from a country in neighbourhood of China, I have some knowledge of Oriental customs, so when I compare this movie to the Genghis Khan (Omar Sharif's) I am forced to call this movie outstanding. The script is restricted to the early life of Chengez till his rise to power begins. This is good as by focussing on a limited time span, there is only little mutilation of history. Decent coverage of his full life would have required three hours. Therefore, sensibly the most adventurous part has been covered, thereby avoiding boredom for the audience. Story line is fine and not loose. The movie remains thrilling throughout. Stunts are quite good and battle scenes credible. Although, unfortunately there is no notable oriental actor, yet make up is quite satisfactory as are the costumes. I wish some work had been done on the accent of the actors. John Wayne fits well in his role. He has a good military physique and a commanding presence. Susan Hayward, however, is too tall for an oriental women and lacked suitable makeup and costumes. Dialogues are short and focussed. The music is satisfactory. Shooting location is satisfactory, though some scenes should have been shot in snowy locations to remind people of bitter Mongolian winter. Perhaps some more focuss on Mongolian customs should also have attracted the attention of the public. Overall this is not at all a time waster but still shows that thorough research is needed for producing good historical movies especially when it comes to cultures unfamiliar to the West.
Of course, everyone knows the story of this one. The original plan from
the brain trust at RKO was to borrow Marlon Brando from 20th Century
Fox and have him star in this one. When Fox refused to cooperate,
Howard Hughes apparently remembered that John Wayne still had one more
picture left on the RKO contract he signed back in 1939. And so, one of
the most dubious casting decisions in Hollywood history was made. It
deserved its spot in the "50 Worst Films of All Time" list. This one is
for Wayne completests and die-hard bad film junkies only.
This is the one film John Wayne made that is truly terrible. All the others (even the lesser ones) at least have something to recommend them. But the thing that sets The Conqueror apart from all the rest is how extremely pedestrian everything is. Let's start with the script, which is the overriding problem throughout the whole film. It's written in a sort of mock-Shakespearian lingo and is filled with dialogue that anyone on earth would have a hard time saying with a straight face.
Next we have the casting. John Wayne and Susan Hayward, both at their career peak, were cast in this one. Neither one looks the least bit Asian (Hayward doesn't even try to). You get the feeling throughout that both of them know this thing is a joke, and they are both just trying to make it through. Wayne drawls his way through the role of Genghis Khan, while Hayward is alternately dumb/boring as Bortai, his red-headed wife. Even the lower billed actors look uncomfortable in gaudy costumes that look like they were borrowed from a high school play.
Of course, we can't forget the music. Victor Young (The Quiet Man) wrote some of the greatest scores in Hollywood history, but this one certainly ranks as one of his worst. Here he seems to be repeating the same few bars of the melodramatic theme over and over again throughout the film with little to no variation.
Next we come to the cinematography. This was the one thing that could have made the film worthwhile. It didn't. While the on-location battle scenes were well-suited to the CinemaScope photography, too much of the film took place inside tents and palaces (i.e. on soundstages), giving it a cluster phobic look at times. Most of the action takes place in the middle of the frame, the director doesn't even come close to tapping the full potential of the widescreen technology he was working with. Other Wayne films from around the same time (The High and the Mighty, The Sea Chase, Blood Alley) made much better use of CinemaScope photography.
Last we have the direction by Dick Powell. This was just the second film Powell directed (the first was Split Second, a 1953 noir film also for RKO that starred Stephen McNally and Jan Sterling), and it showed. In all fairness, he was saddled with a impossible script and a meddling boss (Hughes). Powell would later go on to direct some good war movies over at Fox with Robert Mitchum (The Enemy Below, The Hunters). I guess Powell learned his lesson with this one and stuck to twentieth-century wars after this, leaving the ancient history alone!
Of course there were other problems during shooting (Sue's erratic and irrational affection for Duke) and the cancer cases that occurred later were an unintentional tragedy of this film. Hughes personally bought back the rights to this film (along with Jet Pilot) when he sold RKO in the late 50's. Legend has it that in his last days, he watched this film over and over while in bed. Maybe his strange behavior before his death was the result of seeing a little too much of the The Conqueror. Viewers, Beware!!!!!
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