Monday, October 31, 2011

The Conqueror, or The Movie That Literally Killed People

Okay, before we begin, I just want to address both the the sheer stupidity of this movie's casting and its poster. Let's start with the latter:

Internet Movie Poster Awards
"I fight! I love! I conquer...like a barbarian!"? What does that even mean? Do barbarians conquer any different than non-barbarians? Their tactics and strategy are different when it comes to fighting, I'd imagine, and I don't even want to ponder what loving like a barbarian entails, but it probably isn't pleasant. The whole text both makes no sense and totally sounds like something John Wayne would say at the same time.
Speaking of The Duke, let's move on to casting, namely what in the blue blazes were they thinking? John fricking Wayne as not just Genghis Khan, but Asian? It's a sad and unfortunate truth that back in the day, white actors were sometimes cast to play ethnic characters, like Asians and even Native Americans. Hell, Iron Eyes Cody, famous as the "Crying Indian" from the old Keep America Beautiful ad of the early 70s wasn't Native American at all, but Italian-American. In the case of Asians, makeup artists would use tape to pull back the sides of the eyelids to replicate an Asian person's eyelids and man, that was amazingly uncomfortable to write. Yeah, old Hollywood was pretty racist. Apparently the reason why they cast John Wayne is because he lobbied for it.
Arguably Wayne's worst film, The Conqueror (1956), in which he played Genghis Kahn, was based on a script that director Dick Powell had every intention of throwing into the wastebasket. According to Powell, when he had to leave his office at RKO for a few minutes during a story conference, he returned to find a very enthused Wayne reading the script, which had been in a pile of possible scripts on Powell's desk, and insisting that this was the movie he wanted to make. As Powell himself summed it up, "Who am I to turn down John Wayne?".
 Clearly, The Duke needed a sassy gay friend.

Moving on, let's talk about how this movie actually killed people. You see, someone had the brilliant idea of filming the outdoor scenes near St. George, Utah, which was downwind of the Nevada Test Site, where the military tested nuclear weapons. Of the 220 member cast and crew, 91 got cancer and of those, 46 died. Hell's bells, Dick Powell, the director, died seven years after making The Conqueror. What's worth noting about this is that John Wayne did develop cancer twice afterward. In 1964, he had to have his entire left lung removed because of cancer and he lost his stomach in 1979. The former can be chalked up to his five-six pack a day smoking habit, the latter though seems like it would be caused by something else, especially considering that the cancer other cast and crew developed were varied.

It's a shame he died, really. True, John Wayne's political stances would rub a lot of people the wrong way, but who doesn't love a John Wayne movie and wish he had lived long enough to have done more? A final note on the movie: While it was filmed in 1956, Howard Hughes refused to release it until 1974, which ought to tell you how bad it was.

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