"The Conqueror" -- John Wayne Does Genghis Kahn

Release Date: October 30, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- There's no getting around the question. In today's world with its fluid borders and greater multicultural awareness, does John Wayne convey the essential Genghis Kahn? You be the judge.

At 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 10 in the Student Union Theatre on the North (Amherst) Campus, the "World Civ Goes to the Movies" series will present, free of charge, the flashy, high-budget, historically inaccurate 1953 film, "The Conqueror."

The movie, which has a modest cult following, was one of the Duke's worst, and a critical disaster. To make things worse, it is widely considered to have been responsible for the deaths of half of its cast and crew. The $5 million box office flop was produced for RKO studios by Howard Hughes. It was RKO's last movie with Hughes, and Hughes' last film, period.

"The Conqueror" offers a distorted story of the great Khan in which Wayne plays the Temujin against red-headed and decidedly Anglo Susan Hayward as the spitfire Eurasian desert princess who is the object of his erotic interest.

• "The Conqueror" was directed by Hollywood song-and-dance man Dick Powell.

• Hayward insisted upon appearing perfectly groomed and made up in every scene, which argued against her character's rough-and-tumble desert life, and provided some amusing Hollywood takes on reality.

• Despite a critical thumbs-down, Wayne turned out to be a swashbuckling Khan, which enhanced the cinematic appeal of the film, even if the Great Kahn had quite an American drawl.

• "The Conqueror" is known as the "movie of death" because half the cast and crew later died of cancer, including Wayne, Hayward, Powell and Agnes Moorehead -- a rate far, far higher than would have been predicted for this population. The Utah canyon in which the movie was filmed allegedly formed a natural reservoir for airborne radioactive particles produced by above-ground nuclear testing.

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