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The Conqueror (film)

the conqueror (film), the conqueror film cancer
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

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 ever4 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 miscast5 The Conqueror was listed in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time Wayne was posthumously named a "winner" of a Golden Turkey Award for his performance in the film


  • 1 Plot
  • 2 Cast
  • 3 Release
    • 31 Critical reception
    • 32 Box office
  • 4 Cancer controversy
  • 5 Comic book adaption
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links


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


The Conqueror received an A classification from the British Board of Film Censors but also required cuts to obtain the rating6 The film premiered on February 2, 1956 in London before its Los Angeles premiere on February 22 and official theatrical release on March 281

After Universal purchased the film rights in 1979,7 the studio released the film on DVD as part of their Vault Series on June 12, 2012

Critical receptionedit

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 Made8

Box officeedit

Despite the film's reputation as a flop, it was the eleventh most successful film at the North American box office in 1956, earning $45 million9

Cancer controversyedit

See also: Downwinders—Health effects of nuclear testing

The exterior scenes were shot near St George, Utah, 137 miles 220 km downwind of the United States government's Nevada National Security Site 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 Hughes later shipped 60 tons of dirt back to Hollywood in order to match the Utah terrain and lend realism to studio re-shoots10 The filmmakers knew about the nuclear tests10 but the federal government assured residents that the tests caused no hazard to public health11

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-packs-a-day cigarette habit12 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 mouth1113

Reportedly, Hughes felt guilty about his decisions regarding the film's production,10 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 1979714 The Conqueror, along with Ice Station Zebra,15 is said to be one of the films Hughes watched endlessly during his last years16

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 on1117 Statistically, however, the odds of developing cancer for men in the US population are 43% and the odds of dying of cancer are 23% slightly lower in women at 38% and 19%, respectively18 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 nearby nuclear weapons test site1920

Comic book adaptionedit

  • Dell Four Color #690 April 19562122

See alsoedit

  • John Wayne filmography
  • List of American films of 1956
  • List of film accidents
  • List of films considered the worst
  • Whitewashing in film


  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 21 Nov 1955: 41
  3. ^ "The Conqueror" The Numbers Retrieved 22 August 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. ^ "THE CONQUEROR A CUT" British Board of Film Classification January 19, 1956 Retrieved January 1, 2016 
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Wilson, John 2005 The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst Grand Central Publishing ISBN 0-446-69334-0 
  9. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ a b c 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 
  12. ^ Bacon, James June 27, 1978 "John Wayne: The Last Cowboy" Us Magazine
  13. ^ Fuller, John G 1984 The Day We Bombed Utah New York, New York: Dutton Books ISBN 0-453-00457-1 
  14. ^ Rabin, Nathan 2010 My Year of Flops Scribner ISBN 1-4391-5312-4 
  15. ^ Brown, Peter Harry; Broeske, Pat H 2004 Howard Hughes: The Untold Story Da Capo Press p 349 ISBN 0-306-81392-0 
  16. ^ Porter, Darwin 2005 Howard Hughes: Hell's Angel Blood Moon Productions, Ltd p 442 ISBN 0-9748118-1-5 
  17. ^ Olson, James 2002 Bathsheba's Breast: Women, Cancer and History Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press ISBN 0-8018-6936-6 
  18. ^ "Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying From Cancer" American Cancer Society 
  19. ^ Esson, Dylan J Summer 2003 "Did 'Dirty Harry' Kill John Wayne Media Sensationalism and the Filming of The Conquerer" Utah Historical Quarterly pp 250-265
  20. ^ https://wwwgasdetectioncom/interscan-in-the-news/magazine-articles/movie-conqueror-really-cursed-look-radiation-paranoia/  Missing or empty |title= help; Missing or empty |url= help; |access-date= requires |url= help
  21. ^ "Dell Four Color #690" Grand Comics Database 
  22. ^ Dell Four Color #690 at the Comic Book DB

External linksedit

  • The Conqueror on 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

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