The Conqueror (1956)

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David Alp

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The Conqueror (1956)

PostSat May 12, 2018 2:46 pm

It seems like "The Conqueror" (1956) is available on blu-ray from a company called Umbrella ent.org (an Australian site). I was shocked to read IMDb [quote] that the movie was filmed not long after the atom-bomb tests in the Yucca Flats area of Nevada, where 11 bombs were tested; the Utah location where the film was shot, Snow Canyon, was downwind from the test site and much of the radiation fallout from those tests landed in Snow Canyon. Many of the film's cast and crew received high doses of radiation while shooting at that location (also, after the production returned to Hollywood from the location, 60 tons of contaminated soil were shipped to the studio so that interior shots and retakes could match the exterior location shots; the studio was unaware that this soil was also contaminated with radiation). Many people involved in the production knew about the radiation--[there exists a picture of John Wayne himself operating a Geiger counter during the filming] --but no one took the threat seriously at the time. Thirty years later, however, half the residents of St. George had contracted cancer, and veterans of the production began to realize they were in trouble. Actor Pedro Armendáriz developed cancer of the kidney only four years after the movie was completed, and later shot himself when he learned his condition was terminal. Howard Hughes was said to have felt "guilty as hell" about the whole affair, although apparently it never occurred to anyone to sue him. For various reasons he withdrew "The Conqueror" from circulation, and for years thereafter the only person who saw it was Hughes himself, who screened it night after night during his paranoid last years. He later paid an extra twelve million dollars for every existing copy because of guilt of the sixty tons of soil contaminated with radiation that was shipped to Hollywood for retakes. He kept a tight hold on the film, not even allowing it to be shown on television, for years. Universal bought the rights to the film in 1979, and according to "The Hollywood Reporter", it had not been seen by the public for 21 years prior to the purchase (allegedly, Paramount obtained reissue rights in 1974). End quote.

Anyway - I have never seen this film. (It only has a 3.4 rating on IMDb.) But I was so saddened to read about the high percentage of its stars that later died of cancer. Actually whilst browsing (just now), I also found a blu-ray version of it on Amazon. co. uk called "Erobreren" by "Cinema Classics".
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wingate

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostSun May 13, 2018 2:23 am

Sadly not only the actors and technicians but also Dick Powell,the director died.Sadly it is a truly awful film and must be one of the worst that Wayne ever made.It has been on tv a few times here in the UK,and it is difficult to sit through it is that bad.It was made by Hughes just before he sold RKOfor the second an d final time.
Last edited by wingate on Mon May 14, 2018 8:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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David Alp

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostSun May 13, 2018 7:06 am

I see. Thanks Wingate. I am also in the UK but have never seen it. I wonder if it is ever on US TCM?

So sad about Dick Powell. :(
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radiotelefonia

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostSun May 13, 2018 10:00 am

David Alp wrote:I see. Thanks Wingate. I am also in the UK but have never seen it. I wonder if it is ever on US TCM?

So sad about Dick Powell. :(


In the late eighties it played frequently in either the Saturday or Sunday movie marathons in Argentina. When TNT Latin America was launched, this film surfaced quite frequently. TCM-US (and probably most of the other ones) has shown it on occasion. even though it is far from being a good film.
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Changsham

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostMon May 14, 2018 5:08 am

Saw it a few years ago. Hopeless film but has curiosity value given its history and seeing John Wayne in arguably his biggest turkey.
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Dave Pitts

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostMon May 14, 2018 7:56 am

Ridiculous film. Wayne as a Mongol, Susan Hayward with shiny red hair playing a 13th century desert siren. The dialogue is beyond camp. This thing had a VHS release back in the day -- maybe copies are available on ebay.
The Wayne film I wanna see -- and reportedly the film he thought was his worst -- is 1933's Girls Demand Excitement, with Wayne as a coach of a college basketball team for women.
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s.w.a.c.

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostMon May 14, 2018 12:56 pm

I think GoodTimes Home Video released a watchable copy on DVD. It probably looks better on the Universal-released collection John Wayne: An American Icon (which also includes Jet Pilot, Shepherd of the Hills and his two films with Marlene Dietrich, Seven Sinners & Pittsburgh. Because when I think of Marlene, I think of Pittsburgh.)
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earlytalkiebuffRob

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostMon May 14, 2018 1:39 pm

Changsham wrote:Saw it a few years ago. Hopeless film but has curiosity value given its history and seeing John Wayne in arguably his biggest turkey.


I had been curious to see this for years and a friend videotaped it for me about twenty years ago. Unfortunately it doesn't even have the saving grace of being 'camp' or kitsch, my finding it just plain dull. And the human waste being worst of all...
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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostMon May 14, 2018 7:11 pm

About 26 years ago, I drove from Las Vegas to Snow Canyon, Utah. The canyon looked very red. Someone I spoke to in a store in St. George about the radiation said she was a recent arrival and the locals don't talk about the radiation effects to outsiders. This RKO picture was called a "Radioactive" production. There is a famous picture of John Wayne on location holding a geiger counter. The story goes that Howard Hughes was upset later, saying he had killed John Wayne.

http://people.com/archive/the-children- ... -14-no-19/

November 10, 1980 12:00 PM

Few moviegoers remember The Conqueror, a sappy 1956 film about a love affair between Genghis Khan and a beautiful captive princess. But to the families of its stars, John Wayne and Susan Hayward, and of its director-producer, Dick Powell, memories of The Conqueror have begun to acquire nightmarish clarity. The movie was shot from June through August 1954 among the scenic red bluffs and white dunes near Saint George, Utah, an area chosen by Powell for its similarity to the central Asian steppes. At the time it did not seem significant that Saint George was only 137 miles from the atomic testing range at Yucca Flat, Nev.; the federal government, after all, was constantly reassuring local residents back then that the bomb tests posed no health hazard. Now, 17 years after aboveground nuclear tests were outlawed, Saint George is plagued by an extraordinarily high rate of cancer (PEOPLE, Oct. 1, 1979)—and the illustrious alumni of The Conqueror and their offspring are wondering whether their own grim medical histories are more than an uncommon run of bad luck.

Of The Conqueror’s 220 cast and crew members from Hollywood, an astonishing 91 have contracted cancer, PEOPLE has ascertained. Forty-six of them, including Wayne, Hayward and Powell, have died of the disease. Another star of the film, Pedro Armendariz, survived cancer of the kidney four years after finishing the movie—but killed himself in 1963 at the age of 51 when he learned that he had terminal cancer of the lymphatic system.
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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostMon May 14, 2018 9:49 pm

According to this article from The Guardian, the locals were more likely to have been harmed by the nuclear radiation than the cast and crew of this film.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jun/06/downwinders-nuclear-fallout-hollywood-john-wayne

This skeptics website also casts doubt on the causes of cancer for so many of the crew, claiming that cancer from smoking and other causes was much more likely.
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oldposterho

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostTue May 15, 2018 8:13 am

As the cigarette companies are only too happy to point out, Duke Wayne's prodigious smoking certainly had no impact on his cancer...

There is a high quality transfer of the film 'out there,' so somebody, somewhere did have a go at it at some point. My copy has a modern Universal logo but no distributor info.
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MoviecollectorOH

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostFri May 18, 2018 3:28 pm

David Alp wrote:I see. Thanks Wingate. I am also in the UK but have never seen it. I wonder if it is ever on US TCM?

So sad about Dick Powell. :(


Yes. I have an independent project which attempts to track full-length features on US TCM. At the least, The Conqueror was shown in 2015 and a number of times in 2000.
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David Alp

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostSun May 20, 2018 4:43 am



Okay guys - so this 1982 Dick Cavett Show YouTube clip I have inbedded above -- fast forward it to 19:35 and you will get to hear a FIRST HAND account from June Allyson herself (the wife of Director Dick Powell) of the cancer scandal during the making of "The Conqueror". Apparently the survivors were suing the government, and had they won they were going to give all of the money away to cancer research!

(As an aside, and completely off topic, there is a very revealing story during this interview about Joan Crawford and her abuse of her daughter Christina Crawford witnessed by Allyson. The Crawford story can be found at 10:20 on this clip).
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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostWed May 23, 2018 1:04 pm

David Alp wrote:

Okay guys - so this 1982 Dick Cavett Show YouTube clip I have inbedded above -- fast forward it to 19:35 and you will get to hear a FIRST HAND account from June Allyson herself (the wife of Director Dick Powell) of the cancer scandal during the making of "The Conqueror". Apparently the survivors were suing the government, and had they won they were going to give all of the money away to cancer research!

(As an aside, and completely off topic, there is a very revealing story during this interview about Joan Crawford and her abuse of her daughter Christina Crawford witnessed by Allyson. The Crawford story can be found at 10:20 on this clip).
In an interview years later, June Allyson said that Powell's death was from smoking.
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MoviecollectorOH

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostFri May 25, 2018 1:36 pm

antoniod wrote:
David Alp wrote:

Okay guys - so this 1982 Dick Cavett Show YouTube clip I have inbedded above -- fast forward it to 19:35 and you will get to hear a FIRST HAND account from June Allyson herself (the wife of Director Dick Powell) of the cancer scandal during the making of "The Conqueror". Apparently the survivors were suing the government, and had they won they were going to give all of the money away to cancer research!

(As an aside, and completely off topic, there is a very revealing story during this interview about Joan Crawford and her abuse of her daughter Christina Crawford witnessed by Allyson. The Crawford story can be found at 10:20 on this clip).
In an interview years later, June Allyson said that Powell's death was from smoking.


Good point. Dick Powell died from lung cancer. I wonder how many, if any, from that set died from thyroid cancer. Be sure to keep potassium iodide pills on hand for such occasions.
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greta de groat

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostThu Jun 07, 2018 1:05 pm

Coincidentally, I just cataloged a 2017 British documentary called Where the Wind Blew, and it has a segment (19 minutes in) on The Conqueror, repeating the "91 out of 220" with cancer figure.

So, has anyone ever run numbers on the cast and crew of random films of the era to see whether that percentage of cancer deaths is atypical? If it could be explained mostly by smoking, the percentage of smokers on that film was probably similar to the percentage of smokers working on other films so there should be a lot of other films with similar casualty figures.

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Hamilton's Grandson

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Re: The Conqueror (1956)

PostFri Jun 08, 2018 12:18 pm

Would need a cohort study comparing non-smokers who died from cancer to smokers (former and those who smoked up until death) and then compare to incidence among other performers in general.

Since smoking has a long latency period (decades of smoking behavior among many), it is difficult to follow study participants their entire lifetime.

Interesting stuff,
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