The Conqueror (RKO), 1956
July 10, 2014
The Conqueror, an epic filmed in cinemascope , was produced by Howard Hughes, and directed by Dick Powell. It has been considered one of the worst films of the 1950’s, and has been on different “worst” lists as one of the worst films ever, despite it’s stellar cast. John Wayne comes off as a ridiculous Genghis Kahn. Although most of us adore the Duke, in this particular film he is Genghis Kahn on the range. It doesn't work. Susan Hayward, however, is beautiful as Bortai, and gives it her best although she said later “I had hysterics all through that one. Every time I had a scene I dissolved in laughter. Me, a red-haired Tartar princess. It looked like some wild Irishman had stopped on the road to Cathay.”
Susan Hayward as Bortai portrays the beautiful daughter of the Tartar leader, Kumlek (Ted de Corsia), who had killed Temujin's father. Temujin and his Mongols attack Bortai's caravan and capture her. Despite the pleading of his mother, Hulun (Agnes Moorhead) to release Bortai, Temujin refuses. He is smitten with her.
Bortai’s people rescue her, but she is later captured again by Temujin who says he will make her his wife. Bortai is disgusted with Temujin and resists.
The Mongols are invited to a banquet by the great leader, Wang Kahn (Thomas Gomez). At the banquet, Susan, as Bortai, performs one of her most famous movie scenes, a two sword-dance where at the end of the dance she flings one of the swords at Wang Khan. Temujin and Wang Kahn later join forces to defeat the Tartars. Before they can put their plan into action, Bortai escapes and Temujin is wounded. Jamuga, Temujin’s brother, (Pedro Armendariz) mistakenly leads the Tartars to Temujin’s hiding place. Bortai’s father sentences Temujin to death, but she has fallen in love with him, and so she sets him free.
Temujin is convinced that Wang Khan will become his enemy. He captures Khan’s city and becomes ruler of the Mongols. Temajin kills Bortai’s father in battle, and she later becomes his wife. Temajin becomes the great Genghis Khan.
Side Notes – The Conqueror is now mostly known for the “Cancer Controversy” It was shot on location in St. George, Utah, not many miles from US governmet nuclear testing. Many in the cast later died of cancer. Among those were John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Dick Powell, Pedro Armendariz, Agnes Moorhead, John Hoyt, and others of the cast and crew. What is controversial is that many of those who later succumbed to cancer were also smokers.
Quotes: Hunlun (Agnes Moorhead) “My son has won the world. Still he must conquer that red-headed Jezebel”
Temujin (John Wayne) “For good or ill, she is my destiny.”
Bortai (Susan Hayward) The Conqueror? Mighty armies cannot stop him But one touch of my lips….Yes, he captured me-but he cannot tame me.”
Louise Merritt (Susan Hayward) and her husband, Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy), desperately want to buy their own home and land. They meet up with Jeff (Robert Mitchum) a washed up rodeo rider who has seen his best days. Wes wants to make more money so he and Louise can buy their own place. He and Jeff team up to enter rodeo events with Jeff as Wes' manger. Louise does not approve but reluctantly goes along with their plan.
The story unfolds with a triangle of relationships. Jeff is interested in Louise, Louise loves Wes, but uses Jeff.
The film was directed by Nicholas Ray and is considered his finest work. The rodeo scenes were filmed at actual rodeo events. There were several famous rodeo stars in the film.
Susan Hayward gives a strong performance and looks as beautiful portraying the common, ordinary housewife wearing plain attire as she does when she portrays more elegant roles dressed to the nines. There is a rowdy, fun, and memorable scene in the film where Susan as Louise gets into a spirited brawl with starlet Eleanor Todd with Louise winning as she literally gives Todd the boot!
From all accounts it seems that Mitchum and Hayward did not get along well off screen, but their chemistry on screen is good, probably because there is animosity with their characters and real life just fit right into the scheme.
Side notes - The original title for "The Lusty Men" was to have been "This Man Is Mine." Susan had been traded out to RKO; therefore, Howard Hughes chose her for the role of Louise. The film was originally made in black and white, but there is a colorized version. In my opinion, the black and white works best for this story. It adds to the starkness and realism of the film.
Quote: Jeff McCloud (Robert Mitchum) "Hope's a funny thing. You can have it even when there ain't no reason for it."
Susan Hayward gives one of the most remarkable performances of her career as she portrays Rachel Donelson Jackson, beloved wife of Andrew Jackson who became President of the United States in 1829. Throughtout the film Susan Hayward is transformed from a young woman of 18 to a mature woman of 61. As Hayward ages, she skilfully adapts the mannerisms of an older woman. In one or two scenes she most charmingly smokes a pipe with her husband, Andrew (Charlton Heston).
The film beautifully tells the story of Rachel and Andrew's love for each other. They were "married" for two years before they discovered that their marriage was not legal since the divorce from her first husband was deemed to be invalid. They eventually remarried, but the stigma followed them throughout their lives. It was especially hard on Rachel. She was not accepted in "finer" circles of society, and was often taunted and ridiculed. Andrew always tried to defend her whether it be arguments or fist fights. He even killed a man in a duel for the honor of his Rachel. After the duel he vowed he would lift her so high that none would ever dare say a word against her.
Rachel Jackson died three months before Andrew's inauguration. The death scene is heartbreaking as Andrew clings to Rachel. It is one of the most touching of screen moments.
Side notes: The film was based on Irving Stone's book "The President's Lady."......This was the second of Susan Hayward's films which she narrated.....Years later, Charlton Heston recalled that his relationship with Susan Hayward during the film was "very easy" and "a cordial working ambiance."
Quote: President Andrew Jackson - "No man can say what he will about my wife!! Rachel, I've failed you a great many times and a great many ways and I hope you'll forgive me. But I couldn't expect you to forgive me if I lived without honor!"
Susan Hayward portrays Harriet Boyd, a model at a 7th Avenue garment center in New York City. Harriet has high ambitions. She wants to design clothes for her own company. Her co-partners in her new business will be Teddy Sherman (Dan Dailey) and Sam Cooper (Sam Jaffe). Their new business is barely off the ground when J.F. Noble (George Sanders) becomes interested in Harriet's designs and particularly in Harriet herself. Thus, the conflicts begin.