Much Khan: Genghis Khan (1965) + The Conqueror (1956)

October 5, 2018 | By

Temujin, aka Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan has appeared several times in feature films – the latest is a 2018 Chinese epic directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Quest for Fire, The Bear), and a prior 2007 Russian production, Mongol, was well received – but Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of Genghis Khan, a lesser-known 1965 production starring Omar Sharif, Stephen Boyd, and Francoise Dorleac finally forced me to sit down and watch The Conqueror, the infamous 1956 John Wayne disaster produced by Howard Hughes during the dying days of RKO, the middle-major Hollywood studio he bought, and arguably ruined.

When I was in Germany around 2006 or 2009, I bought a prior Hughes disaster that also starred Wayne, Jet Pilot (1957), which KOCH Media had released in a lovely Region 2 PAL DVD release from a new transfer. I passed on Conqueror because I could never get through the damn thing on video – the music was whiny, the dialogue lame, and I didn’t like the idea of watching the film that is largely believed to have given several of its cast & crew cancer because the production was shot near nuclear test sites in Utah.

A lot of good talent died from this disaster, and it’s unfathomable to think shooting a movie near wind-blown, radioactive dirt was deemed safe, but within half a decade, symptoms of cancer began to appear in director Dick Powell, and the former matinee idol, dancer, singer, actor, producer-director, and co-founder of TV production shingle Four Star Television was dead at 58.

The loss of several stars (including Wayne) over the years makes watching the film a strange experience: it’s a much-heralded bomb, filled with laughable dialogue, and a target of easy derision; but it’s also a tragic, awful miscalculation by production personnel and the naivete of the era in thinking radiation could be harnessed, isolated, and segregated without repercussions to civilian populations.

I address the film’s grim infamy in the second half of my review – for their PAL DVD (which I eventually bought), KOCH included a 1995 German TV documentary in which a small crew visited the original town and interviewed inhabitants affected by cancer – but the first half of my scribblings is an attempt to fine some artistry within the nonsense that cost RKO $6 million smackeroons in 1956.


John Wayne IS Temujin!


I don’t think you can brand it a studio killer like Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980) which harpooned United Artists, or the combination of Hugh Hudson’s Revolution (1985) and Julian Temple’s Absolute Beginners (1986) which sealed the fate of England’s Goldcrest, but financially wobbly studios of any size shouldn’t bankroll massive vanity projects whose budgets balloon as reshoots and various re-edits fail to deliver a financially viable release version.

Waterworld (1995) didn’t kill Universal, but it too is symptomatic of desperate executives throwing a lot of money at a problem-plagued production in the hope getting the damn thing done will yield a hit. Each of the aforementioned duds have evolved into cult films and have their defenders, but none are unfairly maligned masterpieces, and it’s unlikely any of them made back their budget and marketing within a few years.

That doesn’t mean disasters deserve to be written off as rubbish – creative minds still made the things – but they’re no masterpieces. The Conqueror deserves a Blu-ray, as does Revolution, and they should be supported by contextual extras that sort through the mess and find good and bad, but it says something when I’ve owned the KOCH Conqueror disc for nearly 10 years, and finally decided ‘Okay: IT’S TIME.’

As for 1965’s Genghis Khan, it’s just another modest epic riding the wave of historical epics during the 1960s, but it has some significant pluses, and for fans of epics shot in the former Yugoslavia, it’s a treat.

Back in the 1990s I bought the soundtrack LP of The Battle of Neretva, which featured a score by Bernard Herrmann. It’s bombastic, abrasive, and has a few subtle delicacies before chaos booms through the speakers. Many English reviews seem to make a point in asking ‘What happened to the original 3 hour cut that was Yugoslavia’s Oscar-nominated entry for Best Foreign Film of 1969?’

I’ll save the intrigue for a later blog – I’ve been obsessed in seeing / owning the U.S., UK, Spanish, German, and Yugoslavian edits with different dub tracks & music scores for years – but Neretva seeded a genuine fascination for these WWII epics produced as international co-productions, filmed in some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, and starring an international cast, hence a keen interest in Genghis Khan.


Omar Sharif IS A BETTER Temujin!


It’s also a film that Sony’s kept in print on DVD pretty consistently because its cast, scope, and place among historical epics never seemed to fade with fans of the genre and its stars, making TT’s Blu quite a treat.

So that’s my overlong explanation of why my review of Genghis Khan is paired with The Conqueror – two early epics of the Mongol  conqueror who clearly continues to entice producers, writers, and directors, because Khan’s influence was felt in parts of Europe, Russia, China, and South Asia.

Coming next: Peter Medak’s The Changeling (1980), still one of the best ghost stories ever filmed, made in Canada (oh, it’s a CanCon and canuxploitation qualifier alright), and beautifully released on Blu by Severin.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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