| Just imagine this: John Wayne playing the
great Mongol chieftain Temujin (Before attaining the title Genghis Khan.) and Susan
Hayward as his fiery Tartar conquest. Well, you don't have to imagine it; you can watch it
in The Conqueror, a big widescreen epic from 1955 that plods along colorfully in
the sands of the Gobi desert.
Wayne dons a wig that foreshadows The Beatles and sports a drooping mustache and trimmed eyebrows meant to suggest his Mongol heritage. You've got to hand it to him though: he is able to recite some of the ripest dialogue without so much a single smile through the two hour production. The next released Wayne film was The Searchers, his defining role. The fresh taste of The Conqueror's dialogue must have driven him to dig deep inside to find the measure of the man Ethan Edwards. I still can't figure out what Susan Hayward was doing in the desert playing the voluptuous Bortai. Susan looked like she arrived in the Gobi directly from an appointment with the studio beautician. Hayward, long one of my favorite actresses, is practically asked to hiss at the bulky Wayne's amorous advances. She is even condemned to doing a veiled dance that should make a highlight reel of "Laughable Hollywood." Well, at least she got to toss a sword at Wayne at the conclusion of the silly dance gyrations.
Could The Conqueror
qualify as a guilty pleasure? The hairstyles alone are worth a view. The yurts could
probably be turned into a chain of yogurt huts. Director Dick Powell's ponderous direction
includes a triple ration of reaction shots with actors looking like they are lost in the
desert. The Conqueror is the six million dollar film that answers these questions:
Will Bortai seduce Temujin's blood brother Jamuga? Will Wang Khan betray Temujin? Will
Bortai betray her father? Will Hunlun punish her son Temujin for lusting after the
daughter of his father's murderer? Stay tuned. There's even a scene when Wayne strolls tot
he top of a hill at night, raises his arms to the sky like he's taking an air bath, and
chants to his dead father to send him men, MEN, for the coming battle. Yes, there are
battles that include crashing horses and flashing swords. The editing doesn't do much to
make their impact felt on the wide screen. Victor Young's score fills in any holes in the
ripe structure with tiresome romantic themes and bombastic battle charges.