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Not Rated
Copyright 1956 RKO Radio Pictures
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 23 November 2008

The Characters:  

  • Temüjin (Genghis Khan) - John Wayne! "Those Tartars killed my father. I'm going to stick my spear in their chieftain, and take his daughter as my bride. Come pilgrim, the open steppe speaks to my blood. The blood of destiny!"
  • Bortai - Susan Hayward! All she wants is a man to rule her, to love her, and to slap her at least once a day so that she knows that she is still wanted.
  • Jamuga - What the heck are you doing in Mongolia?
  • Kasar - William Conrad! "In the year 1206, Genghis Khan united the tribes of the Gobi into the greatest empire the world had ever known. In a freak mishap, I was cast as a beefy Mongol warrior. It does not make any sense to me, but I have a mortgage to pay. Where are the goat skins that I need to wear for the next scene?"
  • Hunlun - Temüjin's mom. She has an abacus on her head.
  • Wang Khan - Having seen this man in the bath, I can honestly say that I will never look at a blue raspberry slushy the same again.
  • Shaman - John Hoyt! In a misbegotten attempt to appear Asian, he spends the entire film staring cross-eyed at his own nose.
  • Kumlek - Oh boy, I bet that he got teased in school.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

If there was ever a movie that makes the viewer stare at the screen in disbelief, then "The Conqueror" might be it. I have told numerous people about this film, and everyone responds with incredulous amusement. However, when I show them John Wayne dressed in furs and sporting a drooping Asian moustache, those same people collapse into giggling piles of useless flesh. What scares me is that seeing them giggling makes me want to giggle, and if I start giggling over John Wayne trying to play Genghis Khan, I am probably not going to stop until I am dead.

This really is a bad movie. I cannot fathom how anybody involved ever thought it was going to turn out "OK."

A Merkit caravan slowly trundles through Mongol territory, because their chieftain, Targutai, decided to take a shortcut home. The Merkit leader is eager to get back to the village; riding in a cushioned cart is Bortai, Targutai's bride-to-be. The sooner they get home, the sooner they can make like camels and hump. Just one thing stands between Targutai and wedded bliss: Temüjin. The Mongol chieftain has a beef with Bortai's father, because the Tartar leader poisoned Temüjin's dad. Even among nomadic barbarians, that is considered "poor form."

Before the Merkit caravan can reach the relative safety of their village, a Mongol raiding party attacks. The Merkit's are routed. Targutai is slapped on the butt with Temüjin's spear, and his bride-to-be suddenly becomes the Mongol's spoil of war. Now, this is a crazy coincidence. Under any other circumstances, being slapped on the butt by another man's spear as he steals your wife would be embarrassing. The only times I could imagine that happening, and not dying of shame, would be if the wife-snatching victor was either Genghis Khan or John Wayne.

How's that for a coincidence?

The war booty is taken back to the Mongol camp. Temüjin has to endure a stern lecture from his mother about the kind of women he brings home (well, at least it wasn't a cocktail waitress; not that anybody knew what a cocktail waitress was in the thirteenth century). After that, the Mongol chieftain declares it is time for a feast, and dancing, and whatever else it is that Mongolians do after a battle. I can tell you what one of those mystery activities is: trying out any women taken in the raid. At first, it looks like Temüjin is going to force himself on Bortai. She refuses to kiss him; in a fit of impotent rage, the future Genghis Khan pushes his reluctant bride away and tells the guard to take her back to her tent.

Let me get this straight: he was going to rape her, but she wasn't into it, so he stopped because that takes the fun out of raping somebody?

I will say that the film can be pretty racy at times. "I will take her for my pleasure!" and all the stuff that John Wayne says about Bortai. It is also crazy with the slapping. I lost count of the number of times that Temüjin slapped or shoved Bortai because she was not submitting to his desires. I guess the goal was to continue beating the feisty Tartan princess until she started liking it.

Being slapped on the butt with Genghis Khan's spear did not prove fatally embarrassing to Targutai. A Merkit war party rides into the Mongol camp! Before you can say "burning tents" thrice, Temüjin impales the Merkit chieftain with a broken spear. He then has to chase after Bortai. When the Mongol leader returns to the camp he confronts a bunch of sullen Mongols. The Duke lays down the law. A man who mouths off to Temüjin gets a big ol' Mongolian knuckle sandwich, and the sentries who failed to warn the camp of the surprise attack are hanged.

Unfortunately, even with the Merkits effectively destroyed, there is still the problem of the Tartars. Temüjin stole Bortai, their princess, remember? Kumlek is a little unhappy about that. Bortai is his favorite daughter; the last thing that Kumlek wants is a filthy Mongolian whelp making more Mongolians with his delicate desert flower. Before long, Temüjin is going to have to face the Tartars on the field of battle. The scheming Mongol rides to the city of Urga, where he hopes to convince the fat ruler, Wang Khan, that the Tartars are planning a surprise attack on the city.

The diplomatic hobnobbing involves some perks that are rarely seen in the world today. Temüjin and Wang Khan relax while a troupe of dancers perform, for example. For the most part, the two men ignore the diplomacy and just ogle the undulating women. They also make fun of Bortai's non-undulating self until the Tartar princess finally gets fed up and takes to the floor. Her only reason for dancing is to prove that she is desirable, but she is proving this to a pair of men who she hates with a passion.

After the dancing is over, watching the Mongolian political machine at work gets a bit long in the tooth. I was happy when Temüjin returned to his encampment. Uh-oh! The Tartars have taken over the camp! They ambush the Mongol leader; Temüjin ends up with an arrow in his chest, though he initially escapes capture. It is Bortai who devises a plan to ensnare her wayward husband. Then, after helping her father to catch the Mongol chieftain, Bortai has a change of heart and helps him get away before he can be put to death (although she waits until he is publicly ridiculed, whipped, and beaten).

What is up with women? I swear that all of them act like this, even in this day and age. One minute she is angry at you, but the next minute she wants to move in together. She tries to disembowel you with a scimitar Monday night, and then shows up on your doorstep Saturday morning crying that you have not called her in a week. Seriously, I think that women have a Magic 8-Ball in their head that tells them what to do. Possible results include:

Scream at him
Buy him something he has wanted for a long time
Kiss him
Call his mom
Toss his clothes into the trash
Rearrange the furniture
Hazy, try again
Throw pots and pans
Go back to college
Sleep with his best friend

That insane unpredictability is why men want to conquer the world. We are trying to get away from the craziness that women subject us to on a daily basis. The fellows whose homes we are pillaging know exactly why we are out burning and looting everything in sight. They want to fight us. They're like, "Woman driving you crazy? Yeah, mine too! I'll get my sword! Thank goodness you came along when you did!"

Girls, I am not joking. Us men think like this, and it's your fault.

Okay, back to the story. The Mongols are happy when Temüjin shows up at the refugee camp, even though they lost their tents, goats, and other valuables when the Tartars attacked. Jamuga and Kasar go to Urga to nudge Wang Khan along ("Total war this Monday; don't forget to pack your toothbrush."), but more diplomatic hijinks ensue. The Mongol emissaries are locked up, and Kasar gets stuck while trying to squeeze out through a window. Then he gets murdered by one of Wang Khan's guards, while he is still stuck in the window! Jamuga gets away, but he ends up being taken prisoner by the Tartars.

All I want is for the plot to stop mucking around and get back to Mongols riding around on horses, burning and looting. Is that so much to ask? Fortunately, there eventually is a screen-filling battle between the Mongols and the Tartars. It's no "Lawrence of Arabia," more like "John of Utah," but at least there is a battle, with horses, spears, and arrows. At least, I think there were arrows. A bunch of riders just fall over, so I assumed they were hit by arrows. We never see the bowmen, so maybe I am wrong and the horses all tripped.

After a while, seeing John Wayne dressed up as Genghis Khan loses some of its effect, and he eventually stops slapping Susan Hayward all over the screen as well. That leaves us with just one thing for entertainment: the movie itself, and "The Conqueror" is pretty lackluster. It is sad that such a misbegotten film caused so much misery. Oh, wait - I have not told you the best part, the true tragedy of "The Conqueror." The movie was filmed in an area contaminated by radioactive fallout from the Yucca Flats nuclear tests. Ninety-one members of the cast and crew eventually developed cancer, including most of the leads. John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and John Hoyt all passed away due to cancer. The director, Dick Powell, died of cancer in 1963. Pedro Armendáriz, who played Jamuga, committed suicide in 1963 because of his terminal cancer. This is a bad movie in every sense.

I am still waiting for Hollywood to remake this film. They can cast Keanu Reeves as Genghis Khan, Oprah Winfrey could play Bortai, and Hulk Hogan would be perfect for the part of Kasar (if they can find a horse big enough for him to ride). Oh, almost forgot, Adam Sandler as the Shaman. Wouldn't that be just peachy?


In all the world there is one man I would ask to help me review a film as basically flawed as "The Conqueror." That is the minion of Jabootu, Ken Begg. Click on the banner to read Ken's review.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • The Tartars pioneered the "tear away velcro toga" that is so beloved by college students.
  • Tents always have a back door.
  • In Mongolia, "smacking the thick, sand-filled snot out of your wife" is also known as "foreplay."
  • Oddly enough, the sport of synchronized swimming originated in the Gobi Desert.
  • Mongolian religion is mouth-watering.
  • Sign language was invented by the CIA.
  • Genghis Khan was the embodiment of Love.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • Opening Credits - Wayne, Hayward, Armendáriz, Conrad...all good Mongolian families...
  • 16 mins - "Not that booty!"
  • 18 mins - If this is a celebration, I would hate to see a wake.
  • 27 mins - "All this slapping is making my hand sore. What does it take to get you in the mood?"
  • 40 mins - She is upset because she hasn't a thing to wear.
  • 44 mins - Tchaikovsky totally ripped off this scene.
  • 47 mins - Wait a minute, is he eating a Dorito?
  • 61 mins - This scene just reminded me that I need to thank God that they never cast John Wayne as Jesus Christ.
  • 67 mins - What he doesn't know is that the Tartars use goat urine to cure their hemp.
  • 82 mins - "So, you want us to kill them tonight, or have I got it all wrong again?"


  • Temüjin: "There are moments for wisdom, Jamuga; then I listen to you. There are moments for action; then I listen to my blood. I feel this Tartar woman is for me. My blood says, 'Take her!'"

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note conqueror1.wav Temüjin: "Are you women, that you tremble before a force half your number? You fear the Merkit's revenge; I seek it! Let him who shrinks from it say so, and be gone! There is no room in my tents for those who fear."
Green Music Note conqueror2.wav Temüjin: "You'll have no further need for furs. Come drink! By night, my warmth, and for adornment by day I shall heap precious stones on you and rare ornaments."
Bortai: "I want no more your stolen treasure than your vile warmth, Mongol. Those furs are mine! The dowry for my marriage with the man you slew."
Temüjin: "I have taken you for wife, Bortai, and I take your dowry."
Green Music Note conqueror3.wav Shaman: "Remember, they say that when Temüjin was born a clot of blood was found in his clenched fingers - a certain augury of greatness. Beware, oh Khan, beware! Lest the Mongol's greatness be achieved at your expense."
Wang Khan: "What say the spirits, Shaman?"
Shaman: "I was consulting them when these emissaries arrived. The signs are yet unclear, and time presses."
Green Music Note conqueror4.wav Bortai: "Tell me of Temüjin! I know of him only that on a sudden my hatred of him could not withstand my love."
Jamuga: "He has a quality of spirit that commands love, and makes men greater than themselves. Lacking this spirit, I found fulfillment in our brotherhood, and strove to inspire him to the greatness he knew not yet was in him."
Green Music NoteTheme Song Listen to a clip from the soundtrack.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipconqueror1.mpg - 4.8m
The Mongols just finished routing the Merkits, and Temüjin is laying claim to his new booty. I say, "Boo-tay."

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