‘Conqueror’ doc is multi-layered

An excellent documentary that goes from routine talking heads to eye-opening behind the scenes. The forgotten film The Conqueror was an entertaining movie in its time but even then in an ironic way. It was so bad it was good.

The Conqueror (Hollywood Fallout) operates on three levels: it’s about Howard Hughes during his recluse stage as well as his tenure as the owner of RKO; it’s doc about the making of The Conqueror a film helmed by Dick Powell with John Wayne headlining as Genghis Khan; plus the film devotes equal time to over 900 atomic bomb tests in the Nevada desert that resulted in radioactive fallout in a nearby (75 miles) Utah town (which was the location of The Conqueror film shoot).

The doc posits that Hughes isolated on the top floor of his Las Vegas hotel sits naked with his elongated fingernails obsessively watching a film print of The Conqueror. We know from Scorsese’s The Aviator that Hughes was perhaps a recluse in later life and stored his urine in bottles but that film never went into detail as to what his personal viewing habits consisted of.

“Wave of the future.”

For the record the Jonathan Demme film Melvin and Howard also depicts Hughes during this period and shows him sneaking out via his private elevator to ride a motorcycle with solitary abandon in the nearby desert.

Producer-Director Dick Powell and actor John Wayne talk over the shooting of a scene for the movie “The Conqueror” at the St. George, Utah location site, July 30, 1954. Wayne is not wearing his makeup and beard because of the heat. He has it applied just before going in front of the cameras. (AP Photo)

While I can’t be sure of how recent the interview clips are they include children of Wayne and Powell (with his wife June Allyson) as well as denizens of the Utah town downwind of the atomic bomb tests. Lots of good before and after pictures so to speak.

One interviewee Barrie Chase talks about her scene as the ‘exotic dancer’ and how it was censored in some cities. Chase happens to be the last living member of the cast It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

It’s a fact that may be lost nearly 70 years on but Las Vegas is approximately the same distance as the crow files from the official atomic testing site as St. George, Utah, where The Conqueror was filmed.

The Conqueror (Hollywood Fallout) opens in select theaters on June 28.

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