Like most movie stars, John Wayne had big hits, but also big hits in his Hollywood career. The Conqueror, in which Duke played Genghis Khan after Marlon Brando dropped out, may have made a profit at the box office, but it now ranks as one of the worst movies ever made. It is widely believed that Duke was terribly miscast, even at the time, with The New Times calling the 1956 epic “an Eastern Western” with a script that featured “few unintentional laughs.” However, what’s even worse is what happened after production that sparked a lot of controversy and a question as to who was to blame.
The Howard Hughes-produced film was partially filmed in Utah while the US government conducted atmospheric nuclear tests in a state beyond. In 1953 alone, 11 above-ground nuclear weapons tests were conducted at the site as part of Operation Upshot-Knothole at the Nevada National Security Site. Parts of The Conqueror were shot in the Escalante Desert near St George, Utah, which is 137 miles downwind from this location. The cast and crew of the Hollywood production spent many grueling weeks here and the filmmakers knew about the nuclear tests, but were supposedly assured by the government that there was no risk to public health.
It has since been noted that the number of cancer cases among the cast and crew was in line with the average for adults in the US. Many of this generation were heavy smokers; Wayne, who drank six packs a day, had a lung removed in 1964 before dying of stomach cancer in 1979. However, they were also among them, like Moorehead, who did not smoke. teetotaler. Whatever the case, Hughes reportedly felt guilty that production of The Conqueror took place on a dangerous site and ended up buying each copy of the flop for $12 million, watching it endlessly in his later years alongside Ice Station Zebra. . That was until Universal Pictures bought the film from his estate in 1979, three years after his death.
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