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The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout Film Review

The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout

William Nunez’s The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout is a compassionate documentary that explores a cinematic flop in fascinating ways.

Director: William Nunez
Genre: Documentary
Run Time: 114′
US Release: June 28, 2024
UK Release: TBA
Where to watch: in select US theaters

The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout begins with a strong thesis that Hollywood and the government share one thing in common: inflated egoes. At the heart of politics and entertainment is a devotion to power and control of the people who choose to sit and listen to what is being presented to them. Politicians run on the weaponisation of fear, while actors and Hollywood at large run on belief and charm that rubs off on the audience.

It’s this similarity that fuels this documentary as it creates a statement that’s both rageful and empathetic for the broader story at large.

In 1956, John Wayne starred as Genghis Khan in a mega Hollywood blockbuster titled The Conqueror. Produced by Howard Hughes and rocking a confidently high budget for the time, the film had the makings for a massive success. After all, John Wayne was a hot item in Hollywood, as was the rest of the film’s cast. However, despite performing respectably well at the box office, The Conqueror quickly became a critical disaster and a horrific example of Hollywood’s wider xenophobia and lack of self-awareness. John Wayne was a white man playing a Mongol chief surrounded by other white actors. Today, the film is considered a racist nightmare that couldn’t be saved even by the romantic Hollywood spectacle present throughout. However, the story of The Conqueror doesn’t end with its legacy as a major miss from one of America’s most iconic actors. 

The production of The Conqueror took place in Utah near multiple nuclear testing sites, and because of this, many of the film’s cast and crew would later develop cases of cancer believed to be caused by filming so close to this major radiation activity. Now, it’s worth mentioning that at this time, smoking was common, and its link to rising cases of the disease was not as clear. This particular angle is what The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout particularly takes a keen interest in. We see a tragic and fatal vision of America on the cusp of historical progress but not quite reaching it quickly enough.

The carelessness behind smoking a cigarette acts as an unknowing death sentence simply because the progress and research required to understand the impacts weren’t ready yet. Whether it was ignorance or plain ol’ naivety caused by tobacco companies placing profit over the health of human beings, the picture painted here is horrific and terrifying. The news of a cancer diagnosis is something no one should ever face, but in this story, the news keeps hitting over and over again in repetitious yet heartbreaking ways. 

The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout
The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout (Blue Fox Entertainment)

The dangers of nuclear testing is another threat that, at the time, was only in its infancy. The long-term damage that a nuclear bomb can cause is apparent now, but back then, all that was clear was that this was a powerful tool for warfare. The harm was evident in the short term, but in the long term, it was a mystery. One that still spelt doom for many but not for those in the firing line simply issuing orders. The US repeatedly testing nuclear bombs caused a high increase in cancer and trauma for thousands of Americans, and yet, this operation would not cease. Instead, it would be presented positively as the country demonstrated its hunger for war and threatened anyone who dared think to stand in their way. Throughout The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout, we’re consistently reminded of the harm nuclear fallout causes. Yet, we see the collective ignorance taken by those in power as their personal gain becomes the only thing that matters.

What’s most striking about The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout is William Nunez’s eye for capturing a foundation. The story here is one of two halves: a document of the chaotic production of a significant Hollywood disaster and the horrors of nuclear radiation affecting a country consumed by dangerous propaganda. There’s an inherently comedic angle to discussing any cinematic flops, but the layers of The Conqueror’s story present a far more sinister picture. It’s a tale of propaganda, racism and America’s never-ending thirst for war, even at the detriment of its people. It’s a lot to cover, but Nunez does a terrific job, even if some filmmaking stumbles make their way through.

The weakest parts of The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout can stem from just how much there is to cover here. It’s clear that William Nunez has an immense passion for the subject matter, and for the most part, he does cover it exceptionally well over a two-hour runtime. That said, there are times when the documentary can feel aimless for a small portion of time as it establishes more and more pieces to its puzzle. It’s undoubtedly engaging all the way through. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if a tighter edit was a better approach, especially when the core of this documentary presents such a strong message in its closing moments.

The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout Trailer (Blue Fox Entertainment)

The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout is a story of American deceit presented through the lens of a blockbuster produced in the most cynical way possible. It’s not necessarily a piece on the massive flop that was The Conqueror but rather, what that film meant to America at a time when paranoia and the threat of war lingered heavily. For those unaware of the film, however, there’s plenty of fascinating insight to discover. William Nunez shares a great ambition to tell a broader story that gets to the absolute horror of propaganda within the chaotic hub of Hollywood. Leading to a film made with fury but also with pure compassion.

The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout will be released in select US theaters on June 28, 2024.

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