Ghenghis Khan (1965)
Not as hideously embarrassing as the John Wayne version but this rather flatly conceived and directed take on the 12th Century Mongol conqueror is in its own way every bit as bad. It goes without saying that Omar Shariff is far more appropriate casting as the Asian warlord but the script is given minimal thought as in the early part of the film scenes and events are just plonked together with no real care or attention and several occurrences literally happening because people have chanced upon each other in the wilderness.
Director Henry Levin obviously has a budget but an awful lot of this just looks like hordes of extras riding around in Yugoslavian fields with bombastic music laid on. It gets more exciting in the last half an hour when Levin suddenly seems to want to inject some chutzpah into proceedings but by then it’s all too late. The film follows The Conqueror’s (historically inaccurate approach) by making Jamuga Temujin’s arch enemy (they were blood-brothers in fact and their rivalry only developed later on) and Borte Jamuga’s “woman” who Temujin steals when in fact Borte and the later Khan were betrothed as children and Jamuga it was who helped Temujin rescue her when she was captured by the Merkits. Jamuga incidentally is played by Irish actor Stephen Boyd and the film climaxes with he and Shariff having a bare-chested “Mongol duel” which sadly isn’t as homo-erotic as it sounds.
Along the way appear the Emperor Of China and the Shah of Khwarezm (Persia) who are portrayed as effete weaklings compared to the warrior Mongols, probably quite accurately in fairness but it does all seem a little crude with them offering fierce neighbours their daughters as if they were giving away tea coasters. Indeed at one point Telly Savalas as Shan proclaims to Temujin before they reach China “If we keep going East we’ll come to a land where I’ve heard they eat dogs”.
And here’s the rub. Shariff and Savalas aside there’s an awful lot of “ethnicing up” as firstly all the Mongols are portrayed by young actors who look and sound like they’ve not long left RADA and Temujin’s older advisor Geen is played by none other than Michael Hordern in Arab looking garb.
Borte is played by Catherine Deneauve’s tragically short-lived sister Francoise Dorleac, who, according to one online reviewer,“doesn’t look remotely Mongolian or Central Asian, and considering she doesn’t really have much to do except be flung about by the men and very occasionally say a dialogue or two, it really wouldn’t have hurt to have an Oriental (sic) actress here”
Things get far worse though when Temujin and his band of brothers arrive in China to be greeted by none other than James Mason as Kam Ling who proves once again that there isn’t a screen legend in the history of cinema who wasn’t capable of coming a celestial crocker as one of the true greats of the big screen proceeds to make an almighty tit of himself in chinoiserie.
Here’s where it gets controversial though because we have heard some argue that no make-up means no yellowface but here’s proof to the contrary as there’s no Lon Chaney-style taped eyelids here. Instead Jimmy simply affects a supercilious grin, pushes his front teeth out so they protrude Benny Hill style, squints his eyes up and spouts twee epigrams in the very highest vocal register he can find. An embarrassing outing for such a normally solid and reliable pro.
The Emperor Of China on the other hand is portrayed by Robert Morley whose wiki page quotes film critic Leonard Maltin maintaining he was “particularly effective when cast as a pompous windbag“. And that’s exactly how Bob chooses to play the Son Of Heaven, as if he’s organising a particularly troublesome church bazaar rather than the affairs of the Middle Kingdom. Watching him attempting pick up tiny tea cups with his long tapering fingernails has a certain amusement factor but there’s no concealing the fact this is an utter train wreck of a perf and it should be remembered that once upon a time this type of “character” acting would be held up to us “effniks” as an example of a “technique” we obviously didn’t possess.
Favourite scene? I’m tempted to say the one where the real-life Jamuga declares to Temujin “What use is there in my becoming a companion to you? On the contrary, sworn brother, in the black night I would haunt your dreams, in the bright day I would trouble your heart. I would be the louse in your collar, I would become the splinter in your door-panel….as there was room for only one sun in the sky, there was room only for one Mongol lord” simple because it’s obviously not in this film and with real-life dialogue and relationships like that why write your own?
But instead I’ll opt for the one where Temujin clouts his oldest brother-in-law around the chops before telling him “You have a strong right-arm, and I like to know it is at my side, but your mouth…is young…and it needs training. With enough training, my brother, you may yet become my strong right-arm…” Dialogue which would surely grace any gay porn film.
And this, ladies & gentlemen, is the final Yellowface Film Review (at least for the time being) as the Ovalhouse run of The Fu Manchu Complex draws to a close tomorrow. There are though still TWO PERFORMANCES LEFT. BOOK YOUR TICKETS NOW http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/detail/the-fu-manchu-complex for the play described as “incredibly guiltily hilarious” (The Public Reviews) and “a boisterous romp through the Yellow Peril canon” (Madam Miaow Says). If you’ve been already we do hope you enjoyed it and we hope you have enjoyed this series of reviews.