Tag Archives: Temujin

Yellowface Film Review #11: Ghenghis Khan

Ghenghis Khan (1965)

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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Yellowface watch

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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. 1352062351_genghis_khan_1965.0-20-36.386

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

chingiz_han_genghis_khan_1965_dvdrip_1_87gb_1550025 Well, she does get wooed by a man with a doughnut around his neck.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Yellowface Film Review #8: The Conqueror

The Conqueror (1956)

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This epically bad retelling of Ghengis Khan is universally derided as one of the worst films of all time and the subject of much controversy over its use of a nuclear test site as a location.

the_conqueror_wayne_5 It filled its producer Howard Hughes with such guilt he later paid an estimated $12 million dollars buying up every print of the film so no one could see it (not even on TV) for seventeen years. In fact The Conqueror is sometimes known as “An RKO Radioactive Picture” because it was filmed on a location in Utah contaminated with nuclear fall-out, with contaminated soil even being shipped back to the studio set in Los Angeles. Over the next 20 years many of the cast and crew (including stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward & Pedro Armendariz) developed cancer.  In fact in 1980 People magazine researched the health of the cast and crew and discovered that 91 of the 220 people who worked on the film had developed cancer but even then this didn’t include the Native American extras or visiting friends and relatives (including Wayne’s son Michael).

John_Wayne - the conquerer  The film itself is every bit as bad as it reputation suggests, hilariously inaccurate historically, unintentionally silly with ludicrously miscast actors banging leadenly portentous dialogue at each other and shot through with truly unpleasant misogyny.

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When Wayne as Temujin (later Ghengis Khan) first spies Susan Hayward’s Tartar princess Bortai he says of her “I feel this Tartar woman is for me. My blood says, take her.” According to The Guardian Few actors could make lines like that sound good, and John Wayne wasn’t one of them.” It’s difficult not to agree. Writer Oscar Millard, aware that his screenplay was, in his own words, “nothing more than a tarted up Western” determined to give his dialogue an “archaic flourish”. And boy, does he.  Again, according to The Guardian “Poor old Wayne has to prance about saying things such as “I greet you, my mother!” where normal people would say “Hello, mum!”

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The plot revolves around Temujin’s obsession with Bortai, the Tartar princess he captures from a Merkit warlord who he humiliates then slays. Bortai was in fact the name of Temujin’s real-life wife but she was a Mongol like him and they were betrothed aged 9 and 10, but here he abducts her and manhandles her roughly whilst declaring “Woman, I take you for wife”. She professes hatred for him but quivers and swoons every time he comes near her, succumbs to his roughhouse seduction techniques and later decides she loves him so much she betrays her father and her own people to him. At one point when she briefly resists him he even gives her a smack in the face. Hollywood sexual politics at its very worst.  Susan Hayward though is a fiery presence and, along with Hispanic actor Pedro Armendariz as Temujin’s blood-brother Jamuga,  is by some distance the best thing in the film.

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Yellowface watch

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Younger readers may not be so aware of John Wayne’s place in movie history but during my childhood it’s safe to he was probably the biggest film star on the planet, famed for his sturdy presence and laconic drawl. Whether Wayne could actually act or not is open to debate but it’s fair to say he had far better days than this ludicrously inappropriate bit of “ethnicing-up”. The screenplay was originally written for Marlon Brando but, according to the story, Wayne was discussing scripts with director Dick Powell and when the latter was called away for a few minutes he returned to find Wayne enthusiastically poring over the script for The Conqueror. Although Powell attempted to talk him out of it Wayne had set his heart on playing a 12th Century Mongolian warlord. As Powell later said, “Who am I to turn down John Wayne?” Wayne reportedly took the role very seriously, going on a crash diet and taking Dexdrine tablets four times a day, but appears hopelessly uneasy on-screen and later regretted the movie so much he cringed at  the very mention of it and once remarked that the moral of the film was “not to make an ass of yourself trying to play parts you’re not suited for.”

waynekhan The_Conqueror01Elsewhere, Armendariz aside, the film features lots of Caucasian American film actors hamming desperately away in tribal robes as if they’re in a particularly bad am-dram production but with a much bigger budget.  At its very best the film more resembles a weak episode of Star Trek than a historical epic.

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Of particular mention is John Hoyt as The Shamen at the court of Weng Khan, a character so slippery and treacherous his motives become so tangled that by the time he delivers his final explanation it is rendered virtually incomprehensible. Hoyt affects a hilariously bad sing-song accent but to his credit eschews taped eye-lids, preferring instead to squint his eyes into epicanthic slits. None of this is helped by the fact that the wardrobe department saw fit to costume him in a silly white conical hat straight out of some medieval pageant. Must be seen to be believed.

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Favourite scene? The one that contains this little gem, “So be it, Temujin, the slow death, joint by joint from fingertip upwards shall you be cut to pieces, and each carrion piece shall hour by hour and day by day be cast to the dogs before your very eyes until they too shall be plucked out as morsels for the vultures

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More Yellowface Film Review tomorrow. Meantime, this evening we enter the final stand of 5 performances of The Fu Manchu Complex. There are just 5 performances left of the show which the brilliant Madam Miaow (Anna Chen) says “deftly demolishes a slew of stereotypes, setting them up and bowling them down like skittles in a boisterous romp through the yellow peril canon” (and she knows a thing or two about that stuff herself). Book tickets here http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/detail/the-fu-manchu-complex