1956 John Wayne movie linked to high cancer rate

There's been a high rate of cancer among people involved with the filming: 91 of 220 crew members developed the illness, and 46 died including John Wayne ...

THE HILL – The 1956 movie “The Conqueror” is infamous among cinephiles, both for its casting of John Wayne as the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan and for a suspicious number of deaths that followed its filming downwind of a nuclear test site.

Nearly 70 years later, the makers of the documentary “The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout” hope to tell the story of the affected “downwinder” community in St. George, Utah, near where the film shot as their federal compensation for radiation exposure is on the line.

At the time “The Conqueror” filmed in the Utah desert just outside the town, St. George was 137 miles downwind from the Nevada Test Site, where the federal government conducted more than 900 nuclear tests.

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for years insisted to locals there was no danger, and when ranchers’ sheep began mysteriously dying, the federal government blamed it on the ranchers’ negligence.

Director Dick Powell and stars Wayne, Susan Hayward and Agnes Moorehead all eventually died of cancer as well, while Pedro Armendáriz Sr., an accomplished Mexican actor and the only nonwhite member of the film’s main cast, died by suicide when his cancer became terminal.

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Local Paiute Native Americans were used as extras for crowd and battle scenes, but no records were kept of cancer rates among them.

“The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout” director Will Nunez said at a panel discussion Wednesday that he had the idea for the documentary in 2020 during COVID-19 lockdowns, and that at the time, he was only aware of the movie’s infamy and the alleged cancer connection.

“What started as a lark about this terrible movie became something else as I was researching about atomic testing and all that, and my goal was to see how I can try and do this in the most entertaining way possible so that a general audience can understand what had happened,” he said …



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