Hollywood Movies

The most dangerous movie in Hollywood history

April 1, 20243 Mins Read

No one ever thinks that they’re going to be risking their lives acting onscreen. The whole point for an actor is to simulate actions that seem larger than life, but there’s usually never a slim chance that anyone would be in any actual danger. When working on the John Wayne classic The Conqueror, everyone on the cast and crew was flirting with death slightly more than they had originally bargained for.

Then again, it’s not out of the question for some people to take a handful of risks when getting behind the camera. Sometimes, it’s easier to film in certain locations that aren’t the safest place in the world, and even actors like Leonardo DiCaprio have been known to immerse themselves in the role even though they may end up walking away in rough shape after they get the shot.

Looking at it today, The Conqueror just looks like a traditional action/adventure film from yesteryear. Wayne may look a little bit questionable with his Fu Manchu beard and lines of dialogue that feature his best attempt at sounding like a native Asian, but the locations seem to be perfect for the kind of barren landscape that Howard Hughes needed to tell his story.

When scoping out locations, the entire cast and crew ventured to Utah, where they could get images of those vast desert landscapes stretching on for miles on end. Then again, that landscape was supposed to be isolated for a very specific reason.

Just a few miles away from their location, a testing site for nuclear weapons had been brewing, which meant that a lot of the after-effects of their experiments had been making their way through the air and onto the set. While the team might not have felt the effects on them at the moment, it would turn tragic years later when most of them ended up dying of cancer due to their exposure to nuclear chemicals.

Outside of Wayne passing away from cancer in the coming years, several of his co-stars, along with director Dick Powell, would be diagnosed with the disease. That’s not even counting the number of people behind the cameras, which included 91 of the 220-member cast walking away affected by the set.

Since so many people have been diagnosed following the film shoot, how come no one has been charged with manslaughter? Well, as far as a court of law is concerned, the cancer may have stemmed from several different reasons beyond just deciding to go to work at one specific place for a few weeks.

Despite his death from cancer, Wayne had been known for his cigarette habit, which may have influenced the cancer spreading throughout his body. There were even a few deceased members of the cast who couldn’t be diagnosed, like Pedro Armendariz, who took his own life before he could be diagnosed with anything.

Then again, there’s more than just bad habits at play here. Since the Mormon church had already seen spikes in diseases like leukaemia due to their proximity to the nuclear site, there’s a case to be made that The Conqueror may have been even more dangerous to the production team than the grizzly film would imply.

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