Genghis Khan according to Hollywood
November 15, 2001
In the late fifties, early sixties, the archetype barbarian was undoubtedly
Yul Brynner. His role in "Tarass Boulba " directed by Jack Lee Thomson
in 1962, was memorable. When producer Irving Allen decided to make a new epic movie
on the life of Genghis
Khan with Yul Brynner in the title role, he refused for financial reasons. Lebanese-Egyptian
actor Omar Sharif, who had gained stardom with his brilliant acting along side Peter
O' Tool in David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" immediately accepted Allen's
proposition, and chose Henry Levin as director.
In the beginning of the 13th century, Genghis Khan launched what was to become
a vast conquest which took him from Mongolia to China in the east through the Persian
Empire in the west. It is this odyssey which is illustrated in this film, or more
exactly, certain aspects of this odyssey such as the splendors of the Chinese court
or the discovery of gun powder.
Genghis Khan (Omar Sharif) conquerer ...
As played by Sharif, the Mongol conqueror-to-be is taken captive in childhood
by a rival tribal chief, Jamuga (played by Irish actor Stephen Boyd), who dismembers
Genghis's father and keeps the boy in a wooden collar (incidents which have eluded
biographers). Genghis escapes, and there is much kidnapping to and fro of the heroine
(late Françoise Dorleac, Catherine Deneuve's sister).
Tribal chief Jumaga (Stephan Boyd) Genghiz's rival and foe
He unites the Mongols (Telly Savalas and others) before traveling peacefully to
China. There he lives at the court of the Emperor (Robert Morely ) whom he eventually
blows up in a fireworks display. The Mongol conquest of China and parts of the West
is briskly covered, with the aid of narration. A resisting sultan of Khwarezm (Eli
Wallach) is disposed of, and in a final duel, Jamuga is killed and Genghis is mortally
Genghis threatens the throne of the Shah of Khwarezm (Eli Wallach)
a Persian Sultan
It is difficult to portray one of the most bloodthirsty monsters in history in
his true colors and still attract paying customers. Genghis was admirable only as
a military strategist; perhaps no one has ever mastered the art war, managing enormous
troop movement as rapidly as he did, or imposing such perfect discipline on an army.
He united the Mongol hordes, conquered and slaughtered without mercy from the China
Sea to the Caucasus, killing untold millions and devastating vast areas. He conquered
half of the known world, for no apparent reason except that it was there.
Jamuga (Stephen Boyd) in the battle field
The film does not focus on Genghis as a killing machine. However the film is interesting
as a spectacle (shot in Panavision Technicolor). The Chinese sequences please the
eye. Stephen Boyd (very good actor but type-casted in epic films ever since "Ben
Hur") is a ruthless heavy, and James Mason gives a bravura performance as the
courtly, lisping mandarin Kam Ling.
Nothing seems to stop Genghis Khan (Omar Sharif)as he leads the Mongol tribes
Omar Sharif is better casted as Genghis Khan than John Wayne was in Dick Powell's
1956 film "The Conqueror". It somehow manages to create a Mongol never
neverland with stirring battles and magnificent landscapes ( filmed in the steppes
of Yugoslavia). As for the costumes (Chinese & Persian) and sets (particularly
Old Peking and the Chinese court ) are as lavish as one could imagine.