Director William Wellman was loaned out to RKO where his friend David O. Selznick was trying to come up with a follow-up film for the enormously successful Cimarron (also starring Richard Dix), which had won the Academy Award&rfeg; for Best Picture in 1931. Costing some $800,000 less than Cimarron, Selznick predicted The Conquerors would be "one of the biggest pictures ever made." Unfortunately, it was not a follow-up film on par with the Best Picture winner, at least not at the box-office. In fact, it completed its run $230,000 in the red for RKO. However, in subsequent years, The Conquerors has earned a reputation for being a highly entertaining look at the tumultuous changes America went through in its economic development from the 19th to the 20th century. The last thirty minutes of this film has a fascinating cinematic depiction of the 1929 stock market crash.
To visually convey decades of change in the span of one feature film, Wellman needed more than one montage. The best in the business, Slavko Vorkapich, created the elaborate montage transitions that signal the passing of the years. He uses toppling stacks of coins, mountains of money, melting silver and other visual cues to metaphorically depict the various economic situations. These montages actually work as short films in themselves, made in the same spirit of the 1920s avant garde movement of which Vorkapich was a major part.
Much of The Conquerors's lighter moments are provided through the wonderful pairing of Edna May Oliver, as the no-nonsense owner of the local hotel, and Guy Kibbee, as her alcoholic doctor husband. These two inimitable character actors effortlessly steal all of their scenes as they would continue to do in most of their movies.
Director Wellman inserted a bit of autobiography in The Conquerors. At the outbreak of World War I, the main character played by Dix goes off to France to join the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps and later transfers to the Lafayette Flying Corps, which is identical to Wellman's own wartime experience.
Producer: David O. Selznick
Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Robert Lord, Howard Estabrook
Cinematography: Edward Cronjager
Film Editing: William Hamilton
Art Direction: Carroll Clark
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Richard Dix (Roger Standish), Ann Harding (Caroline Standish), Edna May Oliver (Matilda Blake), Guy Kibbee (Dr. Blake), Julie Haydon (Frances Standish Lennox), Donald Cook (Warren Lennox).
by Scott McGee