By Crom


Caught the end of John Milius’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN on TV last night, a movie I saw when it came out. If my arithmetic is correct, it was an AA certificate and I was slightly too young. Saw it with my dad. I’ve seen bits of this movie on TV over the years but not the ending, because I usually decided it wasn’t good enough to watch. I still think that’s true, probably. (I’ve seen practically nothing of CONAN THE DESTROYER but am actually interested because it’s Fleischer.)

It would be ludicrous to say Schwartzenegger ever became an actor, but seeing him in this and RED SONJA (Fleischer again, and a favourite line reading from Ahnuldt, the casual, friendly “Yer sister’s dying,”) it’s striking how he just couldn’t do it at all to begin with: couldn’t say a line, couldn’t react, couldn’t move, couldn’t stand still.

Even accepting that, the film has problems — Milius’s Nazi fetish is apparent in the Riefenstahl firelight parade at the end, on a Fritz Lang set. Oliver Stone’s script was rewritten to heck by Milius, which is perhaps why, having offended Cubans (SCARFACE), Chinese-Americans (THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON) and Turks (MIDNIGHT EXPRESS), Stone’s barbarian epic wasn’t picketed by Cimmerians. But Milius has a problem of his own, and once you recognize it, everything he’s trying to do collapses like a camel — Milius is corny.

Compare his APOCALYPSE NOW script with what was filmed — Brando’s windy improvs are vastly superior to what was scripted, long, hawkish monologues that have the feel of being typed with Milius’s free hand while his other was busy down below. Incredibly, Milius practically steals Coppola’s ending, which Coppola stole from Jack Hill (spoiler alert) — Conan kills the evil ruler, the followers bow down to him, and the temple is set ablaze (as in some versions of APOC).

There’s also THIS —


Still, Milius’s film has a distinct personality — fascistic, bellicose, thuggish in its humour and humourless in its heart — which can’t be said for most modern fantasy films. And the modern guys haven’t looked at Kurosawa enough. Milius certainly has, and in addition is nutty enough to think he can actually BE Kurosawa. And why muck about with THE HIDDEN FORTRESS when you can muck about with THE SEVEN SAMURAI?

What I wish I could talk about is the reason the Ritz in Madrid to this day won’t allow filmmakers to check in. It has to do with Milius, and it’s a good story, but it’s gossip and I can’t prove it and it might be actionable. I find it quite believable though. Anyone else heard this one? I can only imagine the reason it doesn’t appear in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is that Milius was Biskind’s top informant and got an easy ride…


18 Responses to “By Crom”

  1. I always thought Schwarzenegger was at his best in The Long Goodbye. After that, it was downhill all the way…

  2. Milius is pretty much a basket case today. He can say is name but that’s about it.

  3. There’s at least one recent documentary. I gather he came out of a coma after his son played… was it the Basil Poledouris score from Conan? I think it was. I got the impression he was a bit more recovered than just saying his name. I hope so.

    Those big cigars aren’t good for you after all, it seems.

    Arnie works well in The Long Goodbye, his later fame adding another element of surrealism to Mark Rydell’s barnstorming scenes.

  4. Don’t you mean “By the cringe”? a key phrase from James Bolam when he was a likely lad? I saw the film on its theatrical run in Manchester but could not take it seriously, especially ex-football James Earl Jones bodyguards, one of whom was Swedish and wielded a big wooden hammer. After seeing it at the now defunct Scala Withington, I walked down Barlow Moor Rod and encountered a dark Valkyrie with hair flowing from the wind behind her. It was none other than Nico from the Velvet Underground who was playing in Manchester that week, a gig I attended. I said nothing as she walked past – “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

  5. ” I said nothing as she walked past – “the stuff that dreams are made of.””

    Going by Nico Icon, not very pleasant dreams.

  6. Wow! “Do you want to live forever?”

    The guy with the big hammer is hilarious. There’s some kind of major defect of the sensibility going on that puts him in a movie and doesn’t expect total hilarity as the response.

  7. One person’s poison is another’s pleasure.

  8. But I guess, as with Boorman, you can see Milius’s ability to take things seriously that normal people bust a gut at as a kind of strength or virtue or at least a unique attribute that’s sort of cherishable.

    Wish I could tell the story about Milius and the Ritz.

  9. Psychogeographer Iain Sinclair once told me that he had been commissioned to write a script for Conan the Barbarian and that some scenes of his made it into the final film. Not the strangest combination of writer and film but it’s up there.

  10. I don’t trust that guy. But it’s an amusing thought. “I don’t get this scene where Conan uncovers the ancient significance of Tottenham Court Road.”

    JG Ballard’s involvement with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (his name is spelled wrong in the credits) would come close.

  11. I guess CONAN THE DESTROYER isn’t very good, but I like it anyway because it has Grace Jones and a cool evil god-monster. It’s tacky, but fun. I’d forgotten that Fleischer directed it, so it probably looks pretty good too. I’ve never managed to will myself to rewatch CONAN THE BARBARIAN.

  12. That’s encouraging! The people who like CTB don’t care for CTD, which means there’s a chance I’ll enjoy it. Red Sonja is too much like a Saturday morning Filmation cartoon for my taste, but it does have some pretty moments.

  13. Ironically enough, CONAN THE BARBARIAN showed up in the mail from Netflix this week. I’d forgotten I’d put it in the queue many moons ago. So I watched it, for the first time since I saw it when it came out. Still found it dramatically inert, but it looks impressive. The one thing where it really fell down, I thought, was with the music, which needed to be some kind of faux-exotic wailing-Bulgarians thing rather than the grandiose faux-Carmina Burana thing it goes for instead. The Lang and Kurosawa influences you point out actually work pretty well, although that big temple out in the middle of nowhere is decidedly odd. Too bad they couldn’t think of a story as dramatic as DIE NIBELUNGEN or SEVEN SAMURAI, but I suppose that’s kind of a tall order.

  14. That mythic revenge story OUGHT to be dramatic, but you might need an actor for it to work. Or at least a serviceable prop. Arnie at this stage is neither.

  15. Maybe if they’d had him say, “You killed my fodda. Let’s make love.” (Sure was a lot of dull sex in the movie.)

  16. I remember Arnie being almost aggressively uninterested in everyone around him, so the sex never seemed fun.

  17. […] (as far as would be possible without straying into straight hagiography) portrait of the auteur of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, RED DAWN, THE WIND AND THE LION and the exceptional DILLINGER, which is the one I would point to […]

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