Cast & Crew
William A. Wellman
Edna May Oliver
During the economic prosperity of 1873, New York bank clerk Roger Standish dreams of marrying his boss's daughter, Carolyn Ogden. When Carolyn's father catches her alone with Roger, however, he fires Roger and banishes him from Carolyn's life. Soon after, a depression hits, and the Ogden bank is destroyed. Bankrupt, Ogden collapses and dies, leaving Carolyn penniless but free to marry Roger. The broke but happy newlyweds leave New York to start fresh in the West, but while in Nebraska are ambushed by outlaws. In the struggle, Roger is shot, then is taken to the nearest town, Fort Allen, to be treated by Dr. Daniel Blake, an alcoholic but competent physician. During Roger's recovery, Carolyn moves in with Daniel and his tough but generous wife Matilda, who runs the town hotel. After Roger incites the townspeople to defeat the marauding outlaws, he is urged by the pregnant Carolyn to start a bank, and the Standish Bank is born. Years later, after Carolyn has given birth to twins, Frances and Roger, Jr., Roger and Carolyn persuade a transcontinental railroad company to run their line through Fort Allen. On the day of the line's christening, a drunk Daniel accidentally crashes his buggy on the tracks, and both he and Roger, Jr. are crushed by the oncoming train. Although devastated by their son's death, Roger and Carolyn persevere and rear Frances to beautiful maturity. As Frances, who has married bank clerk Warren Lennox, is about to give birth, another economic crisis rocks the bank. Because of Warren's carelessness, the Standish Bank loses most of its assets, but Roger vows to repay all of his panicking customers. Warren commits suicide, but his son Roger grows up and becomes an aviation hero during the World War. During her grandson's homecoming parade, the proud but frail Carolyn collapses and dies. Soon after the stock market crash of 1929, the younger Roger asks his elderly grandfather to dissolve his five-million dollar trust fund so that he can invest in the Standish Bank and protect the customers' savings. Impressed by his grandson's brave dedication to the American dream, Roger happily signs over his inheritance.
William A. Wellman
Edna May Oliver
E. H. Calvert
Robert De Grasse
David O. Selznick
John E. Tribby
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
The working titles of this film were Frontier and March of a Nation. The title on the viewed film, a television release print, was The Pioneer Builders. According to a November 1931 Film Daily news item, Robert Lewis, Jr., who was the assistant to RKO producer Pandro S. Berman, won a one-hundred dollar prize for suggesting the title The Conquerors. Newsreel footage of World War I military parades and Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson was used in this film. RKO borrowed Wellman from Warner Bros. for the production, which was billed as a successor to the popular Oscar-winning 1931 RKO epic Cimarron ( listing). The described World War I experiences of the "Roger Lennox" character were identical to those of Wellman, according to Wellman's autobiography. An early pre-production Hollywood Reporter news item announced that location shooting was to be done in the "Dakotas," but no confirmation of that location has been found. According to modern sources, The Conquerors, which cost $800,000 less than Cimarron to make, lost $230,000 at the box office. Modern sources credit Ern Westmore with the makeup, and list Jed Prouty (Auctioneer) and Robert Greig and J. Carroll Naish as cast members. E. H. Calvert's role is listed as "Doctor" in modern sources.