The Conqueror (1956)

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    Photo with the courtesy of lasbugas


    Plot Summary
    In ancient times, the Mongolian warlord Temujin must do battle against the rival tribe that killed his father.
    The battles pale in comparison with Temujin's home life, as he attempts to woo the heart
    of the red-haired Tartar prisoner Bortai whom he has captured in a raid.
    He must also deal with various intrigues within his palace.
    Eventually, Bortai falls to his manly charms,
    Temujin defeats his enemies within and without,
    and is crowned Genghis Khan.

    Full Cast
    John Wayne .... Temujin, later Genghis Khan
    Susan Hayward .... Bortai
    Pedro Armendáriz .... Jamuga
    Agnes Moorehead .... Hunlun
    Thomas Gomez .... Wang Khan
    John Hoyt .... Shaman
    William Conrad .... Kasar
    Ted de Corsia .... Kumlek
    Leslie Bradley .... Targutai
    Lee Van Cleef .... Chepei
    Peter Mamakos .... Bogurchi
    Leo Gordon .... Tartar captain
    Richard Loo .... Captain of Wang's guard
    Sylvia Lewis .... Solo dancer
    Fred Aldrich .... Chieftain #2 (uncredited)
    Phil Arnold .... Honest John (uncredited)
    Gregg Barton .... Jalair (uncredited)
    Lane Bradford .... Chieftain #4 (uncredited)
    John Daheim .... Tartar guard sounding alarm (uncredited)
    John George .... Drummer boy (uncredited)
    Jeanne Gerson .... Bortai's slave woman (uncredited)
    Fred Graham .... Subuya, (Mongol warrior) (uncredited)
    Michael Granger .... Chieftain #1 (uncredited)
    David Hoffman .... Potter (uncredited)
    Paul Hoffman .... Chieftain #3 (uncredited)
    Charles Horvath .... (uncredited)
    Pat Lawler .... Wang Khan's wife (uncredited)
    Weaver Levy .... Mongol (uncredited)
    Jarma Lewis .... Girl in bath (uncredited)
    Pat McMahon .... Girl in bath (uncredited)
    Torben Meyer .... Scribe (uncredited)
    Norman S. Powell .... Mongol guard (uncredited)
    Ray Spiker .... Guard (uncredited)
    George E. Stone .... Sibilant Sam (uncredited)
    Ken Terrell .... Sorgan (Mongol warrior) (uncredited)
    Patricia Tiernan .... Wang Khan's wife (uncredited)
    Carl Vernell .... Merkit captain (uncredited)
    Michael Wayne .... Mongol guard (uncredited)
    Patrick Wayne .... (uncredited)

    Writing Credits
    Oscar Millard (written by)

    Dick Powell .... producer
    Richard Sokolove .... associate producer
    Howard Hughes .... producer (uncredited)

    Original Music
    Victor Young

    Joseph LaShelle
    William E. Snyder (as William Snyder)
    Leo Tover
    Harry J. Wild

    Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
    Edward Killy .... assistant director
    Cliff Lyons .... second unit director

    Roydon Clark .... stunts (uncredited)
    John Daheim .... stunts (uncredited)
    Henry A. Escalante .... stunts (uncredited)
    Bernie Gozier .... stunts (uncredited)
    Fred Graham .... stunts (uncredited)
    Charles Horvath .... stunts (uncredited)
    Cliff Lyons .... stunts (uncredited)
    Bob Morgan .... stunts (uncredited)
    Boyd 'Red' Morgan .... stunts (uncredited)
    Gil Perkins .... stunts (uncredited)
    Allen Pomeroy .... stunts (uncredited)
    Chuck Roberson .... stunts (uncredited)
    Barlow Simpson .... stunts (uncredited)
    Norm Taylor .... stunt rigger (uncredited)
    Ken Terrell .... stunts (uncredited)
    Jack Williams .... stunts (uncredited)
    Henry Wills .... stunts (uncredited)
    Terry Wilson .... stunts (uncredited)

    Sometimes referred to as "An RKO Radioactive Picture," as it was filmed near the site of contemporaneous nuclear testing grounds, the set was contaminated by nuclear fallout. After location shooting, much dirt from the location was transported back to Hollywood in order to match interior shooting done there. Scores of cast and crew members developed forms of cancer over the next two decades, many more than the normal percentage of a random group of this size. Quite a few died from cancer or cancer-related problems, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendáriz (who shot himself to death soon after learning he had terminal cancer), Agnes Moorehead, John Hoyt and director Dick Powell. People magazine researched the subsequent health of the cast and crew, which it published in November 1980. By the time of the article's publication, 91 of the 220 members of the film's cast and crew had contracted cancer, and half of these had died from the disease. The figures did not include several hundred local American Indians who served as extras on the set. Nor did it include relatives who had visited cast and crew members on the set, such as the Duke's son Michael Wayne. The People article quoted the reaction of a scientist from the Pentagon's Defense Nuclear Agency to the news: "Please, God, don't let us have killed John Wayne".

    Filmed between mid-May and August 5, 1954, the movie premiered on February 22, 1956 in Los Angeles, then opened in Manhattan at the Criterion Theatre on March 30, 1956.

    Photographs exist of John Wayne holding a Geiger counter.

    Wayne took his role very seriously, went on a crash diet, and took Dexedrine tablets 4 times a day.

    Eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes provided the financial backing for this film and later paid an extra $12 million (estimated) for every existing print of it from a sense of guilt - it was he who paid for the shipping of 60 tons of radioactive dirt to Hollywood for retakes (see above). He kept a jealous hold on the film, not even allowing it to be seen on television, for 17 years until 1974, when Paramount managed to secure the rights to reissue it.

    The screenplay was written before John Wayne became involved in the project. The writer had Marlon Brando in mind for the role. According to Harry Medved and Michael Medved's 1984 book "The Hollywood Hall of Shame", Wayne's casting in this film came about during a conversation with director Dick Powell. Wayne was about the make the last film of a three-picture deal for RKO Radio and Powell had been assigned to direct. They were going over various scripts in Powell's office when the latter was called away for a few minutes. When Powell returned, he found Wayne enthusiastically looking over a script that Powell had intended throwing in the waste basket. It was the screenplay for "The Conqueror". Powell tried to talk him out of it, but Wayne insisted that this was the film he wanted to make. As Powell later summed it up, "Who am I to turn down John Wayne?"

    Average Shot Length = ~8.2 seconds. Median Shot Length = ~7.5 seconds.

    This became the final motion picture project for billionaire Howard Hughes, ending his thirty year involvement with the industry. Jet Pilot (1957), a film he produced in 1949, would finally be released the following year.

    This film is listed among The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE® MOVIE GUIDE.

    One of the films included in "The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and how they got that way)" by Harry Medved and Randy Lowell.

    John Wayne regretted playing Temujin in The Conqueror (1956) so much that he visibly shuddered whenever anyone mentioned the film's name. He once remarked that the moral of the film was "not to make an ass of yourself trying to play parts you're not suited for.

    * Continuity: When Temujin shoots a flaming arrow to signal his troops to enter Urga, it is night, but when the troops see the arrow, it is daylight.

    * Revealing mistakes: When Temujin throws a spear at a man in a stream, the wire guiding it is visible. The spear's trajectory is also wobbly.

    * Incorrectly regarded as goofs: This is not a historical documentary nor a biopic, but rather a romantic fiction loosely inspired by true people and events. Liberties are taken with costume, custom, weapons technology, and the circumstances in which the depicted individuals really died. Utah "plays the role" of Mongolia (with its unique landmarks visible), and many actors playing Mongolians do not look Mongolian at all, but this is part of the suspension of disbelief that informs this movie's atmosphere.

    * Continuity: SPOILER: After Temujin kills the Shaman and a guard in Wang Khan's bedroom his sword is clean, but when he bangs on the gong outside the bedroom to address his troops, there is blood on the sword.

    * Continuity: SPOILER: After Jamuga escapes from his cell and Kasar is killed, a guard pushes him on top of a sundial. The shadow cast by the sundial is pointing left when Jamuga is pushed against the sundial, then pointing right when Jamuga kills the guard.

    Memorable Quotes

    Filming Locations
    Escalante Desert, St. George, Utah, USA
    Hurricane, Utah, USA
    RKO Studios - 780 Gower Street, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA
    Snow Canyon State Park - 1002 Snow Canyon Drive, Ivins, Utah, USA
    Snow Canyon, Utah, USA
    St. George, Utah, USA

    Previous Discussion:-
    The Conqueror

    Best Wishes
    London- England

    Edited 10 times, last by ethanedwards: updated the image attachment ().

  • The Conqueror is a 1956 CinemaScope epic film produced by Howard Hughes
    and starring John Wayne as the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan.
    Other performers included Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead,
    and Pedro Armendáriz.
    Directed by actor/director Dick Powell, the film was principally shot near St. George, Utah.

    The Conqueror was a critical flop (often ranked as one of the worst films of the 1950s
    and one of the worst ever) despite the stature of the cast.
    Wayne, who was at the height of his career, had lobbied for the role
    after seeing the script and was widely believed to have been grossly miscast
    (he was "honored" by The Golden Turkey Awards).

    Reportedly, Howard Hughes felt guilty about his decisions regarding the film's production,
    particularly over the decision to film at a hazardous site.
    He bought every print of the film for $12 million and kept it from view until 1974
    when it was first broadcast on TV.
    The Conqueror, along with Ice Station Zebra,[
    is said to be one of the films Hughes watched endlessly during his last years.

    Well what can you say about this film??
    This will certainly, give us something to discuss!!
    The worst full, feature film, Duke ever made, his WORST!!

    Along with The Greatest Story Ever Told
    Duke giving his acting critics, a field day!!!
    However, I will say one thing in it's favour,
    it's one of the best comedies, I've ever seen!!!
    How could Duke have got involved in this??
    Why oh why, didn't they just talk, in American accents??
    it would have been so much easier, and a lot more convincing!!

    Instead, Dick Powell went for that awful stilted, dialogue.
    The supporting cast fared no better, with Susan Hayward,
    acting, like some sort of demented Barbie doll!!

    The whole thing was an embarrassment,
    and audiences laughed at Duke's stilted dialogue,ludicrous make up,
    of slit eyes, and mustache.
    It proved to be a $5 million fiasco, and besides being Duke's worst film,
    it probably contributed to his death.

    Rating 1/10, for the comedy value.

    Look out for Duke sons,
    Michael Wayne as a Mongol guard (uncredited)
    Patrick Wayne .... (uncredited)

    User Review

    Best Wishes
    London- England

    Edited once, last by ethanedwards ().

  • I don't know if I have ever watched this movie all the way through . . . if I have, I don't remember, but maybe I'll have to do so . . . :o

    In any case, I am guessing the two quotes above may actually have come in the same exchange, though if that is the case, IMDb didn't see fit to post them together.

    Just curious to know - how many folks around here have seen this movie?


    Mrs. C :angel1:

  • Hi All

    This is not all that bad. :ph34r: The part were the ride the horses up and down hills is not funny.

    Just imagine it is not John Wayne quoting these lines and you can really take it seriously!!!

    I actually paid £70.00 to buy the full feature on thsi on super 8. Mind you I had a hard job shifting in when I wanted to sell.

    No if you want really the worst movie it must be Jet Pilot unless you are really into plane exhausts or Janet Leigh Flight suit in a big way.

    At least Howard Hughes did Duke a favoutr in burying them for 20 odd years

    According to Pilar she put the heavy death rate from cancer down to a lot of them being heavy smokers. She was on location for the length of the movie and is still alive & well.


  • Hi

    The story put out about the Conqueror was that it was a western set in Mongolia, and that John Wayne got the script out of a wastepaper basket where the writer had thrown it.

    If you study the story of Temujin the script stick pretty well to history with the exception that the story is compacted into a shorter time scale, and also that when many of the things that occur in the film happened to the real Ghengis Khan he was only thirteen years old.

    It certainly didn't deserve to come high up in the worst fifty movies ever made.



    Walk Tall - Talk Low

  • Hi

    and I almost forgot

    Susan hayward fancied the John Wayne and during the kissing scenes went all out to show him that she was all women.

    On one occasion Hayward got drunk and kicking her shoes off offered to fight Pilar with the winner getting John Wayne. Pilar turned the offer down.

    Hayward was not one of John Wayne's favourite actresses.



    Walk Tall - Talk Low

  • Of course, everyone knows the story of this one. The original plan from the brain trust at RKO was to borrow Marlon Brando from 20th Century Fox and have him star in this one. When Fox refused to cooperate, Howard Hughes apparently remembered that John Wayne still had one more picture left on the RKO contract he signed back in 1939. And so, one of the most dubious casting decisions in Hollywood history was made. It deserved its spot in the "50 Worst Films of All Time" list. This one is for Wayne completeists and die-hard bad film junkies only.

    This is the one film John Wayne made that is truly terrible. All the others (even the lesser ones) at least have something to recommend them. But the thing that sets The Conqueror apart from all the rest is how extremely pedestrian everything is. Let's start with the script, which is the overriding problem throughout the whole film. It's written in a sort of mock-Shakespearian lingo and is filled with dialogue that anyone on earth would have a hard time saying with a straight face.

    Next we have the casting. John Wayne and Susan Hayward, both at their career peak, were cast in this one. Neither one looks the least bit Asian (Hayward doesn’t even try to). You get the feeling throughout that both of them know this thing is a joke, and they are both just trying to make it through. Wayne drawls his way through the role of Genghis Khan, while Hayward is alternately dumb/boring as Bortai, his red-headed wife. Even the lower billed actors look uncomfortable in gaudy costumes that look like they were borrowed from a high school play.

    Of course, we can't forget the music. Victor Young (The Quiet Man) wrote some of the greatest scores in Hollywood history, but this one certainly ranks as one of his worst. Here he seems to be repeating the same few bars of the melodramatic theme over and over again throughout the film with little to no variation.

    Next we come to the cinematography. This was the one thing that could have made the film worthwhile. It didn't. While the on-location battle scenes were well-suited to the CinemaScope photography, too much of the film took place inside tents and palaces (i.e. on soundstages), giving it a cluster phobic look at times. Most of the action takes place in the middle of the frame, the director doesn’t even come close to tapping the full potential of the widescreen technology he was working with. Other Wayne films from around the same time (The High and the Mighty, The Sea Chase, Blood Alley) made much better use of CinemaScope photography.

    Last we have the direction by Dick Powell. This was just the second film Powell directed (the first was Split Second, a 1953 noir film also for RKO that starred Stephen McNally and Jan Sterling), and it showed. In all fairness, he was saddled with a impossible script and a meddling boss (Hughes). Powell would later go on to direct some good war movies over at Fox with Robert Mitchum (The Enemy Below, The Hunters). I guess Powell learned his lesson with this one and stuck to twentieth-century wars after this, leaving the ancient history alone!

    Of course there were other problems during shooting (Sue's erratic and irrational affection for Duke) and the cancer cases that occurred later were an unintentional tragedy of this film. Hughes personally bought back the rights to this film (along with Jet Pilot) when he sold RKO in the late 50's. Legend has it that in his last days, he watched this film over and over while in bed. Maybe his strange behavior before his death was the result of seeing a little too much of the The Conqueror. Viewers, Beware!!!!!



    "I am not intoxicated - yet." McLintock!

  • Hi,
    I have been researching all the threads, back to the start of the JWMB,
    looking for previous discussion, relating to the movies.
    I have found the following, comments, and have copied them here,
    so that they are now under one forum:-

    The Conqueror, I was disgusted


    post Jan 27 2004, 11:22 PM

    I have had a copy of this movie for several years now but I never got around to watching it based on what others had to say about it. I have jsut finished watching it and it really is as bad as a lot of people suggest but there was one scene within the movie that I cant believe the Duke did, this is the scene where he slaps Susan Haywards across the face I was completely taken aback, I never though the Duke would have done that, I have lost a little bit interest in him since seeing this scene. Why on earth did he do this, I realise he is an actor but this is not the John Wayne that I admire as an actor and person, his treatment of Susan Hayward as a whole was shamful splattering out such crap as 'This woman is for my own personal pleasure' it is just so painful to watch. I wouldnt have believed somebody if they had told me John Wayne done this and I am so disappointed to discover this scene, why did Duke not speak out against doing this scene, I just can't understand it.


    post Jan 27 2004, 11:55 PM

    Hi Robbie; I agree that this was probably one of the movies "DUKE" should have passed on but he didn't and now we have it to ponder. He was portraying an Asian Barbarian so I think you had to follow some of the rough treatment that was dished out to woman at that time.And I also think that to be "Politicly Correct" in 1956 wasn't much of an option. I judge the film by how many times it has been on tv. I saw on a late nite movie about 20 years ago and that was just before sattelite tv. I have never seen it since. He has also spanked at least two women that I can remember(McLintock+Donavon's Reef) and I'm sure this would recieve alot of negative reviews now but!!! I take in context with the time it was made. I love the"DUKE",even his stinkers.Who knows,Maybe he was needing some cash flow at the time and "THE CONQUEROR" was all there was....SaddleTramp....


    post Jan 28 2004, 03:10 AM

    I believe that JW didn't want to do that film but, he was under contract and was almost forced to do it. Arthur or itdo will probably be able to shed some light on this film better then I can.


    post Jan 28 2004, 05:42 AM

    f the few fans who enjoyed The Conqueror. I put off watching it as Robbie did, had it for a long time before giving it a viewing, because I was bored at the time. I went into it expecting to hate it, and was surprised to find myself enjoying it. It was wierd seeing him in that Fu Man Chu and hearing him talk as he did, but I feel he pulled it off. To say he didn't is to limit him as an actor. I also liked his detective films (Brannigan and McQ), as it was a chance to see him in a different acting light. As for him slapping Hayward, I guess it didn't register with me either. It was a part of the character. We must be carefull in putting our heroes too high up on that pedistal. The fall can be a far one. That part may have bothered you, Robbie, but you are too big a fan to let it deminish Duke in your eyes. I admire both John Waynes. His life on screen and his life off it as well. He's not perfect, but he's ours! Dukefan1

    Here is a link, to other previous discussion, relating to this movie:-

    The Conqueror

    Best Wishes
    London- England

  • Hi,
    I have been researching all the threads, back to the start of the JWMB,
    looking for previous discussion, relating to this movie.
    I have found the following, comments, and have copied them here,
    so that they are now under one forum:-

    The Conqueror


    post Apr 8 2004, 09:41 PM

    Just watched The Conqueror on AMC, and I thought it was a better movie than I was led to believe.
    No, it wouldn't make my top ten list but it was still entertaining, and most would have to admit that it is a better movie than most of the stuff coming out today. I always enjoyed Pedro Armendariz in Fort Apache and The Three Godfathers and it was a treat to see him in one more movie with Duke.


    post Apr 9 2004, 02:39 AM

    I tried to watch it today and couldn't hardly do it. It's not good, at least to me. Too out of character for almost everyone in it.


    General Sterling Price
    post Apr 11 2004, 02:19 AM

    I have yet to see the Conqueror, although I am sure I will someday. Its hard to believe that Wayne had some real ho-hum films about the time of The Conquerer, except that his Greatest of all, The Searchers, was right in the middle of them. Go figure.



    Hondo Duke Lane
    post Apr 13 2004, 03:03 AM

    Duke seem to be going in a different direction with his acting. When he did The Searchers, I believe that Duke wanted expand his acting, and did different types of movies playing characters that was not a part of what Duke played. He soon found out that he made some flops, and went back to where he did play his best roles. I can only imagine that Duke wanted to expand himself so he could find out what kind of actor he was.
    Bogart couldn't play western cowboys. Cagney couldn't play romance. Actors played roles that best suit them, so Duke could only play the parts that made him into a legend. I'm glad he found out before it was too late.

    Cheers, Hondo B)

    Best Wishes
    London- England

  • Hmmm

    What would I think if this weren't a JW film? Think of it as a Charlton Heston movie like Ben Hur and then maybe it's not so bad. I watched it, pretending that I wasn't seeing the duke and I didn't mind it.
    Okay, I cringed at most of the dialogue and my wife laughed hysterically when I told her about the 'you are beautiful in your wrath" line, but I thought the locations were beautiful and the plot wasn't terrible. Some of the fighting scenes were decent. Obviously no one would probably recommend this one to someone as their first JW movie. But as a huge fan I can see the merits and over look the problems.

    [SIZE=3]That'll Be The Day[/SIZE]

  • Ehm...well yes,I've seen it now.Don't really know what to think of this yet.I didn't like Susan Hayward,I didn't like Duke's moustache and his hair.The scenery was nice though.Yeah I liked that..Other than that,I don't know.I do think that Duke did his best but with what the script was like and working with the actress that Hayward was.There was no chemistry whatsoever between them.I got the dvd in my collection now but not sure if it will come out again and if it will don't know when that will be.A long time from now I'm afraid when I have forgotten that I've ever seen it :blink:

  • Duke's Movie Locations- St. George


    snow_canyon.jpgsnow_canyon_state_park.jpgsnow_canyon.2 jpg.jpg

    Information from
    Worldwide Movie Locations

    'Dirty Harry' ‚ not the Clint Eastwood movie,
    but the nickname given to a nuclear test explosion
    at Yucca Flats in Nevada which dumped fallout around the area
    including St George in Utah.

    St George
    is way down in the southwest corner of Utah
    near the Arizona border on I-15.
    And it was in Snow Canyon State Park,
    11 miles to the northwest of St George,
    that The Conqueror was filmed the following year.
    To make matters worse, lorryloads of the local red earth
    were shipped back to RKO in Hollywood for studio filming.

    Snow Canyon State Park
    is a small park
    located just northwest of St. George Utah.
    The park is only 5,738 acres,
    but offers several amazing hikes and wonderful scenery to its visitors.
    The little known canyon has very distinctive beauty.
    Red and white sandstone with a scattering of black lava rock
    provide a color contrast that is seldom seen outside of the park.
    Visitors to Snow Canyon during the spring season
    will be treated to an extra splash of color
    as the native cactus and wildflowers come into full bloom.

    Snow Canyon is filled with petrified sand dunes,
    towering cliffs, dormant volcanic cones, lava tubes/caverns,
    sandstone arches and rainwater ponds.
    There are several hiking/biking trails available within the park
    that offers visitors a chance to see one or all of these incredible attractions.
    Hikers should also keep watch for the desert wildlife found in the area.
    Some of the more interesting creatures include Gila monsters, desert tortoises, scorpions, Mojave sidewinder snake and Utah banded geckos.

    Best Wishes
    London- England

  • Shame on you all.... John Wayne never did a bad movie. They were just bad scripts. I've watched this movie a couple time. And truthfully, it's not one of his best but I still liked the film. Any film about Kahn and that time period interests me. As far as availability. It's also available at:

    Barnes and Noble

    These are all gift sets but there are a few individual ones available on eBay.

    I don't blame the Duke for this one, just his choice in scripts. I remember there were a couple times where I've read he wanted to do something different than just westerns and war movies, he just choose poorly. Unfortunately, it got him in the end. The location killed a lot of good actors/actresses. I don't buy the smoking theory, everyone smoked back then. It may have contributed but the location was the primary reason. You don't get those kinds of percentages just from smoking.

  • The Conqueror is available on this DVD. On-Line purchase is your best bet. There are a total of 5 movies in this collection.

    Cheers :cool:


    "When you come slam bang up against trouble, it never looks half as bad if you face up to it"

    - John Wayne quote

  • on further reflection at risk of over simpifying I think the JW hairpiece was a bad one and yet over all the film still works for me.

    Greetings from North of the 49th

  • I finally saw this film. I'm not sure if I genuinely liked it or if I was prepared for something so awful that I couldn't help but be positively surprised, but I found myself enjoying the film. It was definitely a different John Wayne than I've ever seen before, but I still enjoyed his performance. I didn't care much for Hayward and I thought the shift her character made from hating and wanting to kill Temujin to being madly in love with him was pretty unbelievable, but I enjoyed some of the political maneuvering and deal making and breaking between the tribes. I enjoyed some of the action sequences as well - the last battle had an epic feel to it, at least in the number of participants, but the battle itself was pretty short. So, I'm not really sure how to rank this one. Certainly near the bottom as far as Duke films go, but overall, I still enjoyed it a lot and a bad Duke film (if there truly are any) is still better than almost anything else you can pop in the DVD player.

  • I've seen this one a few times and own it on DVD, so I'll probably watch it again.
    The production values are better than say, the Steve Reeves and Victor Mature sword and sandal flicks. Granted, it's not She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, but I'd prefer to see this one again instead of Circus World.

    We deal in lead, friend.