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Untold Tales of Hollywood #52

Film #14: Conan the Destroyer (1983)

Directed by Richard Fleischer

Production Designed by Pierluigi Basile

I was tricked into working on the second Conan film, Conan – King of Thieves (later retitled, due to Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s insistence, Conan the Destroyer, as Arnold at the time was being accused of some kind of theft). I was led to believe I would be working with Ron Cobb again. Ron was on this film for a few minutes, until my deal on the film was sealed.

I read the Stanley Mann script and hated it. The writer seemed to know nothing about Robert E. Howard’s character of Conan. He violated most of the rules Howard set up to define his most popular character.

So, I rewrote the script.

As I recall, the first film meeting was at director Richard Fleischer‘s home in Beverly Hills (Richard was the son of legendary Popeye/Betty Boop animator Max Fleischer). The meeting included the director, the producers (Raffaella DeLaurentiis and Stephen Kesten) and me. The meeting also possibly included the production designer (Pierluigi Basile) and producer Buzz Feitshans. Maybe Ron Cobb, too — but I doubt it.

I entered the room holding a large grocery bag. I then said, “What’s that smell? It’s horrible!

I reached into my bag, pulled out a screenplay and very physically sniffed it.

“Oh! It’s this script! It STINKS!”

I reached into my bag again and began pulling out copies of my rewrite. I gave a copy to each person at the meeting.

“Here…this is a much better script.”

I was still pretty green to the Film Biz (and the rules of the Writers Guild), so I had very little idea as to how outrageous that action on my part was. I found out later that right after I had left the meeting that Fleischer exploded with rage.

“Who in the Hell is that asshole?!! Fire that jerk!!”

Raffaella defended me.

“Oh, that’s just Beel (her Italian pronunciation of my name). He loves Conan and is a very good, very passionate artist. He just wants to make the best Conan film possible. He’ll be okay and I think you’ll love what he brings to the movie.”

Raffy prevented Fleischer and his producer pal Stephen Kesten (who was just as furious — if not more so — than Fleischer; Steve and Richard were good friends with writer Stanley Mann) from firing me that day. I had naively broken a lot of Show Biz rules. Of course, we didn’t end up using my version of the screenplay, which would have been a huge violation of WGAw rules.

Conan the Destroyer came together very quickly. Here’s why:

Dino DeLaurentiis was using every single soundstage at Mexico City’s Estudios Churubusco to make David Lynch’s Dune. A few of the soundstages were eventually freed up — but Dino did not want to relinquish them. So, he didn’t.

“We make a Conan movie,” he pronounced. A (bad) script was whipped up and Conan offices were established down in Mexico City. Many of the workers on Dune were also taken on to work on Conan the Destroyer. To save money, I took existing set constructions from Dune and turned them into Conan the Destroyer sets. If there was a long hall Dune set, I completely redressed it and turned it into a long Conan set, saving the film loads of time and lumber expense.

The production set me up with a nice rooftop apartment in the Zona Rosa (Pink Zone) area of Mexico City, the safest part of the city. I was just a block or so from the city’s great Chapultepec Park. We prepped the film at Churubusco studios and shot interiors there. We shot the exteriors of our film around different picturesque parts of Mexico. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Dino DeLaurentiis family was having me groomed to be a production designer (they actually began grooming me on the first Conan film. They gave me much more responsibility on the sequel). They admired my initiative, especially after discovering that I was secretly teaching myself Italian so that I could eavesdrop on their conversations. They found that hilarious and began to help me with my Italian studies.

The almighty American dollar went a long way in Mexico, so much so that I was able to live off of my per diem (paid to me in US cash, as the Mexican peso was quickly dropping in value on a daily basis), never touching my paychecks. Later, upon my return to Los Angeles, I used that stack of paychecks as the down payment for the house I now own in Pasadena.

3 thoughts on “Untold Tales of Hollywood #52

  1. Conan the Destroyer is an appropriate title, as the movie is so bad that it destroyed any chances of further Conan movies being made for some time. I have seen the movie only once, and that was enuff. I have long suspected that because Raphaella Delaurentis was producing both Dune and Conan both movies suffered and neither was as good as it should have been. Dune was such a highly anticipated movie that she and everyone else of the higher ups seriously needed their eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel.

  2. Interesting. Never knew there had been production woes right at the beginning.

    But yeah, looking back, it was a weak movie thanks to the weak script. Something I really came to notice after watching the first movie. So different in Tone & Character, I oft-struggle to see how they’re supposed to be in the same continuity.

  3. Howdy Bill,
    You were right about that script. Even their attempt to incorporate Howard’s Thak from Rogues in the House turned into a laughable Mexican wrestling scene. I always felt a decent Conan script could be made by combining elements of Rogues in the House, The Tower of the Elephant, and The God in the Bowl. Both of the films would have benefited from the work of Ray Harryhausen. Glad you didn’t get fired.

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