All actors long to show off their versatility, but sometimes they go too far and accept roles they have no business playing. Here is a short list of Junk Cinema's most memorable miscasting mistakes.
John Wayne in "The Conqueror"(1956)--Duke Wayne as the fastest sword in the east? Say it ain't so! In this Howard Hughes-produced and Dick Powell-directed would-be epic, Wayne is gussied up with racist eye make-up and a droopy moustache to play the scourge of Asia, Genghis Khan. Even worse than how Wayne looks is the dialogue he's given to say."I am Temujin-barbarian-I fight! I love! I conquer-like a barbarian!" Wayne sputters at one point. Later, when he kidnaps the equally miscast Susan Hayward (as Tartar princess Bortai), Genghis explains, "There are moments for wisdom...and there are moments for action-then I listen to my blood. I feel this Tartar woman is for me, and my blood says, 'TAKE HER!'" According to Alan G. Barbour, author of The Films of John Wayne, the Duke "simply shudders when anyone mentioned this film."
Elvis Presley in "A Change of Habit"(1969)--From the Duke we move on to the King. In his fruitless quest to be taken seriously as an actor, Elvis takes a break from such roles as a water skiing instructor and pineapple heir to portray an MD who runs a free clinic "In the Ghetto". It's there he administers to the most wholesome collection of junkies, hookers and gang bangers you can shake a stick at. Then one fine day up pops Mary Tyler Moore with two friends in tow. Naturally, Elvis assumes they are "Park Avenue types" wanting abortions. Perish the thought! They are actually undercover nuns assigned to help Dr. Elvis at his clinic. Hilarious complications ensue when Elvis and MTM fall in love. Believe it or not, "A Change of Habit" was supposedly based on a true story!
Marlon Brando in "Tea House of the August Moon"(1956)--Slicking back his hair, darkening his skin, slanting his eyes and adopting a racist accent, Marlon Brando is a wonder to behold as "Sakini" in this alleged comedy about the US occupation of Japan. Embodying every stereotype ever associated with people of Asian descent, Brando hops around like a demented flea as he under cuts Uncle Sam's attempts to bring western modernity to Okinawa. So what idiot cast Brando in this role? Brando himself! He'd seen the original production on Broadway and became obsessed with the part. Once it was his, he applied all his Method Acting techniques to the job at hand--with eye popping, jaw dropping results. The moral of this story? When the gods want to punish you, they give you what you want.
Donna Reed in "The Far Horizons"(1955)--Wholesome beyond belief Donna Reed is best remembered these days for her iconic TV show, but even she got bored with the sweetness-and-light rut studios often stuck her in. In 1953, Reed won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as a hooker in "From Here to Eternity"--albeit a hooker who did needle point in her spare time and wore peasant blouses. However, Donna's greatest gamble to break her nice girl image was also her nuttiest: playing Sacajawea in a glossy retelling of the Lewis and Clark saga, "The Far Horizons". Coming across like the ultimate Camp Fire Girl's Leader, Reed's Native American guides a nit picking L&C to "the big salt water" and even has a fling with Charlton Heston's Clark, who calls her "Jane". The duo even plan to marry, but when Reed learns about what is expected of a white wife ("She runs her husband's home. Entertains his friends. Tries to make him happy and successful and proud of being married to her"), she heads for the hills. After this fiasco, Donna quit the movies to concentrate on her TV show. She did, however, develop a lasting respect for her character: Reed called Sacajawea "quite a gal".