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Story Notes for Conan the Barbarian

Monday through Thursday, at 8PM | 7C, AMC presents Story Notes — real-time on-air trivia about your favorite movies. Tonight’s movie was Conan the Barbarian.

Animal Note
Conan fights wolves, snakes, camels, and vultures.

Award Note
Sandahl Bergman won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year for her role.

Biography Notes
In 1982, Arnold Schwarzenegger was already a household name. He was a world-famous bodybuilder, winning Mr. Universe three times and Mr. Olympia seven times.

Schwarzenegger taught himself to use a sword and ax for this role.

Conan creator Robert E. Howard grew up in Texas among oil boomtowns. He found civilization to be wicked and disgusting, as is reflected in his writings.

Besides acting, Bergman is known for dancing in movies like 1979’s All That Jazz.

James Earl Jones was a natural at handling snakes. When he served in the U.S. Army, he was trained to befriend snakes in case he encountered them in the wild.

In most of his action movies, Schwarzenegger performs at least one feat of great strength. In Commando, he flips a car over.

Schwarzenegger’s real-life father was strict and controlling, but Schwarzenegger chose to follow his dreams.

Although this was Schwarzenegger’s breakout role, he already drew crowds on the street. Conan producer Ed Pressman: “People treated him as a movie star long before he was one.”

Casting Notes
Actor William Smith, who plays Conan’s father, is a champion arm wrestler. He’s also ex-CIA, speaks many languages, and flew secret missions during the Korean War.

Born in Madrid, Jorge Sanz grew up to be one of Spain’s most popular movie actors.

Ben Davidson, who plays Rexor, was an all-star NFL defensive end for the Oakland Raiders.

Jones plays Conan’s nemesis, Thulsa Doom. At the time, he was famous for voicing another villain in a black helmet: Darth Vader.

The man called Red Hair is played by Luis Barboo, a Spanish actor who made over 135 movies.

Kiyoshi Yamasaki was the Sword Master both in the movie and on set.

Subotai is played by Gerry Lopez, a world-champion surfer. This is his first acting role.

The street peddler is played by Ron Cobb, the movie’s production designer. He designed the tower.

Bergman plays a thief. Her name is Valeria, although they never say it.

King Osric is played by Max von Sydow of The Exorcist and Minority Report fame. The cast and crew were honored to work with him.

Von Sydow did this movie for his son, who’s a longtime Conan fan.

Because Schwarzenegger is so big, his enemies had to be bigger. At six eight and six five, even Jones and Sydow are taller than Schwarzenegger, at six four.

Health Note
The cause of death from crucifixion can be blood loss, shock, dehydration, or a combination.

History Notes
Howard is known as the father of the sword-and-sorcery genre.

Conan’s people are Cimmerian, based loosely on the Celts of ancient Britain.

They were going to film in Yugoslavia, but it got too dangerous, so they filmed in Spain. Ironically, there was a coup in Spain while they were there.

Director John Milius doesn’t like violence; he was just faithful to the realities of pagan times.

Location Note
A main reason they filmed in Spain was its variety of terrains and climates.

Music Notes
The epic score by Basil Poledouris is considered essential by sword-and-sorcery collectors.

Poledouris took inspiration from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” for his music.

Plot Notes
Young Conan’s father is the blacksmith of his village.

This story is set in the Hyborian Age, a fictional time period.

Although Thulsa Doom is a killer, his followers are peace-loving hippies.

Conan swears by Crom but doesn’t really believe in him.

Conan doesn’t fight fair like most action heroes. He’ll win by any means necessary.

The man who beheaded Conan’s mother is himself beheaded.

Pop-Culture Notes
Conan the Barbarian launched Schwarzenegger’s acting career, but it’s also considered one of the most popular sword-and-sorcery movies of all time.

This movie inspired a spin-off, called Deathstalker, in 1983. It starred Barbi Benton, Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend in the seventies.

Sexuality is a common theme in the sword-and-sorcery genre.

In the books, Thulsa Doom is actually Kull the Conqueror’s nemesis, not Conan’s.

Conan paved the way for other sword-and-sorcery movies like Willow, Red Sonja, and Labyrinth.

Prop Notes
The sword’s inscription reads, “Suffer no guilt, ye who wield this in the name of Crom.” While he was governor, Schwarzenegger displayed it behind his chair in the Reagan Cabinet Room.

Some people believe an ancient broadsword would weigh between ten and twenty pounds. The actual weight is more likely five to ten pounds.

Schwarzenegger kept the snake dagger as a memento. He still has it.

Quotation Notes
Conan director John Milius: “Violence is repugnant when it cheapens human life.”

Thulsa Doom comes from an ancient race. The director says he is “beyond beauty and lust.”

Although this was shot in Ávila, Spain, the director says, “It looks like Afghanistan.”

Conan creator Howard: “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split.”

Schwarzenegger jokes, “Even in these prehistoric times, women were into jewelry, huh?”

Schwarzenegger calls von Sydow the first “incredible dramatic actor” he ever worked with. He finds von Sydow’s performance “staggering.”

The director says of Bergman: “If ever there was a Valkyrie on earth, it is that woman!”

Creator Howard: “It may sound fantastic to link the term ‘realism’ with Conan, but as a matter of fact he is the most realistic character I ever evolved.”

The director calls this the “essence of Conan”: that he’ll fight till the bitter end.

Milius: “There’s something wonderfully primeval about [Schwarzenegger], harking back to the real basic foundational stuff: steel and strength and will.”

Ben Weider, co-founder of the International Federation of BodyBuilders: “The thing about Arnold is that people constantly underestimate him. He’s actually very, very intelligent.”

The director nicknamed the big European stuntmen the Great Danes. He joked that only Great Danes were hurt in the making of the movie.

Milius: “Death is a powerful force in the movie. It’s wandering through the movie.”

Schwarzenegger calls the movie “God’s gift to [his] career.”

Script Notes
In the original cut of the movie, Conan beheaded a female opponent.

The idea to paint Conan’s face came from the Japanese story of Hoichi the Earless. In that story, monks forget to paint Hoichi’s ears, and demons rip them off.

Oliver Stone wrote the first draft of the script. It had even more magic and monsters.

Valeria is a real character in the original Conan stories, but many things that happen to her here actually happened to other Conan characters.

Set Notes
It didn’t snow leading up filming, so the crew started putting powder on the ground and then it snowed.

No animals were harmed in this movie. They used stunt horses trained to fall.

Schwarzenegger actually slimmed down for this role to look less imposing.

The dogs behaved badly even when the cameras stopped. They attacked Schwarzenegger and even their own masters.

Bergman did her own stunts because no stuntwoman could be found to match her size (five foot ten).

The model snake they built was so big they could fit only part of it onto the set at a time.

Real arrows were shot into the snake, right over Schwarzenegger’s head. The director shot them himself after it was determined he was the best archer in the crew.

Stunt coordinator Terry Leonard broke his leg doing a fall. Schwarzenegger says Leonard was trying to impress Bergman. Sure enough, they started dating afterward.

Schwarzenegger had trouble riding the camel. It kept walking him into the hut’s wooden beams.

There were no architectural plans for Thulsa Doom’s mountain fortress. The set designer looked at some drawings and just built it on the spot.

The snake trainer’s assistants were all beautiful girls, which made the director say, “He was sort of like Thulsa Doom.”

Schwarzenegger was pretty beaten up after many takes of getting thrown into the fountain.

Schwarzenegger says he was pretty sunburned from hanging on a tree all day.

Schwarzenegger asked Bergman to be careful jumping on him. “I’m very exposed here!” he said.

Bergman’s index finger was severed by a clumsy extra. She was taken to the hospital.

Milius devised the tactics and booby traps. They built a miniature model set for a dry run before shooting.

Schwarzenegger and Davidson fought with real nine-pound swords.

Symbolism Notes
In this movie, steel is used as a metaphor for a man’s character. The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel.

Remember the metaphor of steel. The harder Conan’s life is, the stronger he becomes.

For Conan, the way to freedom lies in steel.

Conan wears Valeria’s necklace to bind himself to her forever.

With the death of Thulsa Doom, his followers’ faith has been extinguished.

The story started with fire that forges steel and ends with fire that cleanses evil.

Trivia Notes
The training for this movie involved hand-to-hand combat, swordplay, and horseback riding.

In the sequel, Conan apologizes to the camel, and the camel spits on him!

Mako had an acting school. One of his students was Lopez.

A planned trilogy was never completed, but a sequel was made in 1984: Conan the Destroyer.

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