In 1982 a movie was released which was to propel a bodybuilder into hollywood stardom. That movie was John Milus's 'Conan The Barbarian'. Based on the stoires of Robert E. Howard, Conan told the epic story of a powerful warrior who pursues revenge against the cult which murdered his parents.
This was one of the most important roles of Arnold's career, perhaps even surpassing the Terminator in this regard. Arnold's muscular physique was pivotal to the character's almost supernatural strength. Arnold had in fact lost some weight for the role in an effort to make his body look more raw and less like the product of modern training techniques. His muscles, his athletic frame, his strong facial features and even his height are all important components of Conan's image. The question we ask is could this immense character really be played by a man under six feet tall?
Fellow CastThis is one of several of Arnold's movies where the majority of the cast (both male and female) is undoubtedly over average height. Sandahl Bergman, playing Conan's love interest 'Valeria' in the movie, is listed at 5'10", and there appears to be no reason to doubt this listing.
A shot which keeps being mentioned time and time again, is this one where Schwarzenegger and Bergman stand side by side in front of the King. Many have remarked how Schwarzenegger looks 'identical' in height to the 5'10" Bergman, and so must be this height himself. There are two problems with this. Firstly the camera is so high that the angle is looking down on both actors, making them seem closer in height. Secondly, on closer observation it appears that Arnold still has a couple of inches on Bergman.
Part way through the scene we are briefly shown a much more useful camera angle in showing the height difference between the two. This lower angle shows that there is a minimum of three inches, possibly four between Schwarzenegger and 5'10" Bergman. Sceptics may say that Arnold is on a platform or wearing lifts for this shot. However, these are the same people who believed that they were the same height in the earlier shot, and why wouldn't they adopt this tactic in all shots of the scene?
James Earl Jones, playing the villain 'Thulsa Doom' is believed to be somewhere in the 6'1" - 6'2" range. He has said himself recently in an interview that he is 6'1". (source) In the Conan commentary, Arnold himself mentions James Earl Jones is 6'4", which seems a bit of an exaggeration. However, James Earl Jones may have been slightly taller in his youth. a 6'1" James Earl Jones could well rule out a 6'2" listing for Arnold Schwarzenegger as in this movie he appears taller in the one scene were they are both standing together.
By looking at these shots, it would probably be fair to say that Arnold is shorter by an inch at least. Of course, we can't be sure of the footwear contribution both actors have. Do Arnold's 'Conan' boots add 2" of height? Do James Earl Jones'? There's no way of knowing for sure. The main problem with these shots are the angles they're taken from. They do favour Mr.Jones to some degree, but not enough to convince that Arnold could be the same height.
A still shot such as this looks far more promising for Mr. Schwarzenegger. Both men appear to be standing relatively straight, and the camera angle is almost perfect. If James Earl Jones is 6'1" or perhaps a little more, then Arnold may well be an identical height. The only problem with this photograph is that the actor's feet are not visible. Is Arnold on a raised platform for a 'publicity shot'? Probably not, but the doubt remains.
The two tallest key characters are Thulsa Doom's henchmen, played by former NFL player Ben Davidson and Danish bodybuilder, Sven-Ole Thorsen. Mr.Davidson is official listed as 6'8" and Thorsen is billed as 6'5". Although their listings may be generous by an inch or so, one cannot deny that they are both very tall. No great comparissons of Schwarzenegger and Davidson or Thorsen appear within the movie. Whenever they are onscreen together, they are usually fighting in a series of quick close up shots which makes it impossible to compare them. There are plenty of non-Conan comparissons of Schwarzenegger and Thorsen available, but we will not concern ourselves with them at this time.
"you were very admamant to have everyone around me, all my enemies be much bigger than I was. Because you didn't want to signal that I would be the winner in the end if there was a battle. That's why you hired everyone that would be 6'5". We looked through Europe for months. We had meetings in Munich and Berlin and the Nordic countries to find those guys who were monsters." - Arnold Schwarzenegger (source - Conan commentary)
As this image shows, although we cannot accurately get a realistic estimate of Arnold's height from Thorsen or Davidson in Conan. We can see that he does not look 'small' when sharing the camera with them in this shot. Granted, the angle does not favour those standing, but at the same time it makes it very hard to believe that Arnold (shown center) is 5'9" or 5'10" compared to the 6'3"- 6'5" Thorsen (left) and the 6'6"- 6'8" Davidson (right).
In summary, Conan The Barbarian provides no concrete answers on the height of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However by looking closely at some key comparissons, we have seen that Arnold IS taller than the 5'10" Bergman, and is possibly close in height to the roughly 6'1" James Earl Jones. It should also be noted that nowhere is this movie does Arnold appear 'small' in any stretch of the imagination. But could this simply have been due to the masterful cinematography of 'Conan The Barbarian'? If so, was this matched in the sequel? Stay tuned, as next time we will delve into 'Conan The Destroyer' and see what answers this provides on the eternal question of Arnold Schwarzenegger's height.
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