Sunday, April 06, 2008

CHARLTON HESTON (1924-2008)

I saw Charlton Heston in person one time in Pensacola. He talked about his career and signed a few autographs. He had recently appeared in TRUE LIES and told us that James Cameron asked him to take the role as boss because he needed someone who could be intimidating to Arnold Swartzenegger. He marched with Dr. King against the establishment and then later in life he took on the liberal Hollywood establishment with his conservative viewpoint. In the movies he played heroes who did great things.

He had a great sense of humor guest hosting Saturday Night live twice and poking fun at his reputation and screen image. His interview with Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine is quite illuminating. Heston is kind to Moore even as Moore goads him. He comes off as a decent guy. He will be missed.


DARK CITY (1950) – Interesting in that Harry Morgan and Jack Webb (later of Dragnet) co-star with Heston and Ed Begley as a group of con men that dupe Don Defore (Thorny from Ozzie and Harriet). Heston has the presence in even his first film.

THE TEN COMMANDMENT (1956) – The role he will forever be remembered for. I’m sure this was the first time I had ever seen him in a film. I remember being fascinated the way Moses throws his staff down and it turned into a snake. Think of Eddie Robinson saying, “Where’s your God now, Moses?” We somehow started saying that to each other during poker games.

THE BIG COUNTRY (1958) – Gregory Peck is the main star in this all-star cast. Heston is a great in the supporting role of ranch foreman. Heston tells a story in his book about Peck and Wyler getting into such an argument over a scene in this film that they didn’t speak to each other for years.

THE BUCCANEER (1958) – Cecil B Demille produced and Anthony Quinn directed. Quinn was married to Demille’s daughter. Heston is Andrew Jackson and Yul Brenner is the pirate Jean Lafitte. The background is New Orleans and the famous battle.

TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)
– Orson Welles was signed to play the heavy when Heston was offered the lead. He suggested that Orson direct and he said the response was no different than if Heston had asked if his mother could direct. They did allow Welles to direct and it became one of his signature films. The movie takes place just across the Mexican border where Mexican Heston and his new wife American Janet Leigh get embroiled with crooked cop Welles. I had the fortune of seeing it on the big screen after the 1997 re-mastering using Welles notes. Great Henry Mancini soundtrack. Heston only wished he’d given his character a Mexican accent.

BEN-HUR (1959) – All those Oscars and that chariot race that can be watched again and again. I liked the way Wyler always obscures the presence of Christ. That he isn’t seen by the camera makes him seem more holy.

EL CID (1961) Heston said that this would have been an all-time classic had William Wyler directed it. I remember it being somewhat interesting but it doesn’t really stay with you as it should.

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY (1965) – Heston plays Michelangelo and Rex Harrison plays the Medici pope insisting that he paint the Sistine Chapel. The movie begins with a travelogue of the Chapel and the paintings in color. It now seems outdated since the restoration has brought out the colors more vividly. Still, Heston is great and the film is really compelling.

WILL PENNY (1967)
– Subdued realistic western with Heston as a scraping by cowboy when he meets Joan Hacket and her son on a journey of their own. It’s much more about character and subtle attraction than plot which I can’t even remember. Heston said that Joan Hackett was perfect in the role.

PLANET OF THE APES (1968) – This is the second Heston film I watched as a boy. I stayed up late on Saturday night to be horrified by the statue at the end. No one to discuss it with was the hardest part. But it really stuck in my consciousness. Looking back, I was supposed to be anti-nuke. But the message I took was that America had to protect itself against all enemies. I wonder why we didn’t see chunks of anything else?

THE OMEGA MAN (1971)
– From the same source material of the recent I AM legend. Heston as the last man on earth after germ warfare killed most humans and rendered the rest of them mutants. It’s a pleasure to see Heston machine gun those mutants every time.

SOYLENT GREEN (1973)
– The third in Heston’s post-apocalyptic trilogy. Heston plays a New York City cop in the horrific 2022. Eddie Robsinson plays his sidekick and pal. Heston wrote a lot about his friendship with Robinson and how he died a week or so after shooting his last scene in this film. You either know the punchline to this or you don’t but it is an interesting film to see. What’s great about all the trilogy is that it shows how much those worries were unfounded and how America and world are much better off.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS + THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974)
– Richard Lester shot these comedies together and released them back to back. Heston plays the infamous Cardinal Richelieu, a looming figure in both pictures but no the focus. I liked them a lot as a kid, but when I saw the first one a few months ago it didn’t retain the same magic, although I still enjoyed it.

HAMLET (1996)
– Kennth Branaugh’s full length film of the famous play is full of stars. Heston plays the leader of the actor troupe in the play within the play. It was inspired for Brannaugh to think of Heston and his Shakespeare experience. The film itself is interesting although I don’t know why the director decided to set the production in the 1800s.

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (1999)
– Oliver Stone movie about the politics of the NFL. Al Pacino plays the coach of the Miami team. It’s probably full of too many stars to really take seriously. Cameron Diaz owns the football team. The quarterback controversy between Dennis Quaid and Jamie Foxx. Heston has a small part as the NFL Commissioner. I thought it was okay when I saw it but I don’t remember many details.

New York Times Obit

5 comments:

Sir Saunders said...

As usual you beat me to the punch. Great tribute!

Dude said...

Is there possibly an old movie that I've seen which Stamper hasn't? One of my favorite weeks of the year as a kid was Ape Week when TBS ran all five Planet of the Ape films. Heston was iconic in the first one. Based on my love for that film, I watched The Greatest Show on Earth (not on Tom's list) to see Heston do his thing under the big top. I liked it better as a kid than when I rewatched it several years later. I enjoyed him recently in The President's Lady and didn't realize that he played Jackson again in The Buccaneer.

Tom said...

You found two that I haven't seen, Dude. Lol

Dude said...

You also didn't mention Beneath the Planet of the Apes which surely you've seen. Who can forget Heston and the bloody hand, all but dead, but just able to push the crystal to disarm armageddon. E and I used to mimic that as kids. Sure I'm dead and my body is limp, but I can still push the crystal as my final triumph.

Tom said...

Beneath was kind of jarring following the B-Actors for 90 minutes and then they happen upon Charlton Heston. I guess I could have had fun with it, but I decided to leave it out.

You can almost imagine Heston promising a cameo in the sequel and he shows up on the set one day and they improv his whole role.

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