Charlton Heston... one of the greatest screen icons of all time... has passed away!
Hey folks, Harry here... About an hour ago - I finished writing my Grandmother's obit that will be going to her hometown papers. That was rough. Writing obituaries for people you know everything about. That you have incalculable numbers of memories of... And boiling it all down to roughing 400-600 words... that's impossible. Or it feels that way. You boil it down to the bare moments.
It is a completely different sensation when a film icon dies. Like today, Charlton Heston passed away. He's not just an actor - he truly is an icon. And not one that everyone can get behind. In his political advocacy life - Heston became a hero and an arch-villain. Michael Moore shamelessly exploited him in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE - and with audiences - you could feel them hate and love Michael for doing it.
But when I think of Heston - it isn't the NRA that comes to mind... It's nearly 100 films - some bad - many unbelievably great. Heston didn't feel born like other men - nor did he feel carved of clay - like other. He seemed an actor... a physique... a presence carved of granite. A statue brought to life carved by a master.
I have never seen Heston's debut, Peer Gynt - from 1941 - where he played the titular character. But I saw his second film... JULIUS CAESAR - where he was perfectly cast as Antony. Next he starred in the fantastic noir, DARK CITY - somehow - it was two more years til he landed a role... and that was a biggie. Brad Braden, the ringmaster of THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. I love that film. I think all circus folk love it. Nothing typifies Heston more than when he doesn't want that bastard trapeze artist's blood - or as he's dying - commanding that the show must go on... but from Heston... you believed it.
My next fave Heston role came with THE NAKED JUNGLE - a seemingly forgotten by most George Pal film - where again Heston played a man that refuses to ever admit defeat - be at the hands of his mail-order bride - or the swarming tide of red ant terror known only by the terrifying cry of MARABUNTA!!!!
Around the same time - he made a little known film called SECRET OF THE INCAS - where I've always suspected that Lucas and Spielberg ripped off Indiana Jones or at the very least - some of the opening sequence of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Here - Heston is nearly exactly in the trademark Indy wear as an adventurous archeologist searching for treasures in the Peruvian jungle.
His next role that was forever frozen in the minds of the world was that of Moses in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. It is... simply... perfection. It is high grand cinema - and while some have described the performance as wooden, to me - he feels as though he is a man touched by God - and wielding his power. I don't know what that's like... to wield God's power - and neither does a living being on Earth today... but Heston is how I've always pictured it. Once God truly speaks to you - and gives you the LITERAL ABILITY to be a superhero on Earth... I imagine it could go to your head. But you'd also, most likely, be right.
The next great role was as Mike Vargas in TOUCH OF EVIL... or as Orson Welles said in ED WOOD - "Charlton Heston as a Mexican" - and the result is perfection. Never mind that this was 1958 - and you had Heston as a Hispanic man married to Janet Leigh... which was a taboo at the time. But more than that - he again plays an awesomely self-righteous man. He didn't have the meat of the film. The roles that Welles, Dietrich and Leigh had were far more showy. But he was the anchor for the film. The performance that made it all hinge on
I next loved him in William Wyler's THE BIG COUNTRY with Gregory Peck - where Heston played the ranch foreman disgusted and disliking of this "sea captain" on land. The film isn't as showy as these others - but it's a solid role by Heston worth checking out. Especially for the cinematography - it's jaw-dropping.
Then there's BEN-HUR. I can't possibly love this film more than I do. Possibly the greatest Revenge film ever made... with the greatest sense of hope and love that I've seen. The cinema on display is awe-inspiring - and Heston is perfection. The story of Judah Ben-Hur captures me each and every time that I see it.
But next is a film I love even more... EL CID - the greatest film of what it is to become legend. A story of impossible love, loyalty and heroism. He literally becomes bigger than life on a scale that is immeasurable. When I heard Heston died - as Quint's IM came up - I flashed upon him and Sophia Loren in the hay loft - and that barn door swinging open. To me - it's his greatest film. To me - it is genius.
My next fave role was as Michelangelo in THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY - and embodies the genius of the relation between art and the corporation... or in this case, art and the church... as Michelangelo endeavors under some duress to create the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The film and his performance are brilliant.
Next, for me, is PLANET OF THE APES - TAAAA LOORRRR... Damn Dirty Apes... The film is greatness. Iconic - and watching as Heston lives in a land of monkeys controlling men... well frankly... it's something we could all imagine... shit, it's our daily existence.
Next - WILL PENNY - where again, Heston was the titular role - and his aging cowpoke is genius. It's a mainly forgotten film - but you can find it on DVD - you should check it out. The supporting cast includes Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson, Donald Pleasence, Bruce Dern, Lee Majors - and even more... This film will get you.
Then there's THE OMEGA MAN - I just plain love the film. I have it in HD and I absolutely love it. It isn't Matheson's novel - but it is the seventies version - and as such... you know - if there were a cool time for the apocalypse - it would have been the seventies. And maybe I say that because, if you're the last man on earth - getting to have whoopee with Rosalind Cash - well that'd be wild. I also love the way his house was set up, that he played chess with a bust of Caesar. The film felt right. Especially as a kid when I saw it at my father's conventions in 77.
Then there's SOYLENT GREEN - about a diet craze that sweeps the world... essentially green Doritos... and when Doritos came out with the Green Chile flavor a while back... I ate a bag... instantly.
And what about his role as Richelieu in Richard Lester's THREE MUSKETEERS and FOUR MUSKETEERS? While not nearly as awesome as Vincent Price's play on the character - you certainly didn't want to cross him.
I loved his architect in Irwin Allen's EARTHQUAKE... what a character. I loved him in GRAY LADY DOWN and the TV versions of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and TREASURE ISLAND (directed by his son)
I loved his cameo in TOMBSTONE as Henry Hooker - his old Nick Fury in TRUE LIES - his role IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS - and the brilliance of his Player King in Branagh's HAMLET... And yes, part of the reason I love ARMAGEDDON is his slight inclusion as the narrator.
I just love Heston. His range was exactly what it needed to be - and like Harrison Ford after him - it was his iconography that defined him - and like Ford - his acting ability was greatly underestimated... the fact is he conveyed emotions to an audience that accepted him. He is and will always be one of the great film stars of all time. In a hundred years - if an OSCAR ceremony does a history of Cinema Montage... he could very well be included 5 or 6 times... easily.
He picked great roles and was used for great films. Charlton Heston was a cinematic giant... and he has fallen. Politics aside - I cherish his memory - and wish his family the best.