Tuesday, 8 April 2008


In a year during which we have lost many great names in the world of entertainment it is, perhaps, the death of Charlton Heston that I feel most personally. For the last six years Charlton Heston has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that afflicts my own partner. Like Heston, who faced his illness with great bravery, my partner struggles against her own memory loss and confusion. Often, during times of depression I would make her laugh by saying she was in an exclusive club – just her and Charlton Heston! Tonight she watched the announcement of Heston’s death with no comment beyond “What a shame”. She did not remember that she had seen Heston on stage at Salisbury Cathedral with Richard Branagh. My thoughts are with Heston’s family. Charlton Heston was a fine actor. In his early days he may have been somewhat limited in the range of roles he was offered because of his physique – he was, the opposite of Richard Widmark who died recently in that he was, as a workmate once accurately put it “built like a brick shithouse”. As with Widmark I will leave biography for the historians and list here my favourite Heston roles.

Heston’s performance in DeMille’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is about as big as they come. It’s a monster of a movie and just about as spectacular as you might want. You might just think it is a work of art, a bad taste sideshow, a great camp classic (“Oh Moses, Moses, you stupid irrepressible fool!”) or a wildly enjoyable star spotting exercise but whatever you think it is great entertainment. TOUCH OF EVIL is one of Heston’s very best performances as a Mexican cop caught up in corruption in a border town. Not for the last time in his career Heston went out on a limb to support his director/co-star, Orson Welles. Chuck was back in costume for his famous roll in William Wyler’s BEN HUR, reportedly oblivious to the homo-erotic slant that Wyler was giving to Heston’s scenes with Stephen Boyd and Jack Hawkins. BEN HUR, like THE TEN COMMANDMENTS before it and EL CID after almost defy you not to enjoy them – luckily, they repay attention. One of my very favourite Heston roles was as the Norman knight in Franklin Schaffner’s THE WARLORD. Set in a period usually ignored by the cinema the film featured totally convincing performances by Heston, Richard Boone and Guy Stockwell. Afew years later Heston reteamed with Schaffner for equally memorable sci-fi classic, THE PLANET OF THE APES. My final two choices are both Westerns. Heston showed rather unexpected vulnerability in both films. In Sam Peckinpah’s under-rated MAJOR DUNDEE he played the title role – a strong man who has unexpected weakness due to career disappointments and in Tom Gries’s WILL PENNY he plays an ageing and illiterate cowboy who makes a final grasp for happiness. Heston was superb in both. These then are my favourite Heston films but before finishing I’d like to make honourable mention of his performance as Cardinal Richelieu in Richard Lester’s musketeer films, his television version of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and his very effective Long John Silver in TREASURE ISLAND which for me eclipsed all earlier versions. Stars didn’t come much bigger than Heston (cinematically and physically) and it will be impossible to fill his sandals. R.I.P Chuck.

1 comment:

Cerpts said...

I've been thinking of doing my own little tribute to Chuck on my blog and I'm sure I will at some point after I mull over his screen history enough to do so. However, yours was so great I doubt if I need to. Much like Terry Frost at Paleocinema, I too found Heston's politics repugnant but also like Terry Frost I never let that get in the way of his screen roles. If you can say nothing else about the guy, Charlton Heston was a hell of an entertainer and made quite a few terrific movies. It's funny you should mention THE WARLORD, a film I've never seen but always wanted to. Schaffner would reunite with Heston on PLANET OF THE APES; partially at the recommendation of Chuck himself. I also saw and greatly enjoyed his turn in TREASURE ISLAND you mentioned -- as well as the Sherlock Holmes tale THE CRUCIFER OF BLOOD -- both directed by his son. Charlton Heston made his mark on film history and can surely be called one of the greats.