Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston, 1923-2008

He isn't often mentioned in the same breath with great male heartthrobs such as Gary Cooper or his contemporaries Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck, but Charlton Heston was one of the most breathtakingly handsome men in the annals of American cinema. To get his first major role in a big-budget movie, all he had to do was walk across the Paramount lot--Cecil B. DeMille spotted him and presto, Heston was the lead in The Greatest Show on Earth. Heston's was a beauty uniquely suited to epics, so striking, symmetrical and sculpted that no matter how wide you made the screen, how much period paraphernalia you hung around the set or how many good-looking extras you had milling around, he held the gaze.

But if general gorgeousness were all it took to make a memorable performance in an epic, Jeffrey Hunter would have hit King of Kings out of the park. Heston could take a character like Judah Ben-Hur, almost literally a plaster saint, and give him life. Not real life, mind you, but if you wanted reality you didn't seek it at a roadshow engagement. What Heston gave his historical characters was the power of his own belief in them, no matter how improbable the setting. His finely detailed memoirs reveal a man who never wanted for self-respect, and it translated into a screen persona that absolutely demanded your credulity. Heston believed he was Moses, El Cid, a heterosexual Michelangelo, believed it with such burning intensity he swept the audience along. You may question the setting, the special effects, the dialogue, the dialect, the leading lady's eyeliner, but never Heston's absolute conviction in his character.

Several Heston performances outshine the movie itself, such as his George "Chinese" Gordon in Khartoum--a shaky accent but an enjoyable performance that got better notices at the time than did costar Laurence Olivier. He's also the Siren's favorite thing in The Big Country, a movie she loves and has seen many times. Heston's character, the unfortunately named Steve Leech, is often described as a heavy but he's no such thing, just a strong silent type eaten up with love for Carroll Baker and determined not to lose her. Heston often had a lack of chemistry with his leading ladies, perhaps because the diva-esque prerogatives of stars like Sophia Loren and Ava Gardner drove the punctual, meticulous Heston round the bend. But in The Big Country his scenes with Baker smolder, and his longing for her is so nakedly sexual and apparent that you sympathize with Leech long before the character starts to do anything sympathetic.

In his science fiction movies, particularly Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green, Heston's presence gives the viewer something to hang onto amid the dystopia. The world has gone to hell, we're overrun with ragged, starving masses or damned dirty apes, but you pin your hopes on his sheer Charlton Heston-ness. Those shoulders won't bow down no matter how bad things get.

Heston's best work, however, came in his smaller-scale roles. In Will Penny, he reins in all the bigness and toughness and gives a gentle, nuanced portrayal of a hard-up cowhand, falling slowly and fearfully in love with Joan Hackett. When they finally kiss, the Siren's heart turns over. Heston always cited it as his favorite role.

Give Heston credit for something else: the man knew talent when he saw it, and had the courage to back new or underrated directors, as with Will Penny's Tom Gries. Another instance produced another one of his best films, Major Dundee. It's usually described as an interesting failure but the Siren likes this movie a lot, and likes Heston in it, too. When Sam Peckinpah ran into trouble with Columbia, Heston personally intervened, as David Shipman relates, "even offering to return his salary in an attempt to get things right (the studio, to his chagrin, accepted)." Heston was fine indeed as the Major whose harsh drive remains a mystery, unable to enjoy victory or accept defeat, slogging through fight after brutal, senseless fight.

If Charlton Heston had done nothing more in his professional life than to use his influence with Universal to help get Orson Welles the directing job on Touch of Evil, any cinephile worthy of the name would have reason to remember him fondly. The movie is without a doubt the best that Heston ever made, and the Siren wishes people would lay off his accent in it. No, it doesn't sound authentic , but what is important to the film is the way Heston's Mexican police officer counterbalances Welles' corrupt captain in every way. His character is courageous and virtuous, but Heston also plays Mike Vargas as stiff-necked, pompous and a trifle obtuse, the kind of man who would vibrate with righteous indignation if overcharged for the starch in his shirts. Vargas loves his wife and is fighting the good fight against racism and corruption. Yet Heston's performance, with its hint of priggishness, gives us room to see Hank Quinlan as human, with a touch of evil that makes him ultimately more sympathetic.

This week will undoubtedly witness a great deal of back and forth and back again about Heston's politics, given that most people last saw him not in character but at the podium of NRA rallies. But during his career Heston was an actor who approached each role with deep seriousness, repeatedly returning to the stage in between films until the lines would no longer stay in his memory. As the right- and left-wing comments sections runneth over, the Siren recuses herself. Whether you find his late-period activism admirable or appalling, what does it matter what you say about people? He was some kind of a man, but it's the work that endures.

(Cross-posted at Newcritics.)


surly hack said...

Thanks for this measuring of the man as actor and star, Siren. I think you are spot on about Heston in Touch Of Evil and Big Country (though I don't care for the latter film as you do--I will reserve final judgement until I can see it on the big screen).

With the passing of both Dassin and Heston this week there is a lot of politics going around. Unlike, say, John wayne, Heston didn't push his politics into his films. At least not that I'm aware of.

The Siren said...

Surly, I remember well that you called it "The Bloated Country" over at George Fasel's place (now there is someone I still miss). I think what attracts me to the movie is that in a way it's a romantic drama, not a Western, with two incredibly beautiful men struggling to wind up with the right incredibly beautiful woman. The futility-of-violence stuff at the end doesn't quite work and there's several sequences that could have used pruning, but my every attempt to apply rational criticism to the movie fails the second Heston gets out of bed in his longjohns.

I also forgot to mention Ruby Gentry. Hubba-hubba.

Greg said...

I love the fight scene in Big Country and Heston is centerstage in that film for me. When I judge an actor on star-quality it often comes down to "Do I watch anyone else in the scene?" With Heston, my eyes were always on him in a scene. When he wasn't there I wanted him to come back.

And I like the Touch of Evil reference you make at the end of the post. It's a great line and works well when applied to Heston.

Great job!

spongefrob said...

Charlton Heston strikes me as one of the first post-war actors to actually, and wholly, act. There weren't all that many monologues in his roles. He wouldn't be found soliloquizing, except on stage, where it works. No, his commanding physicality and tonal sublety combined with an impossibly level gaze and an evident disdain for inaction and inactivity to put the final nail in the studio coffin and presaged, by many years, ``new hollywood'' realism. In fact, many of his roles, from Moses, to Judah Ben-Hur, to Mike Vargas in 'A Touch of Evil' are about the struggle to articulate what's happening inside: the volitality working the jaw side to side, shaking that powerful frame with its imminence. `Get your stinking hands off of me, you damned dirty ape!' was just that sort of release and few actors could live with that sort of tension for even half a movie. Orson Welles tried it, loved it too much and was destroyed.

If Ben-Hur was filmed today, it would be halved in length and would end with the
chariot race. Not because the audience isn't up to it, but because the actors aren't:
it would be a mere film with mere actors to play mere parts. No actor alive today
could carry the three-sided tension between head, body and heart like Heston, nor do
so for a four hour movie.

Dan Leo said...

It's funny how bits of "business" that an actor does will sometimes just stick in your head.

Like Brando playing with Eva Marie Saint's glove in On the Waterfront.

Or in the beginning of The Magnificent Seven, when Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen offer to drive the hearse up to boot hill. We get duelling "business" from both those great camera hogs: First it's Yul lighting his skinny black cigar, in the way only Yul could light a cigar. Then it's Steve, loading his shotgun, but before he shoves in each shell he puts the shell up to his ear and shakes it, just to make sure it's got a full load of shot in it.

I love that crap, and one of my favorite bits from Charlton is that long-johns scene you talked about. At the end of the scene, Chuck's like, "Okay, I guess I gotta get dressed now," and he grabs his jeans and just power-shoves his legs into them. This was like the coolest scene ever of a dude just pulling his pants on.

Patricia Perry said...

A beautifully written tribute (as I would expect.)

You are more familiar with Heston's less iconic film work than I. My main experience of him is in the biblical spectacles and sci-fi work he is best remembered for. I can't say I've had the same appreciation for his work that you have, but you've given me some new perspectives.

But I loved him as Cardinal Richlieu in "The Three Musketeers."

lylee said...

Beautiful tribute! I loved Heston, too, setting politics aside (and you know I share your love of "The Big Country"). But I developed a raging crush on him as an adolescent after seeing him in, yes, "Ben-Hur." Didn't matter to me that he was old enough to be my grandpa: in his prime, he was HOT. As much because of his presence (magnetism personified) as because of his good looks, as you capture so well.

The Siren said...

Jonathan, you're right, I often did want him to come back. Even with James Stewart in the movie, Heston's really all I want of The Greatest Show on Earth. That, Gloria Grahame and the train wreck.

Petr, I think they might still try for all of Ben-Hur but you're right--we could find actors to do part of the performance but not the whole.

Dan, there's a blogathon right there. The Great Bits of Scene-Stealing Business. "Power-shove" -- I love it, the perfect phrase. And Heston's reactions when awakened are quite funny too.

surly hack said...

It doesn't qualify as a bit of business, but can you think of another actor who had the physicality and presence to drag that guy through the bar in Touch Of Evil? Other than Lee Marvin, perhaps, though it's a lot easier to picture Marvin being dragged by Heston.

The Siren said...

Pat, Heston had his limitations for sure but when he fit the material there was no one like him. I am not especially fond of El Cid (though I haven't seen the restored widescreen version, so that may change) but it's almost impossible to imagine another in the title role.

Lylee, it's so funny you should show up because I was just over at Youtube playing the Saul Bass credits for The Big Country and thinking of your wonderful Cinemarati post on the movie and its music. I miss Cinemarati!

Bob Westal said...

Ah, it's like a "The Big Country" reunion around here!

Anyhow, I've always had profoundly mixed feelings about Heston as an actor. He's far from my favorite, but he in the right role, he could be amazing. Campuspe has reconfirmed my personal feeling that "Touch of Evil" (which I like a lot, but perhaps not quite as much as most cinephiles) is, brownface and accent notwithstanding, among his best work.

Also, it's been a few years since I've seen the Richard Lester Musketeer films, but it's possible that his Richelieu is his very best performance. For years I had a glib line that Heston could only play God or the Devil and nothing in between. I don't think it's true, but his Richelieu was a Devil who thought he was God, so maybe that's why I love that performance so much.

But we return to "The Big Country" where he did a great job playing a supermacho but very human, very non-devil or God kind of a guy. That role is interesting because, as I've written about ad nauseum, that movie is really a film about differing political attitudes towards the use of violence, the changes that Heston's character goes through in the film are very interesting in that regard.

The Siren said...

Bob, thanks for reminding of your admiration for The Big Country, and your great post on it, which I'm going to link to right here. I hope anyone who loves the film takes a look as well as at Lylee's post which was in the same blogathon. It's almost comfort viewing for me, I get wrapped up in the damn thing each time I stumble across it on TV. Like Surly, I need to see it on a big screen. With a great sound system to do justice to that score.

The Derelict said...

Siren, this is such a wonderful post! My favorite of the Heston tributes, I would say.

With all these tributes floating around I was surprised to learn that he was also a good stage actor and fan of Shakespeare. The April 6 post at mentions some of his best Shakespearean work.

I love the story about Heston's performance in Greatest Show on Earth where someone (a critic?) thought DeMille had found a real circus roughneck to be in his movie, because Heston's acting was so authentic the critic was convinced he just had to be a real circus man.

Apure said...

A most curious Heston movie is The War Lord, written by John Collier and directed by Schaffner.Eerie surroundings and a tenser than ever Heston, clad in bright red give the film a wonderful substance. And Siren, thanks for the thoughtful and honest tribute.

The Siren said...

Derelict, it is nice to have you back, and thanks for the compliment. Heston was a dedicated stage actor all his life, and it didn't take much for interviewers to get his views on how real actors had a duty to return to the theater, for the sake of their talent and to keep the theater alive as well. I think his last live appearance was in Love Letters in London in 1999. The Guardian (I think it was, might have been the Independent) ran as cruel a piece on him as any I have ever read about any actor, but I found myself thinking, he has real guts, putting himself out there at his age when he certainly doesn't have to. That's what I meant when I talked about his seriousness as an actor.

Apure, when I was going over Heston's filmography that one leaped out at me as something I wanted to see. I have heard that it has a really authentic medieval feel to it.

Apure said...

Well, Siren, it has something to it, for sure. Authentic... I don't know, but definitely stranger than say, El Cid. The pagan ways of the villagers are embodied in a weird, dried lanscape which is neither realistic nor exactly fantasy-like (this is no Excalibur), and Heston as a character walks on the same eerie ground.

Karen said...

Ah, Siren, I knew this day would come--when you and I reach a parting of the ways (although the first tremor was over Ruth Donnelly, as I recall).

I have never found Heston handsome, and actually find it difficult to watch him because of some weird thing he does with his lower jaw or lower lip that, to me, always makes me think he's about to drool over the edge. I felt this way about him long before I knew anything about his politics, so I don't believe it's me being unreasonable. There are just certain actors I've always found unappealing (Robert Taylor, Michael Douglas, and *shudder* Charles Coburn, though that last was never a romantic lead that I'm aware of), and Heston has always led the list.

I've seen Ben-Hur, of course, and Touch of Evil, and maybe a handful of his others. Often, when a Heston title will come up on my TCM onscreen guide and I see those 4 stars attached to it, I will think long and hard, but I always pass him by. I just can't watch him.

I won't deny that his politics have made that sort of decision easier. But I've tended to be able to separate that successfully--unlike my father, who shocked me by apoplectically refusing to watch Vanessa Redgrave in "Playing for Time."

On dan leo's point about small bits of business that haunt, one that struck me forcibly the first time I saw it was a particular scene in Bad Day at Black Rock, where Robert Ryan has ordered Lee Marvin to follow him into the hotel from his seat on the porch. Marvin kicks out one leg and leans forward in a kind of rocking motion as he rises from his seat--it's so odd and so unlike the way people tend to rise from chairs. It says, oddly, both "I'm easy-going" and "I mean business." I remember laughing with delight when I first saw it!

The Siren said...

Apure, now I really want to see it!

When I write an in memoriam piece I tend to accentuate the positive, as I did here. I didn't want to overpraise Heston, nor did I want to deny all the pleasure he's given me over the years. I do see your point, though, Karen. I think he's hugely enjoyable in a number of movies and genuinely good in a handful, but he could be cap-D Dreadful. I wrote a post about The Naked Jungle very early in the history of this blog, where he was just awestrikingly bad in my view, although the movie has fans and I am spotting them in comments threads for Heston tributes. There are actors who could rise above a trite script or anemic director but with few exceptions (Khartoum!) Heston really wasn't one of them.

The Siren said...

P.S. Hey, I like Charles Coburn too. *evil grin*

Karen said...

Oh, you ARE evil.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Campaspe: I hope you can see El Cid theatrically, ideally on the biggest screen possible. Perhaps if I saw Ben-Hur on an actual theater screen, I might change my mind about that film.

I saw Khartoum a few years ago and thought that the film should be mandatory viewing for the current occupants of the White House.

gmoke said...

Heston as an actor impressed me only in his character roles at the end of his life. He was indeed serious about his craft but it was only with Cardinal Richelieu in the Musketeers movies that his performances began to ring true. In the character roles, he looked like he was actually having fun. Up to and including his cameo in "Town and Country" as a ridiculously protective Daddy or his turn in a beer commercial.

On the other hand, I first saw the notice of his death on, in their news sidebar. Also in that sidebar was the news of a three year old shooting herself in the head with a gun in Detroit.

On the third hand, he evidently stood up for Edward G Robinson whose first major role after the blacklist was in "The Ten Commandments" and whose last role was in "Soylent Green."

Bob Westal said...

Thanks for link, Campuspe. All the more generous given that I accidentally plagiarized your "Touch of Evil" quote in my quickie post.

Anyhow, I, too, desparately need to see "The Big Country" on the big screen. There was a time in my life, pre-DVD, when I tried to see almost everything on movie screens, but since I only stumbled over it last year for the first time, I just haven't had the opportunity.

tdraicer said...

My favorite Heston films are The Warlord, Khartoum, and The Naked Jungle. That last manages the unusual feat of a believable and adult opposites-attract-romance in the middle of a truly frightening monster movie.

tdraicer said...

Ah, I didn't notice you don't like The Naked Jungle. Well, I've always agreed with Twain: In matters of opinion our adversaries are insane. :)

The Derelict said...

I was just thinking about The Warlord today! I can't say I liked it very much, but I'm nearly always disappointed by movies set in medieval times that try for "authenticity" -- as cartoonish and Technicolored as they might be, I think the '39 Robin Hood or the Ivanhoe from the 50s (or any of the over-the-top Hollywood medieval epics) are more enjoyable than the more recent (relatively speaking) films that try to be more "realistic." But I'm an amateur medievalist who's hard to please.

The Warlord has some nice cinematography at the beginning, if I remember correctly, and Heston does give a fine performance as a real SOB with basically two things on his mind: killing people and banging chicks. Overall, I couldn't get over the annoying hippies, er, pagans. The only thing to get old-school paganism right on the screen is HBO's Rome, IMO.

And Siren, thanks for the additional info on Heston's stage career -- you are so dang knowledgeable!

The Siren said...

Gmoke, one thing that was interesting about Heston was that he never went back and reversed any of his prior positions, instead maintaining to the end of his life that things like support for gun rights were a natural outgrowth of things like anti-McCarthyism.

Peter, I hadn't thought about it, but yeah, Khartoum would be an excellent choice. On the other hand reports say the Pentagon repeatedly screened Battle of Algiers before the initial invasion of Iraq and we can see how big an impression THAT apparently made.

Bob, I used to feel the same way but now with kids I am grateful if I can just find the time to see things on our moderately big flatscreen. As for the Touch of Evil line, 'sokay because Manohla Dargis at the NY Times used the same line and copied us BOTH, heh.

TDRaicer, my apologies about The Naked Jungle, but as I said it does have its passionate advocates. Love the Twain quote. :)

Derelict, Heston's death had me thinking about epics in general and for some reason Alfred the Great popped into my head. Ever see that one? I'd be interested in hearing the opinion of an amateur medievalist on it. God David Hemmings was so beautiful in those days.

Karen said...

Man, I'd never even heard of that Alfred the Great! Now I'm craving a chance to see it. What a cast! But judging from the brief plot summary at IMDb--and as a professional medievalist--I'm not holding out much hope for authenticity as far as its story or characterization. What I would like to see is its style; what did Clive Donner and Michael Stringer think the 9th century looked like?

Me, I'm with the derelict: I much prefer the Technicolor '39 Robin Hood to pretty much any subsequent version. As I've said elsewhere and often, if you look at any illuminated medieval manuscript, and search for archers, they're dressed pretty much like Errol Flynn, not like Kevin Costner.

And, yes, young David Hemmings was beautiful. Speaking of which, I had a surreal experience this weekend: watching Ian McShane onstage one evening in "The Homecoming," and then seeing him 40+ years earlier the next day in Sky West and Crooked. Talk about beautiful! Talk about aging like someone who was rode hard and put away wet! It's like comparing Terence Stamp in Billy Budd and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The Siren said...

K, I have been out most of today and was just about to come back and remark that you should weigh in on the "medieval authenticity" thing but you beat me to it!! You haven't heard of Alfred the Great because truly it isn't great, but it does have David Hemmings and I was happy enough watching him. It was obviously done on a much lower budget than, say, El Cid but the visuals are interesting, grubby in a very swingin' 60s sort of way. The overall look is weirdly similar to Fall of the Roman Empire.

so tell me, did you ever see The Warlord?

And Ian McShane did not age the best, I admit. But Stamp still looks good! in Priscilla he was, well, looking, you know, not himself ...

Heston, though you are not a fan, did age VERY well. Even in advanced old age he retained something of the old appeal.

Unknown said...

What wonderful rememberances and commentary about Heston's fine career. In recent years (say, the last 15) I only saw him in small parts in such films as "In The Mouth of Madness" and, more memorably, "Tombstone", in which he played the rancher who watches over Doc Holliday while Wyatt and the rest go after The Cowboys.

But I also remember his two appearances on Saturday night live. The first was after Oral Roberts made that ghastly request for money lest "the Lord calls me home." Heston played God in a sketch wherein Phil Hartman played Roberts. Brilliant stuff. I thought at the time that he was trying to cash in on Leslie Nielsen's "Naked Gun" frisson but had forgotten his very funny turn as Cardianl Richilieu in Lesters "Musketeers" trilogy.

As to his politics, I've never quite understood how a man who marched with Dr. King and who was an avid anti-McCarthyite could somehow swing so far to the left in his later years. And though I am a progressive leftist, it infuriates me that the last bit of footage we have of the man himself is that disgusting ambush interview Michael Moore pulled in "Bowling For Columbine."

Again, a fine essay on the man and his career.

Unknown said...

Excuse me, that was supposed to be "swing to the right."

Bela said...

I can't agree on David Hemmings being beautiful, ever - not with those pale bulging eyes, although Benjamin Britten certainly thought so. As for Terence Stamp, he remained extraordinarily pretty for years (I used to bump into him - once literally - quite a lot around Regent Street, when I worked in the area) and I can testify to his beauty.

I saw The Ten Commandments, when it came out. I was a child and the parting of the Red Sea scared me to death and still sends shivers down my back when I think of it. Charlton Heston was so wonderful in it. He was Moses.

Some years ago, I was in The Pit (the studio theatre that used to belong to the RSC, in the Barbican Centre), waiting for the press performance of a play to begin, when a journalist friend of mine came up to me and said, 'I've just seen Charlton Heston in the gents.' I laughed and said, 'Pull the other one!' Charlton Heston was one of those Hollywood idols one never saw in real life. Surely. My friend didn't insist. He went to find his seat. A second later, Charlton Heston walked in, accompanied by a woman, who, I think, was his daughter. I cannot remember what the play was: I spent the entire two hours watching Moses, who was sitting on one of the other sides of the horseshoe auditorium, i.e. in full view of everyone else. I have seen and met a lot of actors, but CH is certainly the most mythical one.

cgeye said...

Back in the day, when the Denver Center for the Performing Arts had a serious film program, it showed a version of PEER GYNT with Heston starring, shining with post-pubescence. I wonder if it escaped to YouTube, yet....

As for the BIG COUNTRY, I found the proto-incestous vibe that Carroll Baker's character had to distract greatly from its virtues. I wondered why Heston's character wasted his time on her...3

Paper Battleships said...

you're definitely right about the heston involvement in touch of evil. that was definitely commendable.

i just learned of his politics and nra affliation, from the news. i had no idea. and i'm glad i didn't. it probably would've inevitably clouded my respect for him a bit.

lylee said...

Thanks for the link, campaspe! I'm honored to be in the Big Country Club with you and Bob as fellow members. :-)

I must say I'm a little taken aback at the amount of negativity towards Heston in the wake of his death. I mean, I myself disagreed violently with his political views, but that never detracted from my enjoyment of him as a movie star or my respect for him as a man. Surely we can honor these aspects of his life, however we feel about some of the others?

For example, I saw an editorial cartoon today that had as its punchline something like "can we pry the gun from him now?" (referring to his famous, or infamous, "cold dead fingers" line), which struck me as being in appallingly poor taste.

Karen said...

Wow: the 9th century through the lens of Carnaby Street. Now I REALLY want to see Alfred the Great.

No, I've never seen The War Lord, but that's because of that whole can't-watch-Heston thing.

As to Terence Stamp, I'm not saying he is not still a distinguished-looking man. Handsome, even. But, c'mon, have you SEEN him in Billy Budd? Ethereally, insanely beautiful. Makes you think of that line of Pope Gregory the Great, when he saw some English slave children: Non Angli sed angeli (Not English, but angels).

And I will grant you that Heston did age well. In fact, I think he got better-looking as he got older; the cragginess covered that godawful underbite. And I will concede that he was wonderful as Cardinal Richelieu. But I can never forgive him for remaking A Man for All Seasons, especially because for many years his was the only version available on VHS...don't mess with my Paul Scofield.

The Siren said...

Rob & Lylee -- I appreciate the sense of decorum and courtesy you both have, that says immediately after a man's death is not the time to dance on his grave, especially if he was an actor who's given us all a lot of pleasure over the years. (All except Karen, anyway. :D) I am very fond of some Heston performances and as a person he seems to have been very upstanding and loyal. Also, I do try to stay off politics here to whatever extent my naturally loud mouth will permit, because I have a lot of different readers and I want them all to feel welcome. All that preamble over, I can't get all worked up, either at the time or now that he's dead, over the Moore interview or over people who are still dissing Heston for his gun views. For better or worse, the gun control debate is largely over in this country and there will probably never be anything approaching a national system. Heston's work on behalf of the NRA had no small part in bringing that about. I'd rather talk about his acting, good and bad, but he spent 20 years lending his prestige as an actor to the nation's most famous lobbying group. If in the end that overshadowed his work for some, it was his choice.

The Siren said...

Bela, I LOVE stories of your theatre days and am so happy you stopped by to reminisce. Stamp was one of the most beautiful actors ever; if my computer skills were better I would love to do a Beauty Smackdown Youtube video with stills of Stamp and Alain Delon, because I can never decide who was more heart-stoppingly gorgeous. But I do lust for Hemmings too and I love the bulging eyes, which are rather decadent to me, like those of Bette Davis.

CGeye, yes, the incestuous vibe was definitely weird but Heston still made me believe in his love for her. Baker always seemed to be playing these parts opposite creepy father figures, didn't she? Baby Doll, Giant ...

PB, I'm amazed you avoided all the Heston political stuff for so long! It is much nicer to just not know some things, I agree.

K., I *adore* Billy Budd. In addition to being a face for the ages I always think Stamp is a good actor, too.

I'm trying to think of my can't-watch-them actors. June Allyson, definitely. Jerry Lewis. Pat O'Brien bugs but I've managed to sit through several good films despite him.

surly hack said...

I dated someone who was crazy for Alain Delon--she'd watch anything he was in--and that includes a lot of so-so junk.

Big, bulging eyes, eh? What about that dreamboat, Peter Lorre? ;)

Noel Vera said...

Heston was essential to Touch of Evil. His Vargas made virtue unyielding, unattractive, whereas al; your sympathy devolved to the fat, wheezing Quinlan, with his muttered asides and brilliantly sneaky bits of business (that bit with the pigen egg, for one, or with Akim Tamiroff in the bar). You love Quinlan, but--Vargas is right. You feel the need to love what Vargas stands for, even when he's being such a pain in the ass, a spoilsport, a party pooper in one of the most beautifully decadent parties ever thrown on the Hollywood screen.

Karen said...

A brief return to medieval authenticity and Errol Flynn versus Kevin Costner. I wanted to post this in that message, but the Morgan Library's catalog wasn't working, and it's been on the fritz until today. But here you go:
This is a 12th-century English manuscript. Now, take a look at those archers and tell me whether Flynn's tights and tunics weren't more authentic than Costner's Davy Crockett animal skins!

Apure said...

The archer in blue breeches definitely belongs to a fashion defilé in Summerisle.

Gerard Jones said...

Siren, thanks for another eloquent tribute. I'm also pleased with the deft way you directed your respondents away from politics as you acknowledged that we would have political responses. The blogosphere is so politicized right now that it's wonderful to retreat from that occasionally.

I've never quite been able to like Heston. Even when I was 11 and fell in love with Planet of the Apes I thought he hammed it up too much (although I don't think I knew the word "hammed" yet). I remember wanting to know more about Kim Hunter, Roddy MacDowell and Maurice Evans but also wanting to avoid Heston. Omega Man a couple of years later pretty much finished me on him. But I have to admit I was blown away by him in Ben Hur, the sense of interior he brought to that character who could have been so exterior, the way he carried that long, meandering story. So when I saw Touch of Evil I gave him the benefit of the doubt and am glad I did. Everything you say about his role there is just right. I guess I like Heston when he has a Willie Wyler or an Orson Welles to draw the best out of him. Otherwise he so quickly becomes a parody of Heston.

Interesting to read on Mick LaSalle's blog on sfgate that he found Heston in person to be pretty much exactly like Heston the actor. Found himself liking him despite his politics.

And does anyone understand Heston's political shift? He was a liberal Democrat as late as 1970, anti-war and pro-gun-control. Then in 1980 he's a Reaganite. Might be an interesting social essay to explore how and why.

Unknown said...

Heston said Welles taught him more about acting than any other director. I think that's where he learned overlapping dialogue. I've seen him use it in subsequent films.

Mutaman said...

Heston was ok. i enjoyed The Ten Comandments, Ben Hur, and Touch of Evil as much as the next guy. but The big Country is pretty much all Peck.

I also remember seeing an old Dick Cavitt show where Heston absolutely had his head habded to him by Ramsey Clark. When it came to politics he was pretty much out of his league.

Dume3 said...

That's an interesting preface--how Heston isn't mentioned isn't mentoned in the same breath as so and so. I prefer his movies to any of those you listed, although Gary Cooper isn't too far behind.

The Derelict said...

Alfred the Great sounds, well, great! Michael York and Ian McKellen and David Hemmings as my favorite English king? Say no more! I'm surprised I hadn't heard of this before. Actually, I'm not really surprised -- I rediscover daily I'm not nearly as knowledgeable as I think I am. That's why I come to this blog! ;)

And Karen, I was thinking the same thing about Medieval manuscripts and Old Hollywood's Merrie Old England. I'm still waiting on a definitive film about King Arthur. Excalibur comes close, but so far my favorite might have to be Disney's 1963 Sword in the Stone.

To bring it back to Heston, he was just the type of larger-than-life figure one would need to make a great Arthurian film. Sadly, that type is (along with Errol Flynn's Robin Hood tights) no longer in fashion.

Unknown said...


Thank you for a very touching tribute. I began reading this with some hesitation. I tend to scroll through your posts when you veer toward politics. Not a criticism; it's just not why I come here.

It was a wonderful post. Thanks again.