Monday, April 7, 2008
RIP Charlton Heston 1924-2008
Even during his box office champion heyday, Charlton Heston was referenced as an object of some derision, as a wooden actor who brought with him a patented godlike posturing and familiar stentorian vocal style alongside his obvious good looks, blazing blue eyes and well-toned physique. Heston had a serious track record of blockbusters, from the fifties through the seventies, colorful big budget productions like The Greatest Show on Earth (’52), The Ten Commandments (’56), The Big Country (’58), Ben-Hur (’59), El Cid (’61), 55 Days at Peking (’63), The Greatest Story Ever Told (’65), Planet of the Apes (’67), The Omega Man (’71), Soylent Green (’73),Earthquake (’74), and Airport 75 (’74). His monolithic and magisterial presence registered well with audiences, even those who enjoyed a good joke at his expense, yet he never had quite the magical trick up his sleeve to please the highminded moviegoing crowd, the sort of stuff his beefcake brothers like Robert Mitchum (intrinsic coolness), Kirk Douglas (high flying neuroticism), or Burt Lancaster (magnetic vitality) had in spades. (Heston did manage to be part of three enduring critical faves: Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (’58), Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee (’65), and the vastly underrated Western Will Penny (’68).) Heston, like Sinatra a liberal gone over to the dark side with age, became a kind of Cardinal of Conservatism, and in the last decade and more he became the omniscient narrator and spokesman of the gun lobby and other right wing causes, becoming known as much for his political stances than his quite glorious Technicolor past, a past filled quite nicely by the ever chiseled Heston, rugged and rigid, clad in sandals, a robe, or some other such spurious costume, surrounded by extras, guided by a dictatorial director from high in a camera crane, a central piece of the lavish and plush jigsaw excessive splendor that was Hollywood in the heart of the studio era.