Monday, April 7, 2008

Charlton Heston, RIP

I feel a little weird doing a memorial for Charlton Heston after spending more than a week covering the Planet of the Apes movies.

I've never been a huge fan of either Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments, though those two films were certainly holiday staples in my childhood. It's his trifecta of great sci-fi movies from the 60s and 70s that made me a fan of his: Apes, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man.

Though it is the weaker of the three, Omega Man has some great moments that are often overshadowed by those in the other two movies. In fact, I think that this clip features a great Heston line that should stand on a level with those of Apes and the final line of Soylent Green:

He also didn't take himself too seriously, as was evident by the two hilarious appearances as host of Saturday Night Live in 1987 and 1993. The later one featured one of the best versions of a common bit on SNL: the monologue where the host takes questions from the audience. In this version, the audience is made up entirely of apes who all ask questions about how it is that Heston can talk. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip of this, but you can find the transcript here. And here's another script from a great sketch on that episode, "Bag Boy,", where Heston plays a 65-year-old bag boy named Elwin who vaguely threatens his manager whenever the manager corrects Elwin's mistakes.

Here, though, is another example of how he could make fun of himself: his cameo in Wayne's World, which he sells the shit out of:

And I usually watch Touch of Evil at least once a year. Heston gets a bad rap for this movie: he is miscast as a Mexican detective, but he makes it work, especially in the way his idealism contrasts Orson Welles's performance as the most crooked of crooked cops.


Harvey Jerkwater said...

If I remember correctly, the Heston part in Touch of Evil wasn't originally written as Mexican. Welles, stuck with Mr. Square Jaw Heston as a lead, decided to rewrite the role as Mexican to give the character more of a disadvantage. (I'm pulling this from the dim memories of the book of interviews Peter Bogdanovich conducted with Welles.) Heston never really convinces as a Hispanic detective, but he's still a fine lead for a great movie.

The shot composition of the last ten minutes is so over-the-top you can't help but love it. Ye gods.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Oh, and (assuming my memory is correct and Welles wasn't fibbing) Heston was key to getting Welles to direct Touch of Evil. Welles was simply supposed to play a supporting part, but Heston misunderstood and thought Welles was supposed to be the director as well. The studio was taken aback by Heston's enthusiasm for working with Welles, and decided to placate their big star by giving the movie to Welles after all.

Nik said...

I finally watched "Touch of Evil" in full for the first time a month or so ago, and boy, it's a great noir film. Heston is not-right and right at the same time for the movie; like a lot of his roles, it's impossible to imagine anyone else doing it.

Marc Burkhardt said...

He was the only actor who could effectively pull off the last human alive bit.

Ahhh ... Gordon Street.

Dr. K said...

Harvey--I hadn't heard that particular anecdote, but it makes sense, as Heston did something similar by getting Franklin Schaffner to direct POTA, even though Schaffner was a relatively untested director, especially in sci-fi.

Nik--that's exactly how I feel about Heston's performance in Touch of Evil. When he says to Janet Leigh at the end of the opening shot, "Do you realize I haven't kissed you in over an hour?" it's a cheesy line, but perfectly delivered.

Chance said...

That little scene made all of Wayne's world worthwhile.

Unknown said...

I love Myers' choked up reaction to Heston's ruminations. Best scene in the whole movie. I ordered the Sideshow Toys Astronaut Taylor figure the day I heard the news of Charlton Heston's passing because I want something to remind me of him.