April 7, 2008


A Persona Carved in Stone: On-Screen and Off, Charlton Heston Embodied a High-Minded Code (Stephen Hunter, 4/07/08, Washington Post)

He was the hawk.

He soared. In fact, everything about him soared. His shoulders soared, his cheekbones soared, his brows soared. Even his hair soared.

And for a good two decades, Charlton Heston, who died Saturday at 84, was the ultimate American movie star. In a time when method actors and ethnic faces were gradually taking over, Heston remained the last of the ramrod-straight, flinty, squinty, tough-as-old-hickory movie guys.

He and his producers and directors understood his appeal, and used it for maximum effect on the big Technicolor screen. Rarely a doubter, never a coward, inconceivable as a shirker, he played men of granite virtue no matter the epoch. He played commanders, biblical prophets, Jewish heroes, tough-as-nails cowpokes, calm aviators, last survivors, quarterbacks and a president or two.

Later in his life, he took that stance into politics, becoming president of the National Rifle Association just when anti-gun attitudes were reaching their peak. Pilloried and parodied, lampooned and bullied, he never relented, he never backed down, and in time it came to seem less an old star's trick of vanity than an act of political heroism. He endured, like Moses. He aged, like Moses. And the stone tablet he carried had only one commandment: Thou shalt be armed. It can even be said that if the Supreme Court in June finds a meaning in the Second Amendment consistent with NRA policy, that he will have died just short of the Promised Land -- like Moses.

Was he a great actor? Many think not, and few would rank him with contemporaries like Brando, Dean, even Widmark or Wayne. But at the same time his talent was much underrated, as it frequently is for people who enjoy the blessed gift of great beauty. For the purposes of the movie industry in the '50s, at the height of its patriotism and Western-centrism, he was a perfect fit and always gave solid, professional work. Can anyone imagine either "The Ten Commandments" or "Ben-Hur" without him?

Note that having just said that his political crusade resembles one of his movie roles, the diminishment of him as an actor depends on the contradictory notion that such characters -- no matter how well he fit the parts -- don't exist in real life. As if there were a Stanley Kowalski or a Vito Corleone somewhere....

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 7, 2008 8:19 AM

Heston was a way better actor than Brando. Brando was too rooted in Stanislavski. While that might have been the correct way to play a character 50 years ago, it now looks as fake as silent film stars mugging for the camera. Contrast that with Heston in "Touch of Evil" where you never get a hint of Method fakery. His natural ability never looks dated.

Posted by: Bryan at April 7, 2008 10:24 AM

Dean made, what, 3 movies. In at least one, Giant, he was horrible.

Concur on Brando. He was really good in the Godfather but he underplayed that role. Usually, he just chews scenery. Stella!

Lot of good Heston roles but in a non-lead, look at Big Country. Excellent work in a film with many excellent actors.

Posted by: Bob at April 7, 2008 10:45 AM

Agreed, Big Country is good. My other sleeper favorite of Heston's is "Naked Jungle" (Leiningen Versus the Ants), with a ravishing and marvelously-attired Eleanor Parker.

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at April 7, 2008 11:21 AM

He simply stole the show in Branagh's Hamlet as the Player King. A bit part, done so well that he blew the rest of the actors off the stage. No small feat considering the cast in question. I put in the DVD from time to time just to see Heston's monologue. Few actors can achieve such genuine intensity.

Posted by: Shelton at April 7, 2008 12:09 PM

I have no idea about Kowalski or Corleone, but I'm pretty sure Bluto Blutarski has a blog.

Posted by: Mike Beversluis at April 7, 2008 2:26 PM

Heston did a cameo on Wayne's World 2 (of all things). A bit actor had trouble read his lines. Wayne looks at the camera and says, "Can't we do better than this?", so the actor walks off and Charlton Heston walks on and reads the same lines and blows the doors off. IMHO the funniest gag in the WW movies.


Posted by: Gideon7 at April 7, 2008 2:59 PM

"Tough as Old Hickory" indeed. Charleton Heston not only looked like Moses, he also looked like Andrew Jackson, whom he played twice.

Y.O.S saw Heston in person twice, at N.R.A conventions, and we revere his memory.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 7, 2008 4:20 PM

He made a great recording as narrator of Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait. What a voice! RIP.

Posted by: LC at April 7, 2008 4:43 PM

Dean was horrible in all of them. Someone needed to whip his pouty behind in each. He was a chick's actor.

Posted by: oj at April 7, 2008 4:54 PM