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Charlton Heston 1924-2008

There was a time when Charlton Heston, who died yesterday at the age of 83, was a hero of mine. Then I began to appreciate some of the subtleties of screen acting. And well before he became chief evangelist for the Gun Lobby. In the tradition of my Jack Palance obituary, here is my Top Ten List In Chronological Order of my favourite Charlton Heston screen appearances:

  1. "The Ten Commandments" (1956) - Heston as Moses, in charge of a major water infrastructure project.
  2. "The Big Country" (1958) - Wagnerian western soap opera set to Jerome Moross' rousing overture.
  3. "Touch of Evil" (1958) - an unexpected diversion into arthouse territory, directed by Orson Welles.
  4. "The Buccaneer" (1958) - Heston as President-to-be Andrew Jackson in the 1812 War on Pommies, the film completed by director Anthony Quinn after Mille died while production was in progress.
  5. "Ben Hur" (1959) - Heston playing out every boy's dream, dirt-track chariot racing to the death. Based upon the Lew Wallace epistle that failed to qualify for the New Testament.
  6. "The War Lord" (1965) - Heston the Norman warrior in combat with the Vikings, asserting his right to bear arms.
  7. "Khartoum" (1966) - Heston as General Gordon in this historical epic of both Muslim-versus-Christian-conflict and British-Empire-screwing-up-Africa. Must get around to watching this again in the context of 21st century events.
  8. "Planet of the Apes" (1968) - "Damn you all to hell."
  9. "Will Penny" (1968) - Heston acts in a film that could easily be tagged "The Small Country". A small western about ordinary people, and part of the Western's evolution towards maturity.
  10. "Bowling for Columbine" (2002) - Heston's greatest role, as Charlton Heston, gun rights nutter.

I had a Top 15 in the first draft of this list. Got it down to 12 plus a Bottom 1 (and I regret not seeing his appearance as God co-starring with Paul Hogan, and therefore cannot mention "Only An Angel" (1990)). After cutting it down to 10, here are the Two Honourable Mentions:

  1. "The Savage" (1952) - Way back in his socially-aware B-western era, sympathetically playing the adopted son of a Sioux chieftain.
  2. "Pony Express" (1953) - A more typical, politically-incorrect B-western of the time, Heston as Wild Bill Hickok.

And my Charlton Heston Bottom 1:

  1. "Arrowhead" (1954) - Extremely politically-incorrect B-western, an early example of Heston asserting his right to bear arms. Belongs on that shelf that includes Jack Benny/Rochester films. Jack Palance played a Native American in this film, and no I didn't put it in his Top 10.