Charlton Heston: Moses Minus Staff Plus Chariot Equals Ben-Hur

Charlton Heston: Moses has his 'Summer Under the Stars' day

Charlton Heston is Turner Classic Movies' “Summer Under the Stars” star on Monday, August 5, 2013. TCM will be presenting one Heston movie premiere: Guy Green's Hawaiian-set family drama Diamond Head (1963), in which Heston plays a pineapple grower, U.S. Senate candidate, and total control freak at odds with his strong-willed younger sister, the lovely Yvette Mimieux. Also in the Diamond Head cast: France Nuyen, Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winner George Chakiris (West Side Story), The Time Tunnel's James Darren, and veteran Aline MacMahon (Gold Diggers of 1933, Five Star Final) in one of her last movie roles. And last but not least, silent film star Billie Dove reportedly has a bit role in the film. (Image: Charlton Heston ca. 1955.) (See Charlton Heston movies' TCM schedule further below.)

Now, with the exception of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, in which Charlton Heston actually bothered – or was coerced into – creating a flesh-and-blood character (as a dark-skinned Mexican narcotics officer, no less), the on-screen Heston tended to be as interesting as a slab of rock. I, for one, can't help noticing his presence; yet, my eyes invariably focus on who or what is sharing the screen with him. In King Vidor's melodrama Ruby Gentry (1952), Jennifer Jones nearly succeeds in rendering the much bulkier Heston downright invisible; in Richard Fleischer's cult classic Soylent Green (1973), Edward G. Robinson steals the show in his final film appearance; in Nicholas Ray's ponderous, artificial political drama 55 Days in Peking (1962), Heston is dwarfed by the sets and costumes.

Charlton Heston: Moses minus the staff, tablets, fake beard = Ben-Hur

As far as I'm concerned, despite strong competition from the likes of Paul Muni (The Story of Louis Pasteur), Warner Baxter (In Old Arizona), George Arliss (Disraeli), and Russell Crowe (Gladiator), among others, Charlton Heston's Academy Award-winning performance for William Wyler's Ben-Hur (1959) remains one of the most absurd in Academy Award history. After all, Heston's Ben-Hur is Moses minus the staff, the tablets, and the fake beard, or The Greatest Show on Earth's showman minus the circus, or The Agony and the Ecstasy's Michelangelo minus the Sistine Chapel, or Earthquake's construction engineer minus the collapsing buildings.

In other words, Ben-Hur is Charlton Heston going through the motions as Charlton Heston. And true enough, he does move – atop a chariot, that is – but a) B. Reeves Eason's chariot race in the 1925 Ben-Hur is more exciting and more intricately constructed b) silent film histrionics or no, the original Ben-Hur, Ramon Novarro, at least succeeded in creating a recognizable human being. (Novarro will have his “Summer Under the Stars” day on Thursday, August 8. You can check out his version of Ben-Hur then.)

I should add that Charlton Heston's 1959 Best Actor Oscar competition consisted of the following: James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder, Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, Laurence Harvey in Room at the Top, and Paul Muni in The Last Angry Man. And that Heston's Ben-Hur nomination (and eventual win) turned out to be his only one.

Also worth noting is that William Wyler's epic remains one of the biggest box office hits ever (adjusted for inflation) and remained the record-holding Academy Award winner until James Cameron's Titanic (1997) and later Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) also took home 11 Oscar statuettes.

Note: If the IMDb is to be believed, Charlton Heston's Ben-Hur features the 1925 film's leading lady May McAvoy in a crowd scene. If so, spotting her will likely be as easy (not) as spotting Myrna Loy in the 1925 version, or Sophia Loren in Quo Vadis. Good luck!

And finally, The Big Question since time immemorial (or at least since Gore Vidal began wagging his sharp tongue): Was Judah Ben-Hur Gay?

Charlton Heston movies Ben-HurCharlton Heston as Ben-Hur.

Charlton Heston movies: 'A Man for All Seasons' remake, 'The Greatest Story Ever Told'

I've yet to watch Irving Rapper's melo Bad for Each Other (1954), co-starring the sultry Lizabeth Scott – always a good enough reason to check out any movie, regardless of plot or leading man. A major curiosity is the 1988 made-for-TV version of A Man for All Seasons, with Charlton Heston in the Oscar-winning Paul Scofield role (Sir Thomas More) and on Fred Zinnemann's director's chair. Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Thomas More's wife in the TV movie (Wendy Hiller in the original) had a cameo as Anne Boleyn in the 1966 film. According to the IMDb, Robert Bolt, who wrote the Oscar-winning 1966 movie (and the original play), is credited for the 1988 version's screenplay as well.

Also of note, George Stevens' mammoth, slow-moving The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) features the recently deceased Michael Ansara as Herod's commander. Max von Sydow is a believable Jesus, while Heston plays John the Baptist – or Moses minus the staff but with the addition of seven veils.

Charlton Heston TCM 'Summer Under the Star's schedule (PT) on August 5, 2013

3:00 AM RUBY GENTRY (1952). Dir.: King Vidor. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Charlton Heston, Karl Malden, Tom Tully, Barney Phillips a.k.a. Bernard Phillips, James Anderson, Josephine Hutchinson, Phyllis Avery, Herbert Heyes, Myra Marsh, Charles Cane, Sam Flint, Frank Wilcox, George Fields, Bill Walker. Black and white. 83 min.

4:30 AM BAD FOR EACH OTHER (1954). Dir.: Irving Rapper. Cast: Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott, Dianne Foster. Black and white. 82 min.

6:00 AM THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE (1959). Dir.: Michael Anderson. Cast: Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, Michael Redgrave, Emlyn Williams, Cecil Parker, Alexander Knox, Virginia McKenna, Richard Harris, Ben Wright, Peter Illing, Terence de Marney, Ashley Cowan, Charles Davis, Jean Del Val, John Le Mesurier, Louis Mercier. Color. 105 mins. Letterbox Format.

7:45 AM DIAMOND HEAD (1962). Dir.: Guy Green. Cast: Charlton Heston, Yvette Mimieux, George Chakiris, France Nuyen, James Darren, Aline MacMahon, Elizabeth Allen, Vaughn Taylor, Marc Marno, Philip Ahn, Harold Fong, Edward Mallory, Billie Dove, Jack Matsumoto, Frank Morris, Lou Gonsalves, Clarence Kim. Color. 107 mins. Letterbox Format.

9:45 AM 55 DAYS AT PEKING (1963). Dir.: Nicholas Ray. Cast: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven. Color. 162 mins. Letterbox Format.

12:30 PM SOYLENT GREEN (1973). Dir.: Richard O. Fleischer. Cast: Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson. Color. 97 min.

2:15 PM A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1988). Dir.: Charlton Heston. Cast: Charlton Heston, Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, Richard Johnson, Roy Kinnear, Adrienne Thomas, Benjamin Whitrow, Martin Chamberlain, John Hudson, Jonathan Hackett, Nicholas Amer, Milton Cadman, Geoff Owen, Brian Badcoe. Black and white. 149 min.

4:45 PM CARSON ON TCM: CHARLTON HESTON (3/2/76). (2013). TCM presents a classic interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and Charlton Heston. Color. 10 min.

5:00 PM MAJOR DUNDEE (1965). Dir.: Sam Peckinpah. Cast: Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, Jim Hutton, Senta Berger, James Coburn, Michael Anderson Jr., Mario Adorf, Brock Peters, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, Karl Swenson, Michael Pate, John Davis Chandler, Dub Taylor, Jody McCrea. Color. 136 mins. Letterbox Format.

7:30 PM BEN-HUR (1959). Dir.: William Wyler. Cast: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O'Donnell, Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie, Frank Thring, Terence Longdon, George Relph, André Morell, Marina Berti, John Le Mesurier, and maybe May McAvoy. Color. 222 mins. Letterbox Format.

11:30 PM THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965). Dir.: George Stevens. Cast: Max von Sydow, Dorothy McGuire, Charlton Heston, Michael Anderson Jr., Carroll Baker, Ina Balin, Victor Buono, Richard Conte, Joanna Dunham, José Ferrer, Van Heflin, Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Pat Boone, Janet Margolin, David McCallum, Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, Nehemiah Persoff, Donald Pleasence, Sidney Poitier, Claude Rains, Gary Raymond, Telly Savalas, Joseph Schildkraut, Paul Stewart, John Wayne, Shelley Winters, Ed Wynn, John Abbott, Rodolfo Acosta, Michael Ansara, Robert Blake, Burt Brinckerhoff, Robert Busch, John Considine, John Crawford, Jamie Farr, David Hedison, Russell Johnson, Mark Lenard, Robert Loggia, Marian Seldes, Frank Silvera, Harold J. Stone, Jay C. Flippen, and possibly Kay Hammond. Color. 199 mins. Letterbox Format.

Charlton Heston movie schedule via the TCM website. Charlton Heston Ben-Hur publicity shot: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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3 Comments to Charlton Heston: Moses Minus Staff Plus Chariot Equals Ben-Hur

  1. Steve C

    Hi there, an interesting website but due to your negative views on Charlton Heston and William Wyler's Ben-Hur I cannot recommend your site to the members of my movie forum or link it on my film blog.

    Steve.

  2. Andre

    @Marco,

    That could certainly be. One instance when Charlton Heston gave his all — and it worked!

  3. Marco A. S. Freitas

    The idea of Heston ´being coerced´ into doing a believable turn as the hero in the classic TOUCH OF EVIL is highly unlikely since he was behind the project from the get go and was actually the one (legend/rumour propagated in the cool Ed Wood bipic, notwithstanding), who asked the money men behind that classic to hire Welles as the helmer. Agreeing or not with his Reagan Era politics or not, before his fellow actor became the US resident, Charlton-and Mockumentarian M. Moore helped the actor look like the reason why North America had became a gun culture society), the actor was a fairly liberal person (publicly supporting the Civil Rights Movement and Luther King as well as the Kennedys, starring in very left-of-center PLANET F THE AES, SOYLENT GREEN, etc) and was one of the VERY few Americans to be lauded as a a Great shakesperian actor by the BRITS themselves.