It’s Charlton Heston Movies Day on Thursday, Aug. 28, on Turner Classic Movies.
Charlton Heston was a graduate cum laude of the Paul Muni School of Acting Juz Like Them Historical Figures. Muni (Louis Pasteur, Emile Zola, Benito Juarez, etc.), for his part, learned his schtick – memorize dialogue, apply make-up, ham it up – from George Arliss (Benjamin Disraeli, Voltaire, Alexander Hamilton, Cardinal Richelieu, etc.). I don’t know who the hell taught Arliss, but whoever it was should have had his teaching credentials incinerated.
Well, too late now…
Heston overplays Gen. Andrew Jackson in Anthony Quinn’s disastrous The Buccaneer (the beautiful and talented Claire Bloom deserved much better), Gen. Charles Gordon in Basil Dearden’s atrocious Khartoum (Laurence Olivier fares even worse as The Mahdi), and John the Baptist in George Stevens’ tedious The Greatest Story Ever Told.
It gets worse: Heston also overplays Judah Ben-Hur in the mammoth – as in big, heavy, dead – pseudo-historical Ben-Hur, quite possibly William Wyler’s worst film. As usual, Academy members disagreed with me: Ben-Hur won a total of 11 Oscars, including best picture, best direction, best actor (ouch!), and best supporting actor (Hugh Griffith, chewing on the scenery, the camels, the desert sand, you name it). Ben-Hur also happens to be one of the most commercially successful films of all time. (I much prefer the 1925 version starring Ramon Novarro. It’s shorter, it’s prettier, it’s silent – you don’t have to listen to the neuron-murdering dialogue.)
The science-fiction drama Soylent Green has its fans – the film marked Edward G. Robinson’s last screen appearance – while Major Dundee also has its admirers, though it was originally butchered by Columbia.
The Big Country is another Wyler-Heston pairing; one that is infinitely superior to the more successful Ben-Hur. Perhaps that’s because Heston has what amounts to a supporting role; the real lead belongs to Gregory Peck (my idea of a male film star) and Jean Simmons (my idea of a female film star). Burl Ives won the best supporting actor Oscar for his tough rancher.
I haven’t seen Bad for Each Other, but if Lizabeth Scott is in it, then it’s worth a look.
Schedule (Pacific Time) and synopses from the TCM website:
3:00 AM Bad for Each Other (1954)
A doctor returned from the Korean War must choose between setting up a glamorous practice and helping the poor. Cast: Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott, Dianne Foster. Director: Irving Rapper. Black and white. 82 min.
4:30 AM The Buccaneer (1958)
French pirate Jean Lafitte tries to redeem his name helping the U.S. in the War of 1812. Cast: Yul Brynner, Charlton Heston, Claire Bloom. Director: Anthony Quinn. Color. 120 mins. Letterbox Format
7:00 AM Khartoum (1966)
Epic story of the British general who fell to the Arabs in 1885. Cast: Charlton Heston, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Ralph Richardson. Director: Basil Dearden. Color. 136 mins. Letterbox Format
1:00 PM Ben-Hur (1959)
While seeking revenge, a rebellious Israelite prince crosses paths with Jesus Christ. Cast: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins. Director: William Wyler. Color. 222 mins. Letterbox Format
5:00 PM The Big Country (1958)
Feuding families vie for water rights in the old West. Cast: Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston. Director: William Wyler. Color. 167 mins. Letterbox Format
8:00 PM Major Dundee (1965)
Cavalry misfits cross the Mexican border to destroy an Indian outpost. Cast: Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, James Coburn. Director: Sam Peckinpah. Color. 136 mins. Letterbox Format
10:30 PM Soylent Green (1973)
A future cop uncovers the deadly secret behind a mysterious synthetic food. Cast: Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young. Director: Richard Fleischer. Color. 97 mins. Letterbox Format
12:30 AM The Hawaiians (1970)
A wanderer returns home only to find political turmoil, disease and romantic difficulties. Cast: Charlton Heston, Geraldine Chaplin, Tina Chen. Director: Tom Gries. Color. 134 mins. Letterbox Format