Friday, March 13, 2015

façade: charlton heston, farceur?

"On screen, Mr. Heston parted the Red Sea in 'The Ten Commandments,' drove the Moors from Spain in 'El Cid,' painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 'The Agony and the Ecstasy,' baptized Jesus in 'The Greatest Story Ever Told,' and gave him a drink of water in 'Ben-Hur.'

"And on the seventh day, Mr. Heston did not rest."

-Carrie Rickey

I can't top that. Frankly, I have nothing to add to what Carrie wrote.

Except for one observation.

In his long, 50-year Hollywood career, Heston made a lot of films, close to 100 (not counting his television appearances), but they were heavily dramatic and most of them period/costume pieces - Biblical epics, Westerns and such.

But to the best of my knowledge, Heston has only only two - count 'em - two comedies on his resumé: Jerry Hopper's "The Private War of Major Benson" (1955) and Melville Shavelson's "The Pigeon That Took Rome" (1962) and, in both, he played military men.

In "The Private War of Major Benson," he's a career soldier given a choice after mouthing off once too often to higher-ups: He will be drummed out of the Army, or he can keep his stripes if he takes command of - and shapes up - the ROTC program at a boys' academy. The Universal film, which was remade as Damon Wayan's "Major Payne" in 1995, would have been better suited to the talents of Glenn Ford.

"The Pigeon That Took Rome" cast Heston as another American soldier, this one behind Italian lines in World War II, who uses carrier pigeons fitted with messages to communicate the movements of the Germans - and who grows more and more in love with the daughter of the local family with which he's residing.

The ever-reliable Harry Guardino co-starred, handling most of the film's comedy, and Elsa Martinelli was Heston's love interest, whose father (Salvatore Baccaloni) fouls things up by cooking the pigeons for a family dinner.

The film is a little reminiscent of the military comedy that Jack Lemmon made with Richard Quine in 1957, "Operation Mad Ball," and in fact would have been a better fit with Lemmon.

That's not an original opinion. At the time of the release of "The Pigeon That Took Rome," Heston himself opined that it would have been better with Lemmon.


Brian G. said...

Great bit of trivia about Heston. I never realized how limited an actor he was.

Natalie said...

Agreed. In his day, he had presence to spare. A genuine screen icon.

Angie said...

I enjoy your blog! Re-tweeting your article!

Alex said...

Like him or not, for his limited acting abilities or his politics, Heston was one hell of an onscreen presence.

brad said...

Does this mean Airport '75 was not a comedy?

Kevin Deany said...

Big Heston fan here. While his comedies are not very good, he excelled at the larger than life characters. As others have pointed out, he seemed more comfortable playing characters in any century but the 20th.

Another comedy he appeared in was the Warren Beatty-directed TOWN AND COUNTRY. He's one of the best things in it. And his cameo in WAYNES WORLD 2 got a big laugh from the opening weekend audience I saw it with.

His WILL PENNY could be his best performance. I don't think another actor could have done as well as he did.

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Kevin. Heston has become an easy target for lazy critics. His filmography is impressive and, yes, "Will Penny" is a terrific showcase of his underestimated talents.