06 April 2008

RIP Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston has died. For the last decade and change, he's been pretty much a punchline (to young persons of a liberal persuasion such as myself) or a heroic political activist (to conservatives with strongly anti-gun-control political beliefs). Either way, I think we tend to overlook his obvious qualities as an actor -- aside from his performances in the sandal epics like Ben Hur (which I haven't seen, much to my chagrin) he turned in wonderfully compelling performances in a long string of movies in the sixties and seventies, including Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green.

But I'll best remember him for Touch of Evil.

As you can see even from the trailer above, Heston holds his own against even that master of film acting Orson Welles, and what his performances lack in subtlety they make up in sheer power. I know I'll be catching the 1998 reissue of Touch of Evil soon.

What's sometimes forgotten is the power of his comedy work. Heston used his image to great effect in an episode of SNL, for instance, which included the "Bag Man" sketch.

Manager (Phil Hartman): Look, Elwin. I don't want you to take this personally, but.. we need to make a few staff cut backs, and, well, you seem to be awful close to retirement, so I thought, maybe --

Elwin (Charlton Heston): Whoa. Why - why would I want to retire? I love working here, Captain.

Manager: Well, Elwin.. maybe it would give you more time to relax, maybe work on your hobbies --

Elwin: Yeah, yeah, I do have some hobbies. I collect coins, and I've got a matchbook cover for practically every diner in the southwest area --

Manager: [ chuckles happily ] Well, you see! There you go!

Elwin: Yeah. And there's another hobby I was thinking of taking up, but, uh.. only if I had enough time on my hands. You know, the funny thing is, this one involves you. Yeah, yeah. I was gonna see how loud I could get you to scream, but.. not by using the pliers on you, but on the ones you love the best. Ohhh, I'll bet we can get it so the screams echo off the walls of that remote tool shed for years!

Manager: [ stone-faced, filled with shock and dread ] What the hell are you --

Elwin: Well, if you retire, you gotta keep busy, right, Captain?

The video isn't online anywhere, but I'd love to see it again. Heston and Hartman both give pitch-perfect deliveries and nail what might have been a lackluster sketch.

So yeah, Charlton Heston was a conservative assclown, but he was a talented conservative assclown, and that's good enough for me. Let's remember him for his body of acting work rather than his political activism, at least for today.

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