From His Cold Dead Hands

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So Charlton Heston died yesterday. A major figure in the 50s and 60s Hollywood blockbuster tradition, serving up some of the most bombastic and histrionic moments in American film. He deserves some kind of respect for that, even if his role in the powerful and destructive American gun lobby will forever tarnish his reputation in the eyes of many, and if his depressingly hilarious part in Michael Moore’s satirical documentary on same, Bowling for Columbine (2002), will perhaps stand as one of his most memorable performances.

Briefly, I just want to mention another classic Heston moment here: The ending of Planet of the Apes (1968). Maybe I should have been there when it came out, but I never understood what was so great about it. It takes the entire movie for Heston’s crash-landed astronaut to realise what most viewers have surely figured out at most half an hour into the movie: that the Planet of the Apes is, in fact, Earth. And he needs the bleedin’ Statue of Liberty right in front of him to put two and two together!

Heston (non-)acting true to form: sinking into the sand, pounding it, muttering: “They finally, really did it,” then shouting: “YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! ARGH, DAMN YOU!” with all the conviction of a wind-up toy and the emotional subtlety of Hulk Hogan. A memorable and somewhat ridiculous B-movie moment, but hardly great film in any way.

And that’s probably where Heston’s legacy lies; in consolidating the B-movie aesthetic in blockbuster form, contributing to a tradition that continues to play a central role for Hollywood at the box office, and — of course — in people’s imaginations. Rest in peace.

Read Manohla Dargis’ appreciation of Heston, specifically in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, here. Photo: Ric Field/Associated Press.

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