Two Cheers for Charlton Heston 04/11/2008
Leaving aside his obnoxious politics, let's ask the obvious question: Was Charlton Heston a good actor? He had star quality, no doubt about that: from The Ten Commandments through, say, Planet of the Apes, he was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. But it's also unquestionable that he was in a lot of kitsch (with The Ten Commandments as Exhibit A), and he was badly miscast in a lot of other movies. He played the martyred British imperialist Charles "Chinese" Gordon in the leaden epic Khartoum (which also features a hammy Laurence Olivier playing the Mahdi, an early version of Osama Bin Laden, in blackface), and he's all wrong for the part. Heston's too hale and brawny and not nearly crazy enough for Gordon, who in real life was a twitching, celibate, religious fanatic, and not particularly physically imposing—Alec Guinness or even Ralph Richardson (who plays prime minister Gladstone in the film) would have been much better casting. (The real story of the Mahdi and Gordon in the Sudan is not only fascinating, but eerily resonant with our current difficulties. You can read about them both in Alan Moorehead's great work of popular history, The White Nile. And the real Gordon was one of the Victorian heroes eviscerated in Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians.)
In which I mostly write about books, movies, and TV. An all-purpose spoiler alert: Sometimes I will talk about these works on the assumption that the reader's already read or seen them, so if you haven't, be forewarned.
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