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Charlton Heston -- MIA from Westerns?


MikeBSG
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I've seen a couple of articles on the death of Charlton Heston. The articles emphasized how Heston "had a face for a different century" (than the 20th) and unsurprisingly focused on his "epic" roles in "The 10 Commandments" and "Ben Hur" and "El Cid."

 

I'm of a generation that experienced Heston first through science fiction: "Planet of the Apes" and "Soylent Green."

 

So he was a "man of the past" and a "man of the future." But it has always puzzled me that if Heston was such a "historical" presence, why wasn't he bigger in the Western?

 

Yes, there is "Major Dundee" and "Will Penny," but beyond those two, he doesn't seem to have left much of a footprint in the Western genre. I've seen "Arrowhead" from the early Fifties, and it is so-so.

 

Why didn't he make more Westerns? I read somewhere that he was considered for the lead in "High Noon" only to be dropped when Gary Cooper became available. Was it just that there were so many actors doing Westerns that he always got aced out of key Western roles? It just seems odd that Heston isn't associated with this genre.

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That's a very intriguing question---I never really thought about it but you're right! Maybe it didn't occur to me, the sparsity of his westerns---beause my favorite Heston performances are actually his westerns! lol *The Big Country* and *Will Penny* are my favorites with him, along with the sweet comedy, The Private War of Major Benson.

 

He is a natural for the genre, in my opinion, because of so many reasons, not the least of which is his rugged appearance and somewhat "strong, silent type" demeanor. Maybe life just didn't work out so that the right (western) scripts came at the right time.

 

Unbelievably, I still have never seen *Major Dundee* (except in parts) or El Cid.

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I think it had two reasons. One he wasn't that established by the mid 50's. He did do "Arrowherad" and "Pony Express." But he still was relatively new. What he was having success in was TV and doing an occasional "outdoor" picture. The other, alluded to, lots of big stars doing lots of big westerns. Cooper, Wayne, Stewart, Peck, Widmark, Lancaster, Douglas and on and on. He may not have pursued them as much, maybe he didn't need to.

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*Yes, there is "Major Dundee" and "Will Penny," but beyond those two, he doesn't seem to have left much of a footprint in the Western genre.*

 

But that's a pretty big footprint. It's an interesting question. From the comments in the TCM article, he seems to have thought of Major Dundee as more of a war picture, or an historical epic. More power to him. ( Louis L'Amour said that what he wrote was historical fiction, and I agree).

If I remember correctly though, Will Penny was a personal project for him.Of course, he may have viewed it in an historical context also.

More likely, he wasn't given western roles because the studios or the money men didn't think Moses and Ben-Hur would be saleable in a western.

oops, was just going over his filmography before I posted this, and there are a number of other westerns, including Three Violent People (1957), and later ones such as The Last Hard Man (1976) and The Mountain Men (1980).as well.

 

Message was edited by: tobitz

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Miss Goddess, they have released the tribute schedule for Friday, so you will now have two chances to see *Major Dundee* this week. (I'm hoping they'll have *El Cid* someday as well). The tribute:

 

http://www.tcm.com/movienews/index/?cid=197976

 

So, *Major Dundee*, tomorrow night, *Tuesday, April 8th at 10:00 EDT* and then *Saturday morning, April 12th, at 3:30 am EDT*

Hmm, hope you're on the west coast, or like to stay up late.

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Mike,

 

*Major Dundee* was considered a failure. Heston tried very hard to stand by Peckinpah but Sam didn't make that easy, especially with all the all the drinking and his "my way or the highway attitude". And when push came to shove, Sam lost the battle and the war.

 

For many years, the truncated version of *Dundee* was all we had, though occasionally a longer, European version would make appearance. (Much like with *The Wild Bunch* a few years later).

 

Because of all the controversy, *Dundee* never registered with the public the way it should have if Sam had been allowed to have his director's cut.

 

Luckily, it has been restored and now audiences can appreciate the film for all its glory since it was in post-production over forty years ago.

 

As for *Will Penny* it has always been under-appreciated. That this film has never found a wider audience is beyond sad as it is one of Heston's best roles and the late Joan Hackett is exquisite.

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> {quote:title=movieman1957 wrote:}{quote}

> The scene where Heston decides he can't offer anything to Hackett and figures she would be better off without him is quite touching .

>

> Isn't Donald Pleasance creepy?

 

DP is odious as that character! Honestly! He's one of the nastiest varmits in all westerns!

 

The ending is the only disappointment for me in Will Penny!

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