Tag Archives: Charlton Heston

Top 100 Films #73 – Ben-Hur (1959)

 

ben-hur_6783571#73. Ben-Hur (1959)
Directed by: William Wyler
Written by: Karl Tunberg (based on Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by General Lew Wallace)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Sam Jaffe

William Wyler’s biblical epic Ben-Hur is the movie that served as my introduction to classic films, creating a lifelong obsession with the silver screen in the process. I saw it as part of my grade 7 religion class all the way back in 2003-2004, and was captivated by every minute of the 3 ½ hour film.  Ben-Hur tells the classic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), a wealthy prince living in Jerusalem with his mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O’Donnell).  His best friend is a man named Messala (Stephen Boyd), who after some time away from Jerusalem, returns to the city as a commander of the Roman garrison.  After an accident nearly costs the life of the governor of Judea, Ben-Hur is sent to the galleys by his once best friend, and his family imprisoned.  What follows is an adventure the scale of which had rarely been seen on screen before 1959.  The film spans several years, and sees the rise and subsequent fall of Jesus Christ, who plays a prominent figure in the film.  Wyler’s Ben-Hur is mostly remembered by the public for its incredible chariot race scene, which is still just as thrilling and visceral today as it was more than fifty years ago.  The film’s few action scenes feature a sense of realism and brutality that is not often seen in film’s of this era, and adds to Ben-Hur’s unique nature.  It’s never exploitative in this way, but instead uses its visceral nature to further the story along, and convey the weight of the situations faced by Judah Ben-Hur and those around him.  Charlton Heston’s performance as the titular character is tremendous, bringing an undeniable charm and charisma to the role that has proven to be unmatched in subsequent retellings of the story.  While Ben-Hur is more than 3 ½ hours long, it never feels slow or bogged down by its run-time, mainly due to its incredible writing and pacing.  Every scene feels meticulously crafted and has a sense of purpose, and major milestone moments are evenly spaced out throughout the film.  An example of the film’s excellent sense of pacing comes in its final act – even after the chariot race is done, the film manages to keep its hold on viewers with a rigorous journey to the leper colony, where we finally get some much needed emotional payoff.  Ben-Hur would go on to win 11 Academy Awards in 1960, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Charlton Heston), Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith), and Best Cinematography – only losing in one category.  Every minute of Ben-Hur is captivating and finely crafted – there’s no wonder why it was so well-received by a 12-year old me.

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Top 100 Films #96 – Touch of Evil (1958)

 

touchofevil1#96. Touch of Evil (1958)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles (based on Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Orson Welles truly was one of the all-time greats – the man could direct, write, and act circles around most of his contemporaries.  His late film noir classic Touch of Evil is a showcase of all these incredible skills, and possibly one of Welles’ last truly “great” films.  The film tells a dark tale of law enforcement corruption, conspiracy, and murder in a seedy Mexican border town.  Touch of Evil stars Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh as a couple who end up in the wrong place at the right time, and Orson Welles as a corrupt, drunken cop who cannot afford to have his dirty laundry aired out to the public.  Welles’ film came along after the peak of the film noir movement in Hollywood, but feels as if it was released in the heyday of the movement.  It combines all the most acclaimed elements of film noir into one bleak, depressing, and refreshing tale of good people gone bad.  It’s dreary atmosphere is one that can be matched by few Hollywood movies of the time, which helps to set the stage for the incredibly tense and unnerving story that unfolds over just 95 minutes.  The performance by Orson Welles himself is a true highlight of the film – his drunk, depressed, and quite frankly evil Captain Quinlan is unforgettable.  Check out my full length review of Touch of Evil here.

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Noirvember Feature #10 – Touch of Evil (1958)

TouchofevilTouch of Evil (1958)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles (based on Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Marlene Dietrich

Orson Welles is without a doubt one of the most stories directors in Hollywood history.  His feature length debut film, Citizen Kane, is known as one of the greatest films ever made, and even managed to completely re-define the way films were made.  His influence is felt to this very day, not only through Citizen Kane, but his other ambitious projects like Shakespeare adaptations Macbeth and Othello, the Academy Award nominated The Magnificent Ambersons, his documentary essay film F For Fake, and his film noirs like The Lady from Shanghai, The Stranger, and the final Noirvember feature, Touch of Evil.  Welles’ film noir is often regarded as one of his best films, and one of the last “true” film noirs of the era, and because of this it’s only fitting that I’ve picked it to close out this month’s festival.  The film was released in 1958, and would prove to be the final project that Orson would direct on American soil.  After the release of Touch of Evil, Welles would focus on strictly European productions, and would move onto more challenging projects than ever before, even tackling ambitious projects he had no hope to finish.  By the time Welles passed away in 1985, his list of incomplete films would rival his own finished filmography, many of these projects developed after the release of his last film noir.  Touch of Evil has been met with both wide amounts of praise and controversy over the years, mostly because of its whitewashing of non-white characters.  The biggest offense comes in the form of Charlton Heston, who in the film plays a Mexican man, but in real life is as American as they come.  His character wears dark-colored makeup to give him the appearance of a Mexican-born man, and critics and historians alike have questioned the choice of not just casting a real Hispanic actor.  Despite this questionable casting blunder (Heston is still incredible in the role), Touch of Evil has endured the test of time on most other fronts, and is now widely considered to be not only one of the best film noirs of all-time, but one of the great films of the 1950’s.

TouchOfEvil1

The film begins on a quite literally explosive note, seeing main characters Ramon Miguel (or Mike) Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his wife Susan Vargas (Janet Leigh) brush with death multiple times by strolling past a car containing a ticking time bomb.  When the car passes the over American border, it finally explodes. The sudden explosion kills those within the car, and quickly launches the drug enforcement officer Miguel Vargas into an investigation. The leader of said investigation is Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), a no-nonsense, disheveled, and clearly past his prime officer of the law.  Vargas unofficially joins the efforts by Captain Quinlan, and the team soon comes to suspect that the incident has been perpetrated by Sanchez (Victor Millan), the secret husband of the victim’s daughter.  After Vargas accidentally uncovers some very dirty police work by Quinlan and gang, he launches into a full independent investigation of the man’s previous detective work.  The investigation proves Vargas’ hunch correct, and he finds that Quinlan has been planting evidence and sentencing innocent men for years.  When Vargas and his wife suddenly become the targets of unwanted attention by the brother of a suspected bomber, they are moved into a small roadside motel in the middle of nowhere.  While Vargas is out trying to fight the corruption found in Captain Quinlan’s police force, his wife Susan is unknowingly being stalked and her motel room cased.  Will justice prevail over corruption, or will the efforts of Miguel Vargas prove to be fruitless?  Find out in Orson Welles’ incredible Touch of Evil.

Wow.  Even if Noirvember had somehow been a complete disappointment in my books, Touch of Evil is a film so good that its presence alone would have made the marathon a success!  Orson Welles is a filmmaker I’ve always admired greatly, and Touch of Evil only furthers my esteem for the great Hollywood mind.  Not only is his direction incredible throughout (especially the opening long-take, finally interrupted by a massive explosion), but his performance is one of the film’s many standouts.  His drunk, sleazy border sheriff character Captain Quinlan feels larger than life while never becoming hamfisted, and the whole thing is so perfectly believable in its execution.  Charlton Heston and the future Psycho star Janet Leigh have terrific chemistry throughout, and both performances capture ideal characters who believe in justice above all, and are blind enough to fail to see the danger lurking immediately before them.  Despite the role being unfortunately whitewashed, Heston’s on-screen presence makes you immediately forget about the injustice, and instead focus on and appreciate the subtlety in the actors performance.  Heston, who before this had largely starred in epics like Julius Caesar, The Greatest Show on Earth, and The Ten Commandments, showed restraint and talent that I had no idea the actor even had.  Touch of Evil is a film so well-realized and so atmospheric that it instantly makes you forgive its overly-complex and convoluted story, and instead focus almost entirely on the artistry at hand.  The film was originally released in a double bill as something of a B-movie, and would go on to crush the hopes Orson Welles held for a Hollywood relaunch.  The handling of the film by Universal was so unbelievably botched that it almost sounds like fiction.  Instead of releasing and embracing this great film noir directed by one of the all-time great directors, and starring a cast of A-list stars, the studio would feel ashamed of the effort and instead bury it in trash.  It makes me so incredible happy to see the public opinion of the film change to such a positive one, and it’s so incredibly deserved for a masterpiece like Touch of Evil.

touch_of_evil_4

Orson Welles’ final Hollywood production would prove to be a financial flop, but would fortunately be looked at historically as one of the best films ever made.  Touch of Evil is a beautiful, dark, and atmospheric noir that features incredible direction by Welles, terrific performances by the entire cast, and some incredibly tense moments that you’ll have to see to fully appreciate. It is a film I’m disappointed took me so long to finally see, but I know it’s one I’ll never forget.  Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil gets my highest recommendation.  

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