A look at a handful of movies that starred American Actor Charlton Heston.
The Epic movie was one of those genres of film that was so popular during the late 1950’s through to around the end of the 1960’s. Many were Biblical slanted tales such as The Robe, Greatest Story Ever Told, and of course Ben Hur. There were others however which were adventures such as Genghis Khan, which was supposedly based upon true events but also had a lot of elements thrown in that probably never happened, but it was a case of producing an entertaining movie in epic form I suppose. Films such as The Long Ships and The Vikings I also include in the epic genre, but maybe we should look at these differently as it is obvious that many are just stories that are set in historical times and there is not an ounce of truth in them, but the entertainment value was precious and it is films such as these that the stuff of dreams were made of for kids of all ages. One thing that you could be sure of was that if it was an Epic, Biblical story, Adventure or a Sword and Sandal romp then the music would be rousing and most of the time very good. Maybe the quality of the music in some of the Italian made Sword and Sandal tales was not consistently good, but these were movies made on a very tight budget and often the music was the last thing on the mind of the director. But the Hollywood epic, well that was different these were lavish affairs, big stars and even bigger sets, lavish budgets and casts that were in the hundreds if not the thousands. I think my favourite epic film must be El Cid, closely followed by the likes of Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, and 55 Days in Peking.
All four movies had actor Charlton Heston in common, with two of them the actor playing the central character. Both El Cid and 55 Days at Peking were produced by Samuel Bronston. Heston was always busy he would go on not to be just associated with the Epic movie but become synonymous with sci-fi films such as The Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, and Soylent Green. The actor also produced memorable performances in movies such as Khartoum, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Earthquake, The Greatest Show on Earth, Major Dundee, and The Buccaneer to name but a handful. Heston had also featured in The Big Country, another box office hit in the 1950’s.
So, lets, look at some of his movies and the music for them. One of Heston’s most worthy movies in my opinion is The War Lord, I came across it on TV late when I was in my teens and was impressed by the entire production with Heston’s performance standing out. The music was composed by Jerome Moross, a composer I had already discovered via his iconic score for The Big Country. The soundtrack for The War Lord, was a highly melodic one, it displayed the composer’s gift for creating emotive and tender interludes but also included robust and action led thematic material. With one section of the score The War Lord in Battle being written by vintage Hollywood composer Hans J Salter.
Directed by American film maker Franklin J Shaffner, who would go onto to work with Heston again on films such as the original Planet of the Apes, which is still in the opinion of many the best incarnation of the tale. The director also helmed Patton: Lust for Glory in 1970, which starred George C Scott in the title role and directed Scott again in the movie Islands in the Stream in 1977.
The War Lord was based upon the play by Leslie Stevens entitled The Lovers and set in eleventh Century Normandy. Produced by Walter Seltzer who acted as producer on a number of Heston’s movies, it was released in cinemas originally in the March of 1965. The cast was an impressive one, with Guy Stockwell, Richard Boone, Maurice Evens and Rosemary Forsyth, it tells the story of a Norman Knight who is sent with a small force of soldiers to a coastal village by a Duke that he serves, the area is prone to raids and an attempt to build a castle at the site earlier has already failed.
The Knight (Heston) soon takes charge of the situation and is asserting the duke’s authority and keeping raiding barbarians at bay, until that is he falls in love with a local girl (Forsyth) who is betrothed to one of the men in the village. It is an absorbing and interesting story, and one that is photographed beautifully by Russell Metty. Jerome Moross produced a score that elevated and complimented the storyline and succeeds in underlining both the romantic connection between the Knight and the girl, the building storyline and the action on screen. The opening flourishes of the score employ a fanfare that sets the scene and the tone of the remainder of the movie and score.
The composer fashions an epic and adventurous sounding musical score for the production, brass, strings, and percussion combine to create a proud and noble sound that moves from the epic into a full and lush theme filled with romanticism and emotion. Within the score one can hear small references to the composers work on The Big Country, but The War Lord is I think a far more accomplished example of the composers writing for film, with Moross producing a score that is brimming with rich thematic material that at times has a subdued persona, a style that the composer had employed on previous assignments to a degree in films such as The Mountain Road (1960) and The Five Finger Exercise (1962). It is sadly a score that is often overlooked with many not managing to see past the work Moross had done on the likes of The Big Country, The Valley of Gwangi, The Proud Rebel, and The Jayhawkers. But one only has to listen to the opening music for The War Lord to know that this is a soundtrack draped in luscious and luxurious themes, the composer writing rich, passionate and opulent sounding music that laced, supported and punctuated delicately the films scenarios.
He also provided some impressive compositions for the rural scenes that took place in the village as in The Druid Wedding, Nocturnal Procession and The Forsaken Village. It is without a doubt one of the composers most inspired works for cinema.
From the coast of Normandy in France to the sun-soaked plains of Spain and El Cid, a movie that really needs no introduction as it is probably one of the best-known movies that Heston starred in. It also starred the beautiful Sophia Loren and featured many well-known faces from film. Released in 1961 and directed by Anthony Mann it had a screenplay by Phillip Yordan and Ben Barzman, that was based upon a story by Frederic M. Frank.
Set in the eleventh Century it tells the story of a time when Spain was overrun by the Moors who burnt Churches, conquered cities, and killed Christians. Spain needed a leader a hero to unite the country so it could rise up and drive the invaders into the sea. Rodrigo de Bivar comes to the realisation that as a divided country Spain can never rid themselves of the invading hordes, it becomes his quest in life to Unite his war torn country against these merciless enemies from Africa even enlisting Moors into his ranks after sparing them from death. The movie charts his life, his loyalty to a Monarch that is not deserving of it and his undying love for Chimene and later his twin girls, taking us up till his death at the battle of Valencia where his efforts to lead a united Spain against the enemy and drive them into the sea and back to where they came finally are fulfilled but at the ultimate cost to himself and his family.
The musical score for El Cid was the work of a giant of film music Miklos Rozsa, of course the Maestro was no stranger to working on Epic productions by the time the decade of the 1960,s dawned. Producer Samuel Bronston however mentioned in an interview at the time of the film being released that he was somewhat nervous about offering or asking Rozsa to create the score for his historical epic as the composer had worked on so many big productions leading up to it, including Sodom and Gomorah, Ben Hur, Quo Vadis and Bronston’s own ill-fated Biblical epic King of Kings. All of which were set Centuries before the time of El Cid. But thankfully Dr Rozsa agreed to work on the score and in my ever so humble opinion created one of the most stirring, romantic, and emotive soundtracks of the 20th Century, and one of his most accomplished and popular. There have been various recordings of Rozsa’s music over the years the most recent being the Tadlow Music 2-disc set, there have also been a number of suites of the music one of my favourites being conducted by Elmer Bernstein that included a number of cues which at the time of its release had never been recorded before.
I however have to say that I still prefer and go back to the original MGM release of the soundtrack and I know it is nowhere near a complete example of the work like the Tadlow release but I suppose it holds a special place in my heart because I first purchased it on the MGM long playing record with the yellow label for the princely sum of one pound and two shillings, then acquired the Compact Disc years later when issued on the MGM/EMI label and although it contains just 11 tracks for me it is the best and most entertaining edition. Rozsa’s score is a triumph and an exhilarating listening experience whilst watching the movie as it interacts and supports, embellishes, and enhances the images on screen and weaves its way into the storyline and accompanies each of the films characters.
But it also stands alone as a rewarding and enriching listening encounter away from any images. It is filled with drama, pageantry, emotion, intimacy and romanticism plus it contains some of the most powerful and majestic sounding fanfares I have ever heard, it is a soundtrack that is brimming with an inspired and heroic sound which is added to and given more depth and emotion by its poignant and heartrending tone poems and intimate and haunting love themes all of which is further enriched and augmented by some of cinemas most pulsating and ominous sounding battle music, the composer underlines the action with effervescent and thundering passages, but also retains the scores sense of richness, grandiose and lushness, via his proud Hispanic sounding compositions. This I think can be heard most effectively in the cue The Battle of Valencia.
Where the composer enlists an array of percussion and timpani and combines these elements with driving strings that are aided and underpinned by rasping and frantic brass to depict the desperate efforts of the Spanish armies to halt the advance of the Moors, the music is the charging cavalry and the clashing of metal the endless waves of arrows that are launched at the charging Spanish forces, the cacophony and near chaotic sound of battle music is abruptly halted in its tracks by the Cid’s theme being introduced as he is struck by a Moorish arrow, this theme adds emotion and also gives the piece a sense of despair as our hero is wounded and retreats back to the safety of Valencia’s walls. When the theme builds but soon evaporates into a more sombre version of the motif as his troops hear the news and quickly loose morale and are thrown into a despairing and desperate retreat back to the relative safety of the City. The sombre mood continues as the seriousness of the Cid,s wound becomes evident, the composer utilising dark and low strings to depict and elaborate upon the gravity of the situation and its mood.
The MGM/EMI release of the soundtrack on compact disc opens with Overture, which bursts into life via Rozsa’s rousing and glittering fanfares that are punctuated by percussion, followed by strident strings that take on the central theme and are further embellished and accompanied by martial sounding timpani tapping out a riding pace which is laced with fearsome sounding brass, all of these elements combine and build into one of cinemas most appealing and powerful themes setting the scene for what is to follow on the disc. It is an apprehensive sound that is underneath the surface but one that is also proud, majestic and heroic, reaching its conclusion in a tumultuous crescendo of brass fanfares, booming percussion and romantically fervent strings that are embraced by harps.
Track two is The Prelude, but it is the music that was utilised as the opening credits rolled. Spanish influenced with a romantic and highly emotive style filled to overflowing with pride, patriotism and oozing a sense of dedication, faith and spiritualistic in its overall impact. Rozsa’s music is magnificent and highly charged. The track Fight for Calahorra, is for me one of this score’s highlights, rousing fanfares, galloping percussion and windswept sounding strings bring us one of the soundtracks most appealing and stirring compositions and introduces the fight which Rodrigo must undertake to win the city of Calahorra for his King, a task he volunteers for after he has killed the Kings champion who was the Father of his Bride to be Chimene. This cue really is heard prior to the fight and is performed as both peasants, Knights and Royalty are all summoned to attend what is looked upon as a spectacle but, is a desperate fight to the death.
This is a cue that underlines the joyous atmosphere of the occasion but also introduces dark elements that emphasise the more serious side of the proceedings. The cue Farewell showcases the more tender and fragile sounding elements of the soundtrack and at just over six minutes is one of this disc’s longest tracks, the cue opens with a heartrending version of the Cid’s theme which is performed in the first instant by woodwind, then guitar is brought into the equation and plaintive and subtle strings too underline or mirror the theme. The Love Theme for Chimene and Rodrigo is also given a fuller working here performed by an achingly effecting violin which is beautifully mesmerising. This is a classic score for an iconic movie.
From eleventh Century Europe let’s move forward a little way and shift continents to the Americas and to to The United States of America in 1864 where the movie Major Dundee is set, released in 1965 and directed by Sam Peckinpah. The movie had mixed reviews when it was initially released, most of them being negative although Peckinpah was praised for his direction. The movie tells the story of raids by renegade Apache’s into the U.S. from Mexico which are becoming more frequent and bloodier with white children being abducted by the Apache. A U.S Cavalry officer Major Amos Dundee played by Charlton Heston decides that he will lead a force of volunteers illegally into Mexico to track them down and wipe them out.
He oversees a prisoner of war camp which houses Confederate prisoners who have been incarcerated there after being captured in the Civil War, their officer in charge is Captain Ben Tyreen played by the wonderful Richard Harris. Because he cannot get a large enough force to undertake this expedition Dundee decides to enlist the help of the Confederates and civilian mercenaries. The mix of these and Union troops including black infantry soldiers, becomes like a simmering pan ready to boil over and tensions run high. But although the rag tag army of sorts have their differences, they are united in tracking the Apache and unite to fight the elite French lancers who are also standing in their way.
The movie had a good cast which included, Jim Hutton, Senta Berger, James Coburn, Michael Anderson JR, Mario Adorf, Brock Peters, and three actors who would also feature in another Peckinpah western The Wild Bunch L.Q Jones, Warren Oates, and Ben Johnson. The original score for the 1965 release was by vintage Hollywood composer Daniele Amfitheatrof, who provided a more than rousing set of themes for the movie which included a title song performed by Mitch Miller and the Gang The Major Dundee March and another vocal which acted as a love theme entitled To Be with You also performed by Mitch Miller and his singers. However, when lost footage of the movie was discovered it was re-released onto DVD and re-scored by composer Christopher Caliendo, his score was welcomed by some but dismissed by as many who favoured the original music. Amfitheatrof’s music was thought even at the time of the films original release to be out of kilter with the movie, and some said was dated even in the 1960’s.
I believe both scores work within the movie but on different levels and as a collector of a certain age I cannot watch the movie without Amfitheatrof’s dramatic and jaunty score, especially the music he penned for The French Lancers. Major Dundee may not have been popular when first released but has since become something of a cult movie and as always Heston produced a credible performance in the title role.
As well, as Epics and westerns Charlton Heston also starred in his fair share of Sci-Fi movies, one is probably one of the most iconic motion pictures of the 1960’s, Planet of The Apes. Charlton Heston was marvellous as the cynical Taylor an astronaut who with a crew of three others two male and one female had crashed landed in a lake on what they thought was an alien planet sometime in the future. They had been put into a deep sleep and on impact realised that the Female member of the party had passed away, they escape from the space craft and start to explore the inhospitable terrain which is predominately desert they eventually find a green area and take advantage of fresh running water to refresh themselves and bathe, whilst doing so however they become aware that they are not alone on the planet and have their clothes and also their scientific apparatus stolen they give chase but it is too late the apparatus is smashed and they see that the inhabitants of the planet are human like but are mute. Taylor thinks it is not a bad thing as if this is the best that the planet has to offer it won’t be long before they will be running the place. But he could not be more wrong, an ominous sounding cry is heard, and the mute humans begin to panic and run, not knowing what is wrong the three astronauts do the same, running in the same directions, but from what or whom? It is not long before the watching audience and the astronauts find out and from that moment on the film is a rollercoaster ride in a topsy turvy world where talking intelligent apes are the masters and primitive humans are reduced to being guinea pigs for surgeons or target practise for the ape army.
Taylor is injured in the hunt and as a result loses his voice after being wounded in the throat by an ape bullet. Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall, also star who were most convincing in their respective roles of Zira and Cornelius two chimpanzee scientists. The cast also includes Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, and James Daly and introduced Linda Harrison to audiences in the role of Nova. With superb direction from film maker Franklin J Schaffner an entertaining screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling that was adapted from the writings of Pierre Boulle (Monkey Planet) and produced by Arthur P Jacobs, with a highly innovative and Avante Garde score by Jerry Goldsmith and convincing make up created by John Chambers. Released by 20th Century Fox it was to be the first of five movies in the original series and not only spawned a TV series, and an animated series but acted as inspiration for the series of re-boots which continue to entertain today. It was and remains a compelling motion picture that is not only visually outstanding and intelligently constructed but also one that sent chills down one’s spine when it eventually reaches the final scene which must be one of cinemas most sobering sights.
The decaying statue of Liberty or at least part of it rising out of the beach as Taylor makes his getaway with Nova is an imposing and memorable image. Taylor right at the end of the movie realising that he is back on earth, back to the place that he was so desperate to get away from, the upside-down planet ruled by apes is his planet, destroyed by war or some disaster natural or man-made. Jerry Goldsmiths inventive and highly original soundtrack played a large part in creating the mood and setting the scenes for the movie.
The composer utilising Rams Horn, and synthesised sounds that mimicked ape noises along side more conventional symphonic instrumentation. Dark and ominous sounding piano and percussive elements all playing their part to create a score that was just as unsettling as the mood of the movie. The composer created what seemed to be a whole new style and fashioned a sound that had not been heard before by using conventional instruments in a less than conventional way. With echoes and reverb effects enhancing pizzicato strings and interesting steel percussion being employed. The most impressive section of the score is without a doubt The Hunt and the sequence in the movie too is impressive and unforgettable. The images and the music work flawlessly together, with Goldsmith adding tension, chaos and shock via his racing and highly powerful composition. The same can be said for the cue No Escape, which is another triumph of musical sounds and passages and a tour de force of that displays the composer’s sheer genius, in which he combines, pizzicato strings, trumpet and xylophone at one point to create a apprehensive atmosphere.
Planet of the Apes was a milestone movie, for Heston, Schaffner, and Goldsmith. It was a movie that has in my opinion never been bettered and remains the go to version dismissing all others.
Heston returned to the Apes franchise in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but it was not what one would call a starring role more like a featured performance, appearing at the beginning of the movie and towards the end of the film. The movie which was directed by Ted Post had a score by composer Leonard Rosenman which again was highly original, but somehow paled in the significance and excellence of Goldsmith’s original.
At times the Rosenman work becoming a noisy and tangled affair as opposed to having any real thematic direction. Heston never returned to the franchise apart from appearances done in flashback which were taken from the first two movies. Schaffner also did not direct another Apes movie and after Beneath the Planet of the Apes the franchise seemed to decline and have the appearance of TV movies with at times terribly cheesy screenplays, wooden acting, and poor direction.
Looking at the films that Heston starred in during the 1960.s I think he must have made Planet of the Apes and Will Penny back-to-back as they were released around about the same time which was between February and April 1968. Will Penny was a classy western but at the same time quite a brutal one. With Heston taking the title role, ably supported by Joan Hackett, Donald Pleasance, Lee Majors, Anthony Zerbe, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and Bruce Dern. Zerbe would feature in The Omega Man (1971) alongside Heston, portraying Matthias the head of the dreaded family and Neville’s (Heston’s character) nemesis. The music for Will Penny was composed by Hollywood Maestro David Raksin, five cues from the score (approx:18 minutes) were featured on a Dot records LP and have in recent months been made available on digital platforms being included in a compilation of themes from movies as scored by Raksin such as Sylvia, and Too Late the Blues. Will Penny contained a song The Lonely Rider which was performed by pop and big band vocalist Don Cherry,who had a hit in 1955 with Band of Gold.
The LP is now something of a rarity and both the LP release and the digital edition contain dialogue from the movie featuring Donald Pleasance on the track An Eye for an Eye. Raksin composed a romantic sounding score and one that evokes memories of the film music of the golden age of Hollywood. The movie was directed by Tom Gries, who also provided the screenplay. The movie was based upon an episode of the 1960 TV series The Westerner, entitled Line Camp which was produced by Sam Peckinpah and again written by Gries. Heston often said that Will Penny was one of his favourite movies.
Composer Ron Grainer wrote an atmospheric and symphonic/pop sounding music for The Omega Man in 1971, the Australian born Grainer’s music worked well with the storyline and the images on screen, the composers use of organ in-particular was striking and gave the movie greater depth and created an eerie atmosphere that became the motif for the infamous Family. It was also perfect for the various action sequences and underlined the spookier sections to great effect. As soon as the movie was released and fans heard Grainer’s score, they began to request that the soundtrack should be released, sadly it was not forthcoming and they would have to wait many years before the score eventually got a release on compact disc by film score monthly, the original release soon so. ld out and a re-press followed a little later. Which too, soon became sought after and is now a rare release changing hands on the internet for inflated prices.
Thankfully it is now available to stream on the usual sites, so everyone can sample its delights. Many had already experienced the music of Grainer through Doctor Who on the BBC and another British TV series The Prisoner which was popular in the late 1960.s. In fact, one could hear elements and certain nuances and orchestration styles within The Omega Man that the composer had experimented with in the theme and several the scores for The Prisoner. A driving score that matched the action and created wonderfully atmospherics. The Omega Man was directed by Boris Sagall and was based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, the story or at least a version of it had been filmed previously in 1964, entitled The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price in the central role. It has also been given a more contemporary setting in I am Legend which starred Will Smith.
The Omega Man remains one of those movies that you just must watch over and over and stands as one of Heston’s more interesting sci-fi films alongside Soylent Green.
Which brings us to that movie, released in 1973, this ecological dystopian thriller was directed by Richard Fleischer, with Heston in the lead role supported by Leigh Taylor-Young, Chuck Connors, Joseph Cotton, and Edward G. Robinson in his final film role. The film was based partly upon the 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! which was written by Harry Harrison, the film successfully combines police procedural and science fiction elements: that includes an investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman and a dystopian future of dying oceans, high temperatures, pollution, poverty, overpopulation, euthanasia, and resources that are running out. It won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film. Looking at it now its like it was a pre-cursor to events that are now taking place in the world on a daily basis, let’s hope however it does not come to this.
The score was by Fred Myrow, who is probably best known for his music to Phantasm and Scarecrow. I must comment that I did not notice any music in the movie, apart from the rather quirky and upbeat main titles, but I suppose that is the sign of a good score and composer, the audience not being aware that the music is even there, but it still does its job. It was not until I got the soundtrack on compact disc many years later that I was able to fully appreciate Myrow’s affecting soundtrack.
Composer John Scott has contributed much to world of film music both as a composer of film scores and in his early days as a performer playing on soundtracks for the likes of John Barry. The composer has scored numerous movies some of which have been high profile releases and successes at the box office, however I as a collector of soundtracks feel that this great British Maestro still has not received the applause and recognition he so richly deserves, I am not entirely sure why this is, but it seems that this talented and versatile music-smith is almost ignored or shall we say overlooked.
His musical triumphs for the big screen include movies such as Antony and Cleopatra, which was directed by and starred Heston in the role of Mark Antony. Scott’s score is sumptuous and melodic, the composer fashioning beautiful and at the same time powerful thematic materials to enhance this story of romance, deceit, and war. The movie also starred with the alluring Hildegard Neal as his Cleopatra, released in 1972 the film did not fare well at the hands of the critics, in later years however it has been given the acclaim it so rightly should have received upon its release. Scott’s own label JOS records decided to release a full version of the score from the movie and this was finally released in 1992. It was a long-drawn-out process and a labour of love for Scott, he approached the publishers of the music and told them of his idea to release the complete score, but his words fell upon near deaf ears the publishers telling the composer that it would be too costly to record. So over the years the composer would record sections of the score at the end of sessions for other recordings, the process began in Berlin or East Berlin as it was then called in 1987, it was at this time that Scott managed to find time to record the Overture from his score, he returned in 1988 and recorded more sections and after a while he managed to finance a session and complete the recording of the soundtrack. The completed recording was then assembled, mixed, and edited in Los Angeles almost twenty years to the day after the original recording sessions in London. This is a superbly lyrical work and is one of the composers finest. The movie too although not appreciated by the majority is still worth watching.
In closing here is a brief bio of Charlton Heston.
Which is taken from Wikepedia.
Born John Charles Carter on October 4, 1923, Charlton Heston was an American actor and political activist.He appeared in almost 100 films over the course of 60 years. He played Moses in the epic film The Ten Commandments (1956), for which he received his first nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama. He also starred in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Secret of the Incas (1954), Touch of Evil (1958) with Orson Welles, The Big Country (1958), Ben-Hur (1959), for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor, El Cid (1961), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Planet of the Apes (1968), The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973). In the 1950s and 1960s, he was one of a handful of Hollywood actors to speak openly against racism and was an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. Heston left the Democratic Party in 1971 to become a Republican, founding a conservative political action committee and supporting Ronald Reagan. Heston was a five-term president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), from 1998 to 2003. After announcing he had Alzheimer’s disease in 2002, he retired from both acting and the NRA presidency. He died on April 5, 2008.