Sunday, April 6, 2008

R.I.P. Will Penny

With the passing of Charlton Heston there will be many articles written about and airtime devoted to his well-known works in the bathrobe/ sandals genre and the sci-fi stuff about apes, soylent green, and omega men. The chariot scene will be shown over and over. That's all well and good. Some will, of course, cover his work on behalf of the 2nd amendment. Fewer, I suspect, will spend much time on his work on behalf of the civil rights movement in the 1960's. That part of Heston's life doesn't fit the media template of today so well. No doubt the fact that he was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 by his friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s side won't be as important as scenes of Mr. Heston in a crockumentary made by a porky liar a few years ago. So be it.
Somehow it's fitting that Charlton Heston passed from the scene right after the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. The greatest of Heston's film work, in my view, was released 40 years ago this coming Thursday, "Will Penny". It was released just a week after Heston's dear friend was murdered. It's a bleak tale set far away from the urban America of a Memphis garbage workers' strike in 1968. It's the story of a solitary cowboy in the brutal Montana winter. Other forces intrude on his lonely existence and drama ensues.
Maybe it's because I spent a winter of my life working in Montana-- my working conditions were far more hospitable than Will Penny's-- but I love this movie. Even people who found Heston to be an overacting, scenery-chewing ham appreciate his subtle, strong performance in "Will Penny."
If you are a fan of the western genre or just like stories of justice and the righting of wrongs, I recommend taking a look at "Will Penny" released April 10, 1968. If all you know of Charlton Heston is "Planet of the Apes" and "Ben Hur" it will be an eye-opener as well.
May God bless and keep you, Charlton Heston.