When I think of Charlton Heston (October 4, 1923 – April 5, 2008), I can't help but recall his performance in the 1974 disaster epic, Earthquake.
At the end of the film, Heston's character; his soon-to-be ex-wife, portrayed with delicious villany by Ava Gardner; and his stunningly attractive mistress, played by Geneviève Bujold; are trying to escape from a sewer being rapidly flooded by a deluge from the earthquake-shattered Mulholland Dam.
Geneviève Bujold's character has already climbed to safety. On her way up the ladder, the totally unsympathetic Ava Gardner falls into the raging torrent and is swept away.
In probably the best display of stereotype self-awareness ever committed to film, Charlton Heston first looks up the ladder, to safety and the braless Bujold, who is reaching out to him.
He then looks over his shoulder to see the rushing water carrying away the überbitch Gardner.
Watch Heston's face. This is a man in torment, a man struggling with the most important and painful choice he will ever make.
He doesn't utter a word, but his decision and internal dialogue is nonetheless writ large upon his handsome face:
"Oh, God damn it. I'm Charlton Heston."
And he hurls himself into the rapids, where he, Gardner, and countless extras are washed into oblivion.
I remember seeing this in its original release at the Warner Theater in Pittsburgh (remember "Sensurround"?). The cries of disbelief and despair when Heston made the plunge rose easily above the loud subsonic rumbling.
"Chuck! You're an idiot!"
No, he wasn't.
He made the only choice available to him.
He was, after all, Charlton Heston.
(YouTube video of Charlton Heston being all Charlton Heston-y in "Earthquake.")