Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012)

Until today (and since the death of Marlon Brando) the earliest-surviving winner of the Best Actor Oscar, and active in Hollywood until very recently, having appeared as the most superannuated of the stars of 2010's Red, one of American cinema's great heavies and one of its seemingly indestructible men has passed away. Borgnine was one of the few nonagenarians whose demise can be described as shocking news. He carved a niche for himself in mean roles in such films as From Here to Eternity (in which Montgomery Clift knifed him to death) and Bad Day at Black Rock (in which Spencer Tracy karate chopped him into submission with one hand literally tied behind his back), but proved with Marty that he could play a flawed but benign everyman. At his early peak in the 1950s, he could even be a romantic lead, as he was, perhaps to Alan Ladd's surprise, in Delmer Daves's The Badlanders. Borgnine's stardom ebbed enough to make TV attractive in the 1960s, and after he was done with McHale's Navy he was ready for another run of movies, including his most likely greatest performance as William Holden's sidekick and conscience in The Wild Bunch. Borgnine aimed higher but suffered crushing disappointment when Paramount wouldn't cast him in the role he most coveted, Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He could still play brutes (as in Hannie Caulder and Emperor of the North) as well as violent men of honor (as in A Bullet for Sandoval), but who knows how his last forty years would have differed had he got the Godfather part. He was good enough to allow us to imagine him in Brando's place. He enlivened every picture I can recall that he appeared in. This is a sad day.

Follow this link to see past Mondo 70 reviews of Borgnine pictures.

1 comment:

hobbyfan said...

Leave us not forget that there was room for Ernest Borgnine to do some comedy back in the 70's. Recall, then, his teaming with Carroll O'Connor in "Law & Disorder", which preceded the ill-fated buddy cop-comedy-adventure, "Future Cop", if memory serves me. Funny how I forgot about the latter when I wrote my piece.......