RIP Ernest Borgnine

July 9, 2012 • 10:18 am

Ernest Borgnine died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was a ripe 95 years old.

Perhaps best known for his role on the mediocre television series “McHale’s Navy,” he really shone in two movie roles. The first was “Marty” (1955), in which he played a mother-dominated Italian butcher who falls in love with a “plain” girl (Betsy Blair; I found her rather attractive, actually), abandons her when her friends make fun of him, and then realizes that what matters is love, not the opinion of his thoughtless peers. It’s a wonderful movie, and gets a rare 100% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes (see link above). As the NYT notes:

Marty’s awakening, as he unexpectedly falls in love, was described by Bosley Crowther in The New York Times as “a beautiful blend of the crude and the strangely gentle and sensitive in a monosyllabic man.”

Mr. Borgnine received the Oscar for best actor for “Marty.” For the same performance he also received a Golden Globe and awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

I highly recommend “Marty”; it’s a bit of a tear-jerker but with terrific acting. And his performance is very different from the movie role that brought Borgnine to fame: the sadistic sergeant Fatso Judson in the equally watchable movie “From Here to Eternity” (1953).

When you remember Borgnine, think not of Lt. Commander Quinton McHale of the U. S. Navy but of the Everyman he played so well: the gentle butcher Marty Pilletti.

Here he is with Betsy Blair in “Marty”:

31 thoughts on “RIP Ernest Borgnine

  1. For years he would appear here in Milwaukee as the grand clown in the big Circus Parade. Personally, I always found clowns creepy, so I’ll try to remember him in McHale’s Navy.

  2. Hats of to Dutch Engstrom. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, either.” (His greatest role…)

  3. He was also memorable as the tough train conductor Shack in “Emperor of the North” (with Lee Marvin and Keith Carradine as train-hopping hobos).

    1. À propos train-hopping hobos and sadistic train conductors:

      July 14 is the centennial of Woody Guthrie, the greatest train-hopper hobo of them all. I’m mentioning it so we remember the day. There is also a family connection to “Emperor of the North [Pole]”, in that David Carradine, Keith’s half-brother, played the young train-hopping Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby’s “Bound For Glory”.

      The lyrics of “This Train Is Bound For Glory”, anyone?

    1. Ditto. (Although I’m a child of the 60s.)

      Also, Ice Station Zebra.

      Remarkably, he was still working, with his last film being released this year.

      /@ (Still in Praha, btw.)

    2. I’m a child of the 80’s but I also know Borgnine best from Airwolf. I thoroughly enjoyed that show as a little kid and I still contend that the Airwolf theme music is the best that any TV-show has ever had. Period. Sylvester Levay really created a masterpiece with that one as far as I’m concerned.

  4. I best remember him from Airwolf, but only recently discovered that he was the voice of “Mermaid Man” on Spongebob Square pants. I didn’t realize how old he really was.

  5. Really enjoyed “Marty”. Still have it in my collection. It would have been interesting to see how “McHale’s Navy” played out over time as the dramatic series it was originally intended to be rather than a comedy.

  6. Mr.Borgnine served in the U.S. Navy for a few years, and then mustered out before WWII.
    After Pearl Harbor, he reenlisted and served for the duration of the war. A true patriot.
    I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Borgnine at a public event, here in Arizona, a few years
    ago. He couldn’t have been more friendly and cordial with the public. He talked with members of the public as if they were all neighbors. Completely unpretentious. He
    was definitely a class act.

    1. I have heard others tell similar anecdotes about Mr.Borgnine: that he was unfailingly friendly and laid-back in his interactions with the public. An old pal of mine, after having been introduced to EB and making brief small talk, told me that Borgine was very kind.

  7. Have to recommend “Bad Day at Black Rock.”

    Four really good performances – Spencer Tracy as the good guy, Borgnine, Marvin, and Bob Ryan as the antagonists.

    Suspenseful film courageously dealing with racial prejudice. Good stuff.

  8. Somehow, I remember most the scenes in “Escape from New York”.

    “You don’t want to go down there, Snake”!

  9. Depts of Elliptical Intersections / Degrees of Separation:

    Kitty Wells’* son Bobby Wright played the role of Willy Moss on McHale’s Navy. I learned this when I went to hear Kitty once in the late ’90’s, not long before she retired. Kitty’s last non-retrospective album, Forever Young (1974) was backed up by the Allman Bros.

    *First Queen of Country Music, who rose to fame from her 1952 hit, It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. (Ya know what? It wasn’t!)

  10. He was also great as Ragnar in one of my favourite films of all time – “The Vikings”. In that movie he played Kirk Douglas’ dad – despite being actually about one month YOUNGER than Kirk! How bizarre is that?

    But yes, certainly one of classic Hollywood’s true gentlemen. He’ll be sadly missed, but will live on through his films.

  11. Thanks for this post, Jerry—a pleasant tribute to a singular movie star. Geezers like me are old enough to remember how Borgnine’s Oscar-winning film Marty was originally a made-for-television movie— it may even have been performed live—that was written by none other than Paddy Chayevsky. In the TV version, Marty was played by Rod Steiger (And yes, Betsy Blair was very attractive—and married to Gene Kelly, I think.)

  12. He also appeared in a support role in Flight of the Phoenix. Unfortunately, he was overshadowed by fine performances by Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough, and Hardy Kruger.

    1. You know, if you had a nice ass showing it off in public like this might work, but since it is such an ugly ass you really should keep it under wraps.

  13. A little late with my comment, but one
    of my favorite movies is The Wild Bunch
    (1969)in which Borgnine played Dutch
    Engstrom. The movie was ranked #6 on AFI’s Top 10 Westerns.

Leave a Reply