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Ernest Borgnine's 5 Best Genre Appearances

SAG's honored him; why can't we?

By Rob Vaux     February 01, 2011


Ernest Borgnine's 5 Best Genre Appearances
© Mania/Robert Trate

This past Sunday, the Screen Actors Guild honored veteran performer Ernest Borgnine with a lifetime achievement award. The actor himself publicly questioned whether he deserved such an honor, but considering that he’s been in the business for sixty years -- with some 200 film and television titles to his credit -- we respectfully disagree. He played a doomed cowboy in The Wild Bunch, a no-nonsense general in The Dirty Dozen, a crusty chopper pilot in Airwolf, a lovelorn butcher in Marty (which landed him an Oscar for Best Actor), and -- last but not least -- the original accept-no-substitutes Quinton McHale in McHale’s Navy. Among those better-known efforts are a handful of notable sci-fi and horror films. Since we loves him and since we want you to loves him too, here’s a countdown of his five most interesting genre efforts. (We’re leaving off the marvelously MSTied Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders because… well because we loves him.)

 

5. The Poseidon Adventure 

You know what you need when making a luxury-ship-gets-upended flick? A police detective with an ex-hooker wife. The Poseidon Adventure is one of the single goofiest movies ever created, but as the moral center of it, Borgnine at least gives us someone to root for. He spends the whole film butting heads with Gene Hackman’s nutty preacher while moving heaven and earth to keep the dwindling band of survivors on the road to safety. Without him, there’s nothing to do but point and laugh. With him (and admittedly Hackman), The Poseidon Adventure becomes an irresistible guilty pleasure.


 

4. RED

 

In a film about old codgers, Borgnine is hands-down the codger-est. He was well into his 90s when he agreed to appear as Henry the Records Keeper, a CIA relic holding one of the key pieces of information that the good guys need. RED gets the mention here because of what Borgnine does with such limited screen time: playing an unassuming nobody who just happens to know everything.

 

3. Willard 

Borgnine specialized in nice guys for much of his career, aided by an easy grin and a hearty, infectious laugh. He went against type in the original Willard, playing the title character’s ball-busting prick of a boss. As the symbol of banal conformity, he constantly hounds the oddball Willard until you’re begging to see him noisily devoured by the hero’s hordes of rats. (He avoids that fate by falling out of a window, but we’ll take it anyway.) Thanks to Borgnine’s deliciously hateful performance, the moment carries all the visceral satisfaction we could ask for.

 

2. Gattaca 

Few science fiction films in recent memory are as smart as Gattaca, and few ask their audience to engage in its intellectual meditation as seriously. It depicts a future society where genetic engineering has created perfect people. Those born “naturally” are consigned to unspoken second-class citizenship. Ethan Hawke’s hero dares to dream for more; Borgnine’s petty authoritarian janitor serves as an ever-present reminder of what he faces should he fail.

 

1. Escape from New York 

The unquestioned high point of Borgnine’s forays into genre entertainment comes with Escape from New York, the John Carpenter cult classic that remin ded us why the Big Apple sucks. He play Cabbie, the city’s lone holdout who loves Manhattan so much that he refuses to leave when it gets turned into a giant prison. He serves up some much-needed comic relief, enhancing the satire while letting star Kurt Russell handle the bad-assery as Snake Plissken. That dynamic eventually leads to the film’s pitch-perfect twist, in which Cabbie inadvertently provides Plissken with the ultimate means of sticking it to the Man.

 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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3rdSBS6 2/1/2011 2:05:23 AM

Wow...cant believe that you left out The Black Hole...bone up man.

EagleManiac 2/1/2011 5:40:44 AM

Agreed! His role in The Black Hole was cool! The slimy bad guy you didn't KNOW was a bad guy until he became the bad guy!!

acidsquall73 2/1/2011 5:47:07 AM

That's funny. The whole time I was watching the presentation of his movies during the SAG awards, I was thinking of The Black Hole. But having been in over 164 films and TV, I guess some things had to be left out somewhere.

wraith729 2/1/2011 6:44:22 AM

For being 94 years old he looks pretty damn good.

Redshirt1 2/1/2011 6:53:50 AM

You didn't specify if this was a movie only article, so I thought Airwolf should be in the list.

TheWORstFan 2/1/2011 7:17:13 AM

Baseketball should be in there somewhere.

monkeyfoot 2/1/2011 8:21:43 AM

McHale's Navy reruns were the first things I ever saw him in. But he has been in so much and deserves every attribute. Loved him in so many things.

And of course the reason for his longevity he revealed in a loud whisper during an interview a couple of years ago. Just look up Ernest Borgnine-Secret to Old Age on Youtube. 

kellercyclist 2/1/2011 10:49:53 AM

Was I the only person who saw Superfuzz? Oh, I suppose I probably am.

trollman 2/1/2011 11:11:09 AM

@kellercyclist the only one willing to publicly admit it anyway.

keithdaniel 2/1/2011 12:48:43 PM

Yes, this list should've mentioned his Black Hole appearance!

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