I'm not sure where I was first exposed to Ernest Borgnine, who passed away, of course, on Sunday. It had to be either when he was on Airwolf:
Sidenote: when Airwolf was on TV, that was when I learned that Ernest Borgnine was originally from Hamden, Connecticut. This is only significant because Hamden was where my Grandpa and his wife, Lenore, lived. They lived in a condominium complex and Ernest Borgnine's sister lived in that same complex. I never ran into Ernest Borgnine around there, but Lenore was friendly with his sister and had met him. She had told me a story about a grandchild of someone else in the complex was a big fan (again from Airwolf) and had gotten to meet him, and he was really nice and signed a picture for her (I remember it was a girl because I was young and surprised that a girl would be so into Airwolf).
or when I saw him in Disney's The Black Hole, when I was younger. Man, that robot Maximilian scared me back in the day. :
At any rate, being that he was in TV and movies for the better part of five decades, much like the characters and supporting characters he played he kept coming in and out of my entertainment universe. Whether it was with an amazing cameo on my favorite show:
Or when I actually started to get interested in movies and movie history and would go back to his older stuff. He really was pretty amazing, just looking over his IMDB filmography it is remarkable how many different types of movies and television shows he was able to be involved in. Partially it was because he acted pretty much right up until he passed away, and part of it, despite his looks (they weren't exactly Hollywood glamorous) he was talented and was able to do turns in all sorts of different things.
This list is by no means definitive, but here are ten Ernest Borgnine movies (some with WITH Ernest Borgnine since he wasn't always the star, obviously) that would make for a good Ernest Borgnine retrospective. All of these are also fairly obvious, I guess, but most would make for a good gateway into the Ernest Borgnine catalog. Here they are in reverse chronological order:
From Here To Eternity (1953)
Someone, maybe Burt Lancaster, really liked Ernest Borgnine early one, two of his earliest movies were Lancaster starring vehicles. Funny thing about Borgnine, he actually came to the acting game late, going to acting school in Hartford before getting parts in plays (some on Broadway, he played an orderly in Harvey) before he decided to move out to L.A. and try his hand at the movies. Which, obviously worked out pretty well. Everyone remembers the romance in this movie, like the famous kiss on the beach, but they tend to forget the other struggle between Lancaster and the people that keep trying to get the former boxer he plays back in the ring.
My Dad actually introduced me to this one. By today's standards it seems pretty cony, but there is an undeniable heart to this, and it would not have been there if it weren't for Borgnine playing the titular shlub. Although, looking at it in a different way, anyone who is single and might be getting pressure from anywhere might be able to identify with Marty's struggle to find someone at 34. It's just a nice movie, and I don't mean to say that and make it sound like a negative because it's really not, it's a nice movie in the way Harvey is just a really nice movie. And it's hard to forget how big this movie was at the time, it won four Oscars, one being the Best Actor for Mr. Borgnine and Best Picture, and was nominated 4 others and even won the cannes palme d'or at Cannes in France.
Bad Day At Black Rock (1955)
Here Borgnine does a 180 from his Marty character, playing a bad ass named Coley Trimble.
Flight Of The Phoenix (1965)
Ernest Borgnine looks like a Trucker Cobb
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
There's a reason why this movie is so famous, it's one of the great "men on a mission" World War II movies with a bunch of hard guys like Lee Marvin, Jim Brown, Charles Bronson, plus a bunch more, plus, of course, Ernest Borgnine. It's ridiculous how packed this thing is.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Talk about a movie that changed the game in terms of violence and subject matter on the eve of the filmmaking of the 70's that would bring it more to the fore. Borgnine is one of a group of aging outlaws who go after one last big score in a West that that is disappearing and changing as they grow older.
It seems like by the 70's Ernest Borgnine was getting into more genre-type fare. Such as this weird little movie about an outcast young man whose only friends are rats, which he teaches to exact revenge on his enemies. No really, it's well worth a look.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Thinking about it, this might have also been an early introduction to Ernest Borgnine. I remember falling in love with this movie while watching it on Dialing For Dollars after school one day with my brother. I am not quite sure why this one in particular has stuck with me but it has. I also remember that one of the stunts was later appropriated by The Fall Guy later in it's opening credits. Borgnine plays a cop who marries a prostitute he busted, he yells a lot, but also becomes one of the leaders of the survivors trying to get to the top of the boat. (Also check out Leslie Nielson in a straight role)
The Devil's Rain (1975)
Hahahahaha A bunch of Satanists in the countryside somewhere have evil powers which enable them to melt people. One of the children of an earlier victim comes back for revenge one day. It's pretty amazing, plus William Shatner is in it, so you know scenery will be chewed.
Escape From New York (1981)
Seriously one of my favorite movies, right in that sweet spot when John Carpenter was on fire in the late 70's to the 80's, and also when he was beginning to be on fire with his collaborations with Kurt Russell. The cast is amazing: Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Donald Pleasance, Lee Van Cleef, Isaac Hayes, Tom Atkins etc. etc. This was another one I watched early on a video that my friend had taped off television and it just stayed with me for whatever reasons things happen to stay with you, but I still think it's really fun and really good.