Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012)

Ernest Borgnine in Johnny Guitar

The most critically acclaimed film that Borgnine appeared in was The Wild Bunch. I have always considered this film to be a bit over-rated. I actually got more enjoyment out of Johnny Guitar, Nicholas Ray’s campy western with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden. Borgnine played one of the bad guys. (Truffaut also liked this movie a lot, so I’m in good company.) I would argue, however, that Borgnine gave his best performance as Sgt. Katczinsky in a television adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front.

The first time I saw Borgnine was on McHale’s Navy. This show was actually a rip-off of Sgt. Bilko, but I was too young to know that at the time. I found it pretty funny, although I remember that I thought it a bit disturbing that they would have the laugh tracking running while a Japanese submarine was blowing up. I came to associate Borgnine so much with the role of Commander McHale, that I was surprised to learn that he was usually cast as a heavy. The first movie I saw him in was Ice Station Zebra, in which he played a Russian baddy. This movie made a strong impression on me at the time. It was perhaps the start of my life-long fascination with the cinema.

Borgnine once said about acting: “The trick is not to become somebody else. You become somebody else when you’re in front of a camera or when you’re on stage. There are some people who carry it all the time. That, to me, is not acting. What you’ve gotta do is find out what the writer wrote about and put it into your mind. This is acting. Not going out and researching what the writer has already written. This is crazy!” Take that, method actors!

Borgnine will be missed.

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