Five Favorite Films With Ernest Borgnine
The Oscar winner reflects on his five decades in the movies.
Ernest Borgnine is one of Hollywood's most venerable character actors, with a career that spans more than five decades. To celebrate Borgnine's 92nd birthday this week, Turner Classic Movies will air the interview special Private Screenings: Ernest Borgnine on Jan. 26, which will be followed by screenings of several of the actor's greatest films, including Marty and From Here to Eternity. In an interview with RT, Borgnine shared thoughts on some of his favorite movies (and a few of his own performances that mean a lot to him).
After a 10-year stint in the Navy, which included service in World War II, Borgnine turned to acting. He caught his first big break as a supporting player in the Best Picture-winning From Here to Eternity, and after a series of sharp secondary roles, he rose to prominence in Marty, the story of a lonely butcher who makes a connection with a shy schoolteacher. Borgnine won a Best Actor Oscar for the role (and he remains the oldest-living Best Actor winner). After Marty, Borgnine co-starred in a number of memorable films, including The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch. At 92, he shows few signs of slowing down; Borgnine has a recurring voice role on SpongeBob SquarePants, and he picked up a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in the 2007 TV film A Grandpa for Christmas.
In addition to his favorite films, Borgnine discussed why directors were easier to work with in the old days, a hairy situation on location, and why there was no one quite like Gary Cooper.
That is such a beautiful picture. I like the acting, I like the premise, I like the genuine honesty about the whole thing. It was one of those joyous things; even when [Roberto Benigni
] was riding a bicycle, he was enjoying it, you know? 'This is life, this is exceptional, this is something good!' It's just so beautiful. And it's from the head and from the heart, and that's what counts. And to me, Life is Beautiful
is a beautiful film.
There's another one called Citizen Kane
. Here's a man [Orson Welles
] who didn't look back and read about [William] Randolph Hearst and say, 'sorry, I won't make it until [Hearst dies]. He said, 'To hell with it. I'm gonna make it anyway. If you see yourself in it, fine, that's too bad.' And he made it! And it was true! And the way he made it, and the way he works.... Ahhh. I had the opportunity to meet him one time, and I said, 'Mr. Welles?' And he said (mimicking Welles' baritone voice), 'Orson's the name, and if you don't win the g-d---ed Academy Award for Marty
, I'm gonna quit it altogether.' He was that kind of a fellow. He was a good man.
The Good Earth
, with Paul Muni
and Luise Rainer
. What a piece of work. That to me is one you can watch all day long and not get tired of it. It's wonderful.
There's one called Il Re di Poggioreale
, The King of Poggioreale
. It was called [Black City
] in this country. The King of Poggioreale
was one of [producer] Dino De Laurentiis
' first pictures, and it was directed by Duilio Coletti
. It was the story about a boot-maker in Poggioreale, outside of Naples. This cobbler, who was a complete nothing, a nobody, went on to become the big black marketer in Italy in World War II. And this actually happened. When people in Naples were starving to death, he managed to find food -- steal it from the Germans, steal it from the Americans, steal it from anybody -- to feed the people of Naples. And then, because of his knowledge of things, they sent him to the Vatican to bring back the jewels of St. Gennaro, who is the patron saint of Naples. And he went through the German lines, and came back with the jewels. Nobody ever expected him to come back. They said, 'This man, he's taken everything and run away with it.' But he came back. And [the movie] actually showed what the people of Naples actually do today. One of the things about St. Gennaro is that they have his blood in what almost looks like a rolling pin. They roll it back and forth, and they move it back and forth, and it's all dried blood. If there's a good time coming for Naples, that blood will actually turn and become blood. In this picture, we took pictures of it -- unbeknownst to anyone else -- and you can actually see the blood flowing. It was a wonderful picture, and I played the lead. And I tell ya, I never enjoyed doing anything so much since Marty
Marty (1955, 100% Tomatometer)
Next: Borgnine talks about his favorite actors, and recounts a scary moment south of the border.
I played Marty because I was
Marty. I was the kind of guy that was a wall flower. I didn't know how to dance. To get a girl -- my goodness, that was beyond comprehension for me, because I could see myself being turned down and I wasn't the kind of person that liked to be turned down, you know? Why bother to ask if you're going to be turned down? So I never asked. That was it. But time went along and I went into the service, and I grew up. When I saw that script, I said, 'My God, that's me.' I was very happy to do it, because it gave me the opportunity to play something that I could easily play, and I knew that I had in my heart exactly what happened.