Five Favorite Films With Ernest Borgnine

The Oscar winner reflects on his five decades in the movies.

Ernest Borgnine

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.

Life is Beautiful (1998, 77% Tomatometer)
Life is BeautifulThat 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.

Citizen Kane (1941, 100% Tomatometer)
Citizen KaneThere'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 (1937, 92% Tomatometer)
The Good EarthThe 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.

Il Re di Poggioreale (1961, N/A Tomatometer)
Il Re di PoggiorealeThere'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)
MartyI 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.

Next: Borgnine talks about his favorite actors, and recounts a scary moment south of the border.



Nathan S

Good list. Nice to see Life is Beautiful.

Jan 23 - 06:31 PM

Timothy M.

Timothy McLean

I've Never seen any of these movies!!!!!

Jan 25 - 12:45 PM

inactive user

Jared King

I feel bad for you.

Jan 25 - 03:18 PM

Mr. Bo Ziffer

Mr. Bo Ziffer

This is a good list. And he was honest, too. If Dane Cook or Paris Hilton had picked a movie that starred themselves, I would have been furious. But Borgnine's a legend, so I'll let it pass.

Jan 23 - 06:42 PM


Greg Guro

He defined menacing in From Here to Eternity. Plus, I love that he included one of his own films!

I liked Life is Beautiful a great deal also, I thought it was much better than Schindler's List.

Jan 23 - 06:48 PM


idle one kenobi

I would love to see iL Re di poggioreale, never heard of that movie but to me it sounds great. My family is from Naples and I would love to see a film based there during the war. I also love dirty dozen and many of his films.

Borgnine is a legend, BUT one legendary word springs to mind more than most of the films mentioned...

AIRWOLF !!!!! Need I say more?

Jan 23 - 07:22 PM

steve s.

steve smith

huh?....he picks his own film? what kind of actor does this? ...oh ya,
he's 92 year old ...if i make to 92 i doubt i'll be able to remember 5 words

Jan 23 - 07:49 PM


Arend Anton

Ernest Borgnine is awesome. Nice work getting him for this, RT.

Jan 23 - 07:54 PM

inactive user

Jared King

A Golden Globe for "Grandpa for Christmas"? Yeesh! Anyway, despite the fact that he's been in things like "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders", he is a venerable legend. Good list, nice to see he likes his work. Why can't you like your own film?

Jan 23 - 08:12 PM


chris armit

Man he was like the man in "The Wild Bunch".


Jan 23 - 08:14 PM

Eric S.

Eric Stewart

Cabbie, legendary.

Jan 23 - 08:53 PM


Mike Greenblatt

Good catch. He was great in that role.

Jan 24 - 06:39 PM


Infernal Dude

there's this train movie with Borgnine in it. I think Lee Marvin is in it. My local Fox network would play it at like 3 a.m. I would watch it everytime. Great movie. Decent list.

Jan 23 - 09:06 PM


Frederick Brown

The movie you refer to is Emperor of The North, one of his best I believe. Along with Lee Marvin they set the countries railways on fire!

Jan 26 - 02:20 PM


Jonn X.

Nice list.

Jan 23 - 09:12 PM


kevin strawn

Where is Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders?

Jan 23 - 10:36 PM

Mr. Bo Ziffer

Mr. Bo Ziffer

Where is Merlin's Shop for all my MiSTies in the house?

Jan 23 - 11:17 PM

Mr. Bo Ziffer

Mr. Bo Ziffer

Where is Merlin's Shop for all my MiSTies in the house?

Jan 23 - 11:17 PM

inactive user

Jared King

One of the best MST3K episodes was "Merlin". If you aren't in pain from laughing so hard, check your pulse. But it's that way with most episodes. My favorite show ever.

"It's martian time! Rock n roll martian, rock n roll martian!" Best. Scene. Ever.

Jan 23 - 11:48 PM

inactive user

Jared King

For all you MST3K ignorants, the movies are suppose to be bad.

Jan 23 - 11:51 PM



Cool interview, but I had a shock when I first saw the article had been posted - I was convinced I had heard his death announced a couple of years ago!

Gattaca and Ice Station Zebra immediately come to mind when I think of Ernest Borgnine, but I've seen him in so many films over the years I could never remember them all. It's good to find out he's still working.

Jan 24 - 01:20 AM

Drunken Mastermind

John Doe

Ernest Borgine is awesome. "Life is Beatiful" is a great film, and I appreciate that he's actually willing to say "Yeah, I like my own movies."

Jan 24 - 03:17 AM


Anthony Kipp

Life is Beautiful is a really good movie. The other ones I've not actually seen.

Jan 24 - 09:38 AM

Rusty Broomhandle

Jaco Gerber

Yeah, one often hears of actors who refuse to even watch their own movies.... often because they know it's crap and it's basically just a paycheck to them. This is good - shows he actually cared for the part.

Jan 24 - 09:42 AM


Nate 2709

Marty's great, if I was in that movie, it'd be on my list too.

Jan 24 - 10:41 AM

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