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Ernest Borgnine Movies Tribute: Marty + The Catered Affair

Ernest Borgnine Marty
Ernest Borgnine in Marty.
Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Ernest Borgnine, the 91-year-old veteran of nearly 200 films and TV shows, will show up at the American Cinematheque’s (website) screening of Marty (1955), for which Borgnine won a best actor Academy Award, and The Catered Affair (1956) on Friday, Aug. 8, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. The show starts at 7:30 pm.

“Everything is youth oriented and shoot’em-up and more sex,” Borgnine, one of the stars of Sam Peckinpah’s blood-splattering Western The Wild Bunch, recently complained to Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. “This is what sells today. I say: These older people know what it’s all about. They know things. It’s all ingested within them.”

Well, some do. Some don’t. According to numerous reports, Borgnine himself didn’t seem to know what it was all about Brokeback Mountain, when he reportedly told Entertainment Weekly, “I didn’t see it and I don’t care to see it. I know they say it’s a good picture, but I don’t care to see it. If John Wayne were alive, he’d be rolling over in his grave.” (Now, I’ve done a search for this phrase – or keywords found within it – but couldn’t find it in the EW search engine.)

No one alive (or dead, for that matter) is going to be rolling over in his grave if they see Marty, an inoffensive, low-key dramatic comedy about a Bronx butcher (Borgnine) who looks like a Bronx butcher (or at least what I imagine a Bronx butcher to look like) and who also happens to get the girl (Betsy Blair), however homely, at the end. Based on a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky, Marty became a surprise hit, winning the Palme d’Or at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival and that year’s best picture Academy Award. Curiously, none of the Marty talent nominated for Oscars in the acting/directing categories – best actor winner Borgnine, nominated best supporting actress Blair, nominated Best Supporting Actor Joe Mantell, best director winner Delbert Mann – would ever be nominated again.

Even though The Catered Affair didn’t get any Academy Award statuettes or Palmes d’Or, I find it better than Marty. Borgnine is flawless as the low middle-class father whose daughter (a surprisingly un-Hollywood Debbie Reynolds) is about to get married with hunky Rod Taylor. Bette Davis plays her role of the housewife and mother as if she were Anna Magnani. She ain’t. Her over-the-top performance throws the drama somewhat off-kilter, but the rest of the cast, director Richard Brooks, and screenwriter Gore Vidal – adapting a play by (once again) Paddy Chayefsky – manage to keep the drama real.

Directed by Richard Fleischer, The Vikings (1958) is an adventure hoot. Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Borgnine are (miscast) performers play acting as Vikings and the like, but the film looks great (color cinematography by the masterful Jack Cardiff), and the pacing never sags.

I’ve never seen The Badlanders, but considering that it’s a Delmer Daves Western, I bet that it’s superior to John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, on which it is based. As far as I’m concerned, Daves, with his flair for “poetic psychology” (I can’t think of a better way of putting it), was the best Western director of them all.

I should add that the nonagenarian Ernest Borgnine remains a busy actor. Among his latest efforts are Blueberry (2004); Oliviero’s Chance (2007); the television movie A Grandpa for Christmas (2007), for which Borgnine received a Golden Globe nomination; Chinaman’s Chance (2008); and Strange Wilderness (2008).

And there are more to come – so, perhaps there’s a chance for Borgnine to nab that thus far elusive second Academy Award nomination.

Schedule and synopses from the American Cinematheque’s press release:

Friday, August 8 – 7:30 PM

Ernest Borgnine In-Person!
MARTY, 1955, MGM Repertory, 91 min. Director Delbert Mann and writer Paddy Chayefsky expanded their earlier, award-winning NBC TV drama into this equally acclaimed feature film. Ernest Borgnine delivers an Oscar-winning performance (in the role originally played by Rod Steiger), as a blue-collar Bronx butcher who finds love late in life with schoolteacher Betsy Blair. Winner of Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

THE CATERED AFFAIR, 1956, Warner Bros., 92 min. Ernest Borgnine is a middle-aged New York cabbie scraping for years to save for his own cab. When his daughter (Debbie Reynolds) announces that she is going to marry in a simple ceremony, domineering wife Bette Davis insists on a planning a wedding well beyond the working-class family’s means, to impress their friends and family and to make up for what she never had. Director Richard Brooks and screenwriter Gore Vidal bring Paddy Chayefsky’s story to the screen with sensitivity and intelligence. Introduction to the film by actor Ernest Borgnine will precede the screening.

Saturday, August 9 – 7:30 PM

Robert Aldrich & Ernest Borgnine Double Feature:
THE DIRTY DOZEN, 1967, Warner Bros., 149 min. Dir. Robert Aldrich. Lee Marvin whips a group of unruly criminals (including John Cassavetes and Charles Bronson) into shape for a WWII suicide mission, and the result is an action epic that deals with issues of race, class, and war in a massively entertaining context. Ernest Borgnine is an ornery general making Marvin’s life hell.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE, 1973, 20th Century Fox, 118 min. Dir. Robert Aldrich. Ernest Borgnine reunites with his Dirty Dozen co-star Lee Marvin and director Aldrich for this Depression-era drama. Borgnine is a sadistic railroad conductor determined to keep hobos off of his train; Marvin is an outcast who strives to become a legend by battling and besting Borgnine.

Sunday, August 10 – 7:30 PM

THE VIKINGS, 1958, MGM Repertory, 116 min. Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis play warring adventurers locked in a battle for land and the heart (or, more accurately, body) of the gorgeous Janet Leigh in this rousing epic. With an exuberant performance by Ernest Borgnine as the head Viking and stylish direction by the ever reliable Richard Fleischer, this is a fast, funny spectacle not to be missed on the big screen.

THE BADLANDERS, 1958, Warner Bros., 85 min. Dir. Delmer Daves. Ernest Borgnine gives one of the most intense performances of his career as John McBain, a hardened criminal who collaborates with fellow ex-con Alan Ladd on a daring gold robbery. This western remake of The Asphalt Jungle is a riveting heist film and a visually sumptuous period piece.

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1 comment

Nicole Cardarelli -

Well for starters i wanna say he was my granfathers idole. I say idole as in he would walk around singing and trying to dance. Before my grandfather past away, we would always watch “Grandpa for Christmas.” It was our favorite. My grandfather even looked like his idole. Well i think he is an incredible actor and was born to be on film. He brought many smiles to our faces watching his movies. Thank You.

-Nicole Cardarelli


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