Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine gave us big-lug portrayals making bad movies better and great movies into classics.
Borgnine's death by kidney failure Sunday at age 95 is certain to inspire the usual cable channel tributes given to fallen movie stars. There's a lot to choose from, after a 61-year career and nearly 120 theatrical roles that are mostly tough, sometimes tender and always entertaining.
Choosing favorites is tough but these Borgnine performances deserve a place in your TiVo schedule or Netflix queue:
From Here to Eternity (1953)
The role: Sgt. Fatso Judson, barracks bully and stockade sadist at a Naval base in the days before Pearl Harbor.
Back story: Borgnine predicted his breakthrough role, reading James Jones' novel and telling friends if a movie adaptation were made, he'd star in it. A few weeks later, Borgnine was called to audition.
Choice words: "Tough monkey. Guys like you end up in the stockade sooner or later. Some day you'll walk in; I'll be waiting. I'll show you a couple of things."
The role: Lonely Bronx butcher Marty Piletti, living with his mother at age 34 and falling in love with a mousy schoolteacher (Betsy Blair).
Back story: Actor Rod Steiger turned down the movie version of a role he originated in a 1953 teleplay, not wanting to be tied to a seven-year studio contract. Not wanting to be typecast as a heavy, Borgnine took it and won the best actor Academy Award.
Choice words: "You don't like her. My mother don't like her. She's a dog and I'm a fat, ugly man. Well, all I know is I had a good time last night. I'm gonna have a good time tonight. If we have enough good times together I'm gonna get down on my knees. I'm gonna beg that girl to marry me."
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
The role: U.S. Army Gen. Worden, ordering a rebellious major (Lee Marvin) to assemble a commando squad of death row prisoners for a mission, safe return not guaranteed.
Back story: Borgnine later played Worden in three Dirty Dozen TV movies in the 1980s. He also joined co-stars Clint Walker, George Kennedy and Jim Brown voicing toys in the animated movie Small Soldiers.
Choice words: Not spoken, but Borgnine's smirking realization of the Dirty Dozen cheating at war games says a lot.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
The role: Dutch Engstrom, part of an outlaw gang fleeing a changing Wild West to Mexico. Director Sam Peckinpah invented slo-mo movie violence, with graphic splatter effects that nearly earned an X (now NC-17) rating from the MPAA.
Back story: "When we were actually shooting, we were repulsed at times," Borgnine said at The Wild Bunch's premiere in the Bahamas. "There were nights when we'd finish shooting and I'd say: 'My God, my God!' But I was always back the next morning because I sincerely believed we were achieving something."
Choice words: At the same press conference, a woman asked Borgnine: "Why did everyone bleed so much?" The actor replied: "Lady, did you ever see anyone shot by a gun without bleeding?"
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
The role: Mike Rogo, a tough cop taking a luxury cruise with his wife and former prostitution bust (Stella Stevens) when a tidal wave turns the ship upside-down.
Back story: Borgnine was cast alongside four other Oscar winners — Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson and Red Buttons — defining the disaster movie genre still imitated today.
Choice words: On arresting his wife six times: "Well, I had to figure out some way to keep you off the streets until you'd marry me."
Emperor of the North (1973)
The role: Shack, a sadistic railroad guard hellbent on keeping two Depression-era hoboes (Lee Marvin, Keith Carradine) off his train.
Back story: Robert Aldrich's bare-knuckles adventure is one of the '70s underrated treasures, a box office flop even after dropping "Pole" at the title's end, so people wouldn't mistake it for a Christmas movie.
Choice words: "There's only one 'bo that's got the stuff to try me, and you ain't even on the list."
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.