Ernest Borgnine

The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah), the director’s cut

The Wild Bunch opens with a methodically executed heist slash shootout sequence. Director Peckinpah quickly introduces cast members, partially due to the dramatic plotting, mostly due to Lou Lombardo’s fantastic editing. All juxtaposed with some kids watching ants kill scorpions. The Wild Bunch opens with one heck of a declarative statement. Peckinpah wants to look at violence and how people treat violence as entertainment.

Unfortunately, he also wants to do a Western about men getting old and being men and bonding even though they don’t like each other because they’re men after all and men stick together. Just look at “villain” Robert Ryan, who is pursuing his old gang–led by William Holden and Ernest Borgnine–and is now stuck with a bunch of low-life bounty hunters. Real men aren’t low-life bounty hunters with bad teeth. Edmond O’Brien, the eldest of the “Wild Bunch,” has bad teeth but he’s not a low-life bounty hunter. He goofs off in the steam bath just like Holden and Borgnine.

After the opening, which is simultaneously exhilarating and horrific, The Wild Bunch does a more traditional first act. There’s setup with Ryan hunting down the gang, there’s setup with the backstory between Ryan and Holden, there’s a full introduction of the supporting cast. Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are brothers and dissenting voices in the gang. Jaime Sánchez is the other guy, who’s apparently been there longer than Johnson and Oates, but not as long as Borgnine. It doesn’t really matter because the characters aren’t deep. They’ll occasionally get deep characterizations from the actors, but the script’s pretty thin. In the script they’re just old, mopey, angry, drunk, tired, horny, or some combination thereof.

For Johnson and Oates, it doesn’t matter. They’re around to be flashy so Holden can dwell on all his mistakes. For Holden and Borgnine, it does matter. Borgnine has almost nothing whatsoever to do except back up Holden, so it’d be nice for there to be a reason more than Borgnine admires Holden. And if not a reason, at least something melodramatic. Something melodramatic would show Peckinpah and co-writer Walon Green carried a little.

Instead, no. It’s undeveloped. Just like almost everything else in The Wild Bunch, except Sánchez’s backstory. Out of nowhere, the film goes from being Ryan hunting Holden and company to Holden and company hanging out in Sánchez’s home village in Mexico and becomes darn likable. Oates goes from ominous and dangerous to affable in about three minutes once they get to the village. Cute even. But Peckinpah doesn’t want the audience to like the characters for too long–at least not without reservations or comprise–so they’re always doing something awful.

There’s some good acting in The Wild Bunch. Holden’s a strong lead and he has a handful of phenomenal little moments. They don’t add up to anything, but they’re real good. And Peckinpah’s on for them too, which is nice. Borgnine’s fine. He really is just support for Holden. Sánchez is fine too; Peckinpah was apparently intentional about making him frequently pout. Oates is wild and crazy and it’s okay. It’s an enjoyable performance, but the character is still exceptionally unlikable. Johnson does a lot with a thin part.

Edmond O’Brien is amazing. He chews scenery, drools or spits it out with his chaw, but always with restraint. Whoever thought of dubbing his laughter over shots should’ve had a different thought, however. After some a lot of imaginative stylization in the first third, the film cools down until the grand finale. And that grand finale just shows the same techniques applied to different content; Peckinpah foreshadows pretty much everything in the spectacular open.

As far as the bad guys, Ryan’s okay. Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones are initially amusing as his most vocal moronic sidekicks. They soon get tiring, once it’s clear there’s no more material for them. Ryan gets it worst in that department, however. He’ll be going along fine and then get some trite, waxing nostalgic monologue. It makes for a long movie.

Jerry Fielding’s music is on the low side of mediocre. It’s kind of all right at times, but Peckinpah and Fielding go for a traditional Western score and it doesn’t bring anything to the film. And then there are the times Fielding does action thrill music, which do not work at all. In fact, they’re unpleasant. You’re sitting around waiting for something to happen and then there’s some action and Fielding kneecaps it.

I know Wild Bunch is a sparse, moody look at the male psyche, violence, and the myth of the Old West, but it should better at doing that thing. Peckinpah neglects his actors; not an insignificant problem since there’s only three or four intricate action sequences. There are a couple more elaborate ones, which have spectacle but not much else. But Peckinpah’s ignoring them when there’s nothing else going on except the characters walking, talking, riding.

Despite some dynamic filmmaking from Peckinpah, ably edited by Lombardo, Wild Bunch just doesn’t add up. There’s not enough for the actors, neither in the script nor in Peckinpah’s directorial attention.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by Walon Green and Peckinpah, based on a story by Green and Roy N. Sickner; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Jerry Fielding; produced by Phil Feldman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Holden (Pike Bishop), Ernest Borgnine (Dutch Engstrom), Edmond O’Brien (Freddie Sykes), Jaime Sánchez (Angel), Ben Johnson (Tector Gorch), Warren Oates (Lyle Gorch), Emilio Fernández (Mapache), Strother Martin (Coffer), L.Q. Jones (T.C), and Robert Ryan (Deke Thornton).


The Oscar (1966, Russell Rouse)

The Oscar is a spectacular kind of awful. It’s the perfect storm of content, casting and technical ineptitude. Director Rouse probably doesn’t have a single good shot in the entire film. It might not even be possible with Joseph Ruttenberg’s photography and the maybe studio television level of the set decoration. Though there is this inexplicably good shot of Eleanor Parker during her awful monologue.

Oh, right, the awful monologues. Not everyone gets one. Parker gets one, Jill St. John gets one, Tony Bennett gets one, Milton Berle gets one–okay, well, actually pretty much everyone gets one and they’re part of what makes The Oscar such a worthwhile terrible movie. Rouse seems completely unaware lead Stephen Boyd is supposed to be playing a jerk. He’s also completely unaware lead Stephen Boyd is giving a truly awful performance. Tony Bennett is really bad too, but he’s in it less. It’s all bad Boyd, all the time.

Elke Sommer’s Boyd’s wife. I think she may have the shortest monologue. The Oscar–Rouse and cowriters Harlan Ellison and Clarence Greene in particular–doesn’t think much of Sommer. She’s a flakey virginal hippie. Boyd must seduce aware her innocence but then she disgusts him. Right after she disgusts him, Sommer’s wardrobe essentially becomes exquisite and quite revealing lingerie. She’s got a scene at the end of the movie–maybe even her monologue moment but it’s out of character so less effective–but otherwise she becomes background.

Berle and Parker do as best with what they can. They’re old Hollywood players, Parker should know better than to lust, which Berle has to remind her about because he’s the virtuous dude. Cotten’s a virtuous dude too but he’s got nothing going on. He’s not dynamic enough for the part. It’s not like he’s Orson Welles signing the standard rich and famous contract for Boyd.

Edie Adams is legitimately good, ditto Peter Lawford. St. John tries and it helps a lot, especially since she gets nothing off her costars. Ernest Borgnine is fine but like a sleazy detective on a family show. He’s not supposed to be too sleazy, he’s somebody’s drunken, blackmailing uncle after all.

Really bad–really amusingly bad–music from Percy Faith. The script is a strange mix of okay one-liners, creepy misogyny and lame dialogue.

The only actual good thing about The Oscar is Edith Head–who even cameos–and her gowns. They’re stunning. Rouse doesn’t know he’s got this Edith Head fashion show to be directing. Instead he’s doing a… well, it’s impossible to say. You actually have to see The Oscar to understand The Oscar.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Rouse; screenplay by Harlan Ellison, Rouse and Clarence Greene; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Chester W. Schaeffer; music by Percy Faith; produced by Greene; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Boyd (Frank Fane), Tony Bennett (Hymie Kelly), Elke Sommer (Kay Bergdahl), Milton Berle (Kappy Kapstetter), Joseph Cotten (Kenneth Regan), Eleanor Parker (Sophie Cantaro), Jill St. John (Laurel Scott), Edie Adams (Trina Yale), Ernest Borgnine (Barney Yale) and Peter Lawford (Steve Marks).


The Black Hole (1979, Gary Nelson)

The Black Hole is a weird–and bad–movie. American science fiction usually avoids religion, at least literalizing religion, but Black Hole embraces it. Maybe I shouldn’t spoil it. But it’s from Disney too. It’s a Disney movie with Heaven and Hell.

When the film cuts to Maximilian Schell during these sequences, the film feels like a Fellini knockoff. But it’s not. It’s Disney.

There are even terribly designed cute Disney robots flying around and talking in the voices of Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens. McDowell’s not unbearable but the idea of a robot being built to sound like a Western sidekick? It’s idiotic, like most of the film. No one but Schell can endure the dialogue. It’s incredibly bad–all expository for the first half, then the rest of the movie’s a chase and the dialogue’s all declarative.

The declarative is a lot better than the exposition. Robert Forster and Yvette Mimieux can handle the latter. They’re both awful during the first half. Joseph Bottoms, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine are all terrible throughout; Bottoms being the worst. He never manages a single good delivery.

What makes the film watchable is the special effects. As dumb as the cute robots look, the effects flying them around are fantastic. The miniatures are amazing. The post-production effects–the space ship engines and so on–are awful, but the miniatures are great.

John Barry’s score is half okay, half awful… which is a better percentage than the rest of the picture.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gary Nelson; screenplay by Jeb Rosebrook and Gerry Day, based on a story by Rosebrook, Bob Barbash and Richard H. Landau; director of photography, Frank V. Phillips; edited by G. Gregg McLaughlin; music by John Barry; production designer, Peter Ellenshaw; produced by Ron Miller; released by Buena Vista Distribution Company.

Starring Maximilian Schell (Dr. Hans Reinhardt), Anthony Perkins (Dr. Alex Durant), Robert Forster (Captain Dan Holland), Joseph Bottoms (Lieutenant Charles Pizer), Yvette Mimieux (Dr. Kate McCrae), Ernest Borgnine (Harry Booth), Roddy McDowall (V.I.N.CENT.), Tom McLoughlin (Captain S.T.A.R.) and Slim Pickens (B.O.B.).


Small Soldiers (1998, Joe Dante)

I remember liking Small Soldiers the first time I saw it. I was wrong.

This time watching it, all I could think about was how Dante and DreamWorks studio chief Steven Spielberg ignored they had a terrible script.

Of course, Dante still does a good job. He has a fantastic Bride of Frankenstein homage, which brings up the target audience–along with the action figures being effectively voiced by the Spinal Tap and Dirty Dozen casts.

The casting has some problems. Kevin Dunn plays Gregory Smith’s father (prepping for Transformers in the distant future no doubt) and he’s really bad. Dunn’s usually good, but his character is just too terribly written for him to work with it. All of the characters are terribly written–except maybe David Cross and Jay Mohr’s characters, who are disposable and funny.

Smith is supposed to be playing a problem teenager–it’s never explained why, but presumably has something to with Dunn’s bad parenting. Smith and Kirsten Dunst are supposed to be fifteen–too young to drive–and they show the real problem. Small Soldiers is a kid’s movie made by people who don’t know how to dumb it down enough.

Dunst’s actually okay. Denis Leary does his schtick. Phil Hartmann’s great. Wendy Schaal is wasted. Dick Miller’s got a good part. Ann Magnuson has some excellent scenes.

It works best as a showcase for outstanding practical and CG effects. Thinking about the movie just hurts one’s head, especially when they get into the science.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Gavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Marshall Harvey and Michael Thau; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Michael Finnell and Colin Wilson; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Gregory Smith (Alan Abernathy), Kirsten Dunst (Christy Fimple), Phil Hartman (Phil Fimple), Kevin Dunn (Stuart Abernathy), Ann Magnuson (Irene Abernathy), Wendy Schaal (Marion Fimple), David Cross (Irwin Wayfair), Jay Mohr (Larry Benson), Dick Miller (Joe) and Denis Leary (Gil Mars).

Starring Frank Langella (Archer), Tommy Lee Jones (Chip Hazard), Ernest Borgnine (Kip Killagin), Jim Brown (Butch Meathook), Bruce Dern (Link Static), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Gwendy Doll), Christopher Guest (Slamfist / Scratch-It), George Kennedy (Brick Bazooka), Michael McKean (Insaniac / Freakenstein), Christina Ricci (Gwendy Doll), Harry Shearer (Punch-It) and Clint Walker (Nick Nitro).


Escape from New York (1981, John Carpenter)

Man and boy, I’ve probably seen Escape from New York ten times. This viewing might be the first where I noticed the film’s quietness. Carpenter uses the relative silence to make the first third (even before Isaac Hayes shows up), the most memorable parts of the film.

Some of that memorable quality has more to do with Carpenter’s approach than the script. The flying sequence is phenomenal. The deliberate cuts between Kurt Russell, delicately lighted in the cockpit, and the glider silently moving through the New York streets, the music barely audible… it’s one of Carpenter’s more “beautiful” moments as a director.

That sequence also showcases how Carpenter and his crew were able to take a lower budgeted picture like New York and make it more impressive than most big releases of the day. Carpenter sets up a dystopian future, but make the futuristic aspects imaginative and thrilling to the audience.

Lots of seventies Carpenter regulars show up–Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Stephens (not to mention Donald Pleasence and Adrienne Barbeau)–but the additional supporting cast members are iconic. Obviously, Isaac Hayes as the Duke of New York is a flashy role, but Harry Dean Stanton and Ernest Borgnine are great too.

In a very Altman fashion, suggests these complex relationships–particularly Barbeau and Stanton, but also Russell and Van Cleef–and lets the viewer decide for him or herself. He does something similar with Pleasence’s finish.

The film is a significant masterpiece, something I’m not vocal enough about.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Carpenter and Nick Castle; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Larry J. Franco and Debra Hill; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken), Lee Van Cleef (Hauk), Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie), Donald Pleasence (The President), Harry Dean Stanton (Brain), Isaac Hayes (The Duke), Tom Atkins (Rehme), Charles Cyphers (The Secretary of State), Season Hubley (Girl in Chock Full O’Nuts) and Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie).


Hustle (1975, Robert Aldrich)

Leonard Maltin calls Hustle pretentious. I think he’s referring to the spotlights Aldrich shines in people’s faces for close-ups. I think Maltin’s wrong about those shots and their pretense. Aldrich isn’t being pretentious, he’s just totally incompetent when it comes to directing a movie like Hustle.

But I’m not talking about the story content–it’s a really poorly written character study of Burt Reynolds’s uncaring cop and Catherine Denueve as his call girl girlfriend–but the production. Ernest Borgnine plays Reynold’s boss (the movie’s hilariously loose with police ranks and their responsibilities) and through Borgnine’s office windows is the city of Los Angeles. Well, a picture of the city. In black and white. Clearly in black and white.

The movie looks like it was shot on a bunch of cheap TV sets, with Joseph F. Biroc’s cinematography less artful than episode of the Adam West “Batman” show. It’s not all Biroc’s fault, Aldrich doesn’t have a good shot in the film. It looks like he’s directing a poorly budgeted television show, one with a great cast and an awful script.

As the leads, I guess Reynolds and Denueve aren’t terrible. When Hustle is just the two of them sitting around the sitcom set they call home, it’s just this incredibly boring character piece. It’s like a misfired play, but it’s not awful. Once they leave, however… trouble begins.

Worst is Ben Johnson in some ways–he’s almost good, but his character is so poorly written, he’s awful.

Hustle stinks.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Aldrich; screenplay by Steve Shagan, based on his novel; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Michael Luciano; music by Frank De Vol; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Burt Reynolds (Lieutenant Phil Gaines), Catherine Deneuve (Nicole Britton), Ben Johnson (Marty Hollinger), Paul Winfield (Sergeant Louis Belgrave), Eileen Brennan (Paula Hollinger), Eddie Albert (Leo Sellers), Ernest Borgnine (Santuro), Jack Carter (Herbie Dalitz), Colleen Brennan (Gloria Hollinger), James Hampton (Bus Driver), David Spielberg (Bellamy) and Catherine Bach (Peggy Summers).


Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, John Sturges)

My reaction to Bad Day at Black Rock is a guarded one. It runs eighty-one minutes and is frequently long when it should be short and short when it should be long. The conclusion, for instance, is something of a misfire. Ironically, after abandoning him for fifteen minutes near the beginning, the film sticks with Spencer Tracy. So the audience misses characters going through huge (and somewhat unlikely) changes.

It’s a strange problem; even though the film has a great supporting cast, it doesn’t have any other principles besides Tracy. Characters become more and less important as the running time progresses. For example, Robert Ryan’s got a lot to do for the first twenty minutes or so, but once his character is clearly defined, he fades into the background a little.

Some of that fading might be Sturges’s fault. While his Cinemascope composition is fantastic–he has this one scene with six people standing around talking and it’s just startling, the figures, dressed brightly even, contrasting the blue, cloudy sky–it’s all very wide. There are almost no close-ups in the film or even medium shots. Sturges is using all of that wide frame and people can get lost.

But the script has its own problems. Mainly Tracy’s character–he keeps changing, as the script keeps unveiling backstory revelations–and with a longer running time, it might work. The film really just needs more time, not just for Tracy, but to make the longish parts seem less plodding.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Sturges; screenplay by Millard Kaufman, adaptation by Don McGuire, based on a story by Howard Breslin; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by Newell P. Kimlin; music by André Previn; produced by Dore Schary; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings) and Walter Sande (Sam).


Gattaca (1997, Andrew Niccol)

I guess I forgot about Gattaca, because I was worried about it….

Which was stupid.

Gattaca is, in my non-brother-having opinion, the best film about brothers ever made. East of Eden was about fathers and sons and I can’t think of any other good examples right now. I’m transferring over a bunch of old Stop Button reviews right now for the planned site upgrade (which is probably pointless, since none of the site counters report any readers) and I came across a review for THX 1138. It said something along the lines that I couldn’t talk about THX 1138 properly, so I wouldn’t even try. I also came across my Superman review, which was brilliant, so maybe I’ll say some more about Gattaca….

Rarely can you point at a film and say, “Look, that’s his brother then and that’s who’s become his brother now but there’s his real brother and it’s all about these relationships between men and the beauty of them.” I got teary at Gattaca and I can’t think of another film about men I’ve gotten teary about. Heat, maybe? I can’t remember.

I’m not going to waste energy talking about Niccol’s directing or the film’s style–it’s perfect, but lots of films have perfect direction and style and fail (and lots have neither and succeed… to some degree, anyway). Niccol’s created a situation where one can appreciate the truly beautiful things people can do for each other. And, hey, if you have to set it in the future in a genetic engineering thingy, I’m with it. I haven’t seen a human being do a beautiful thing for another human being in my entire life (that’s why there are movies and books). The real world just doesn’t have the Michael Nyman score going for it.

This is the point when all those blogs I think I’m superior to but actually have readers say things like: discuss. Well, for now (don’t know about the upgrade), don’t waste your time discussing, just go see this film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol; director of photography, Slawomir Idziak; edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin; music by Michael Nyman; production designer, Jan Roelfs; produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ethan Hawke (Vincent), Uma Thurman (Irene), Gore Vidal (Director Josef), Xander Berkeley (Lamar), Jayne Brook (Marie), Ernest Borgnine (Caesar), Alan Arkin (Detective Hugo), Blair Underwood (Geneticist), Loren Dean (Anton), Jude Law (Jerome), Tony Shalhoub (German) and Elias Koteas (Antonio).


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