Ernest Borgnine Shook the Mind of a Man Watching Vicente Fernandez

Categories: Film
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Several obituaries online for Ernest Borgnine, who died Sunday, mention that the 95-year-old, Oscar-winning actor's last film was The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez.

But appearing in writer-director Elia Petridis' dramedy, which earned Borgnine a Newport Beach Film Festival best actor award in May, is not the half of it.

It is the whole if it.

As in, Borgnine appears in nearly every frame of the flick--and elevates each one. As I noted in an NBFF award of my own making, The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez is uneven, due mostly to a script and supporting acting unworthy of an actor of Borgnine's talent.

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The story: an elderly man (Borgnine), who never realized his dream of becoming a famous actor, finds "fame" among Latino nursing home workers caring for him after he reveals he once locked mitts with legendary Mexican singer-actor Vicente Fernandez.

The best scenes, leading to your humble reporter's Best Spaghetti Western Face-Off Award, had Borgnine going toe-to-toe with against another veteran actor, that 71-year-old whippersnapper Barry Corbin, who you may recall from the Coen Bros.' No Country for Old Men, TV's Northern Exposure or the new Charlie Sheen vehicle Anger Management.

Here's what I wrote at the time:

The quality of the film rises several notches in their scenes, which coupled with goofy spaghetti western cues, show that Petridis was at least on to something.

And the Other Newport Beach Film Fest Awards Go To ...

Yes, I had my problems with The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez--and was admittedly was drawn into the Lido Theatre by the title, not the expectation of another fine Ernie Borgnine performance. But to hear the actor tell it in accepting his festival award, he was obviously proud of the piece.

"I gotta tell you, he wrote me a letter that absolutely made me do it," said Borgnine, who, as the Los Angeles Times relates, passed credit to Petridis. "And it's so beautiful, so lovely . . . isn't it?"

Before he left us Sunday, Borgnine had been in more than 200 movies, including From Here to Eternity, The Poseidon Adventure and the most-excellent picture that won him the Academy Award, Marty. I still have burned into my memory the look on his lovelorn butcher's face when his new girlfriend tries unsuccessfully to explain to him she's not pretty.

Of course, former latchkey kids like yours truly first knew him best from ABC's McHale's Navy.

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