Ernest Borgnine Shook the Mind of a Man Watching Vicente Fernandez

Categories: Film
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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Dear Mr. Coker, thank you for the wonderful review of my film.  Having culled opinions from both sides of the isle, your thoughts on the piece have filled I and my team with a certainty that this film will be disputed, discussed, and anything but down the middle; which is the way Ernie would have wanted it.  It's a film full of strong, intended, modernist choices made by a group of artists that got together last summer around an icon to put their minds towards creating something different.  People leave the film sobbing, some don't get it.  Men respond to it in a certain way, women in another.  It is centered around a complex man and actor, whose only ambition was to entertain.  Your reposting of this article immediately after his death is being embraced by our camp as example of your class, which helps to ennunciate Ernie's.  Every great filmmaker, and every great film, has garnered reviews like yours at some point, so I thank you sincerely for being part of our journey.   With all due respect and humility,Elia Petridis

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