I join Aaron in paying tribute to Ernest Borgnine, dead over the weekend at 95. I add this: I think one of the most underrated acting jobs in history was the job he did as the cop, Rogo, in The Poseidon Adventure. Say what you will about the movie as a whole (I think it was superb, most film snobs think it was ridiculous), the acting of Borgnine, Gene Hackman, and Shelley Winters was first-rate. Adtually, while Winters got most of the plaudits when it came out, I always thought her role was one of the easier ones. Borgnine had to be more “on the edge,” more nuanced, deeper, because he had to walk the line between likeable and dislikeable, a lovable blowhard, a tough guy with a heart of gold, a tremendously flawed semi-hero. I thought he pulled it all off terrifically well. The first two minutes of this clip, involving his wife Linda right as the movie’s climax approaches, is acting at its best: believable, fully in character, raw.
Most people don’t realize it, but The Poseidon Adventure was deliberately designed with a Biblical allegory as subtext. (I could cite, ahh, well, chapter and verse, so to speak, to show what I mean, but it would take too long and is mostly beside the point of this blog post.) Hackman’s renegade preacher, of course, was the Christ figure. And, notice the name of Borgnine’s character: Rogo. Ignore the Latin root, which means “to ask.” As a homonym, it’s closest kin is “rock.” Borgnine is the story’s rock, its cephas — its Peter. And that’s exactly the role Borgnine plays — like Peter, often pulling in the wrong direction, often misunderstanding, often getting in the way, but still chosen to be the gatekeeper to ultimate redemption.
Of course, one of the criticisms of The Poseidon Adventure was that it was so full of clichés, and this Biblical allegory approach is of course one of the most common clichés around. Still, let’s forget the movie criticism, but just focus on how well Borgnine carried it off. It was an extraordinary performance, in an extraordinary career. R.I.P. And in joy.