Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1953: Ernest Borgnine in From Here to Eternity

Ernest Borgnine did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Staff Sergeant James R. "Fatso" Judson in From Here to Eternity.

It seems everything was put in place by fate for Frank Sinatra to win his Oscar for his role as Private Maggio in this film. The first being by getting the role because Eli Wallach turned the role down (who surely would have been brilliant), and then the academy taking upon themselves to nominate a rather weak set of nominees to make sure nothing happened like having a performance that was too good to ignore. One wonders if the voters in some way were encouraged to ignore the likes of John Gielgud for example since his film was rather successful otherwise. This allowed a Sinatra victory even though he is not even the best supporting actor in the film. This is made most abundantly obvious by the fact that Sinatra shares more than a few scenes with the man, that man being Ernest Borgnine. There are several negative figures shown in the army, although shown more of to be jerks rather than anything else, Judson, who runs the stockade seems to be another sort of man altogether.

Ernest Borgnine is only in a few scenes, and even in these scenes his screen time is somewhat limited but Borgnine does not allow this to be a problem. His two earliest scenes are directly between Fatso and Maggio as they both purposefully get on each other nerves. Borgnine eats Sinatra alive in these scenes as he brings such menace in his portrayal of Fatso. Borgnine does not show Fatso outwardly aggressive yet he's more chilling by conveying the beast in the man just in that stare he gives Maggio. When Fatso threatens Maggio Borgnine does not show an empty threat but rather a sadistic guarantee that Fatso is certain he will get his satisfaction. Borgnine is fantastic as he makes Fatso such a sinister presence in his few moments on screen that he convinces of what Fatso is doing when not shown. There is not a second wasted in Borgnine's performance making an impact from even a few seconds. Borgnine best scene actually just might be when Maggio is brought to Fatso in the stockade.

Borgnine actually has only a couple of seconds to end that scene as Fatso sees that he has Maggio exactly wants him. Sinatra for some reason chooses to stare blankly at the screen in almost wonderment, not fear or more likely defiance in his face, failing to express what Maggio should be feeling. Borgnine on the other hand brings the most perfect vicious grin to Fatso's face and we know exactly the torture Fatso is planning without having to see it. Borgnine also deserves credit for being one of the actors who completely goes toe to toe with Montgomery Clift without ever being overshadowed. In their one scene together Borgnine proves a match for Clift. Their scene together is sensational as the two meet both having such a reserved intensity as the two suggest that two volcanoes are about to erupt. I especially love though that laugh Borgnine gives before he goes off with Clift portraying one again that above else Fatso loves the idea of the chance for violence.

Now I will note that this is a very short performance and he's not even like a one scene wonder since his role is spread very thinly across his few scenes. His role also technically is quite limited merely that of the evil guard who causes Maggio's downfall. I don't feel though this should be used to complain about Borgnine's performance as he goes above and beyond the duty (no pun intended) with the role of Fatso Judson. Although I certainly would not have minded a little more time given Borgnine here. Nevertheless in his sparse time Borgnine full realizes the sick nature of Judson and it feels as though his performance actually is that of a more substantial character. Not only that though Borgnine absolutely commands the screen for every moment of his performance. This is the definition of a great supporting performance because Borgnine manages to create a memorable and particularly effective character that adds a lot to the film while the character easily could have been just as forgettable as those Sergeants who hassle Prewitt.


Psifonian said...

You made the right choice, Tough Monkey.

Matt Mustin said...

He is very good here, but I don't know if I'd give him a 5.

Matt Mustin said...

Although I can't argue with anything in your review.

Michael McCarthy said...

Yeah I'm definitely not feeling a 5 here. I think he excelled with what he was given but there really was not enough to the role.

Anonymous said...

He was good but I liked him much less. He's better than Sinatra though, and I don't mind the 5.

Anonymous said...

He was great, such an underrated actor and his Oscar win was one of the most deserving in history.

Louis, what are your thoughts/ratings for:
Van Heflin in Act of Violence
James Cagney in Mister Roberts
George C. Scott in A Christmas Carol

Louis Morgan said...

I've given my thoughts on Heflin not that long ago.

Cagney - 3.5(I always found it odd how small Cagney's role in the film is despite being Cagney and technically having an important role. In his random appearances Cagney makes himself an enjoyable "villain" with his overly smug demeanor, and gives some funny reactions as well particularly the captain's response to hearing the explosion)

Scott - 4.5(Scott rivals Alistair Sim in the non-reformed Scrooge. Scott delivers well on the cold unusual menace of the character while handling it with a certain dry humor that adds nicely to his performance. Only he and Sim truly know how to say Humbug. He continues to be good in the most emotional moments of the visits and diverges nicely from Sim by showing Scrooge holding onto his ideas as long as he can. My only major problem with his performance is the finale of the transformation its not the true wonderment of Sim's portrayal, and frankly Scott goes a little too reserved on this side making the end result seem less profound and certainly makes it less powerful. He's not bad at all though and it's one of the best portrayals of Scrooge although not quite the best)