‘You Don’t Want To Walk Around Down There, Snake!’

I was sad to hear that veteran character actor Ernest Borgnine died. He was 95 and was an actor with an impressive and wide-ranging filmography. He was one of those actors who had a face and a voice most people would recognise. He had worked across many different genres – serious drama, wartime adventures, science fiction and even children’s animation - and had starred in some truly genre-defining movies. This skill and range was recognised in 1955 when he won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1955.

I loved watching him in war movies, westerns and disaster flicks from the 1970s that were on the television when I was kid. He often played harsh characters with a hidden,
tender side but his most memorable feature was that almost ear-to-ear grin he put to good work in his roles. I remember him most for his science fiction roles (unsurprisingly). I enjoyed him as journalist Harry Booth on board the USS Palomino, in Disney’s The Black Hole and I spent many a Saturday afternoon watching him as Dominic Santini - flight engineer on the high-tech military helicopter Airwolf.

My favourite Ernest Borgnine role, without a doubt, is Cabbie from Escape from New York. In the film - by science fiction and horror director John Carpenter – Manhatten Island has been turned into a maximum security prison servicing the United States, with security operating from Liberty Island. When Air Force One crash lands on the island with the President on board, war hero and bank robber Snake Plissken (a brilliant Kurt Russell) is offered a deal upon entry to the prison island: get the President out and he will be awarded a presidential pardon. Snake meets a plethora of colourful characters in the city hellhole, including Brain (science fiction stalwart, Harry Dean Stanton) and the President himself (Donald Pleasance – no introduction needed). Ernest Borgnine plays Cabbie, who spends his days ferrying criminals about the dilapidated metropolis in a rusty, yellow New York cab. He saves Snake on several occasions, rolling up in his beat-up taxi just as things get hairy. For me, his most memorable line is: ‘You Don’t Want To Walk Around Down There, Snake!’

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