I won't lie. The first film in which I took notice of Ernest Borgnine was ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981). As the sadly deluded and slow-witted Cabbie he was wonderful and his character's death is one of the darker moments in the action filled finale of that film. Soon afterwards I had my life changed by the violent, meditative THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and then had my pulp story loving heart filled with joy by THE VIKINGS (1958). Ever since then I've known that Mr. Borgnine's name in the credits means at least one solid performance is going to be in the movie. I think the most recently made film in which I saw him was the excellent science fiction film GATTACA (1997) and he was typically great.
I guess as a genre fan I didn't get to see most of his more acclaimed work until I went far out of my comfort zone to seek them out. His Oscar winning role as MARTY (1955) was something I had to dig into the videostore shelves to see and, if it hadn't starred Ernest Borgnine, I might have never caught it at all- but I'm glad I did. And just last week I finally watched FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) where he plays a nasty stockade guard with a hate-on for Frank Sinatra's character. Strangely, I have to also admit I have never seen a single episode of McHale's Navy. Should I? And I ask this as someone that just saw him in DEADLY BLESSING (1981) and thought he was awesome!
I looked around for a scene that makes me think of this great actor when I hear his name but the moments in THE WILD BUNCH that came to mind involved several other of the great actors in that classic. This scene from THE VIKINGS is just Borgnine brilliance!