Underground Film Journal

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Full Film Online: Ernest Borgnine On The Bus

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 31, 2011

[vimeo 3894936 w=480&h=360]

Get a few lessons on how to live life to the fullest by watching Ernest Borgnine on the Bus, the incredibly true cross-country journey taken by the Oscar-winning actor back in 1995 and filmed by master documentary filmmaker Jeff Krulik. Yes, Ernie drives his own bus, but not just any bus. This is the Taj Mahal of buses! An extravagant 40-foot rolling condo with a cockpit that has more flashing lights and buttons than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Whether he’s drinking beer or petting parrots, Ernest Borgnine has a grand ol’ time wherever he goes — and so will you when you get on the bus with him!

This documentary was originally shot by Krulik as a pilot for a TV show that never got picked up. Back in ’95, cable networks hadn’t yet realized the ratings gold to be had in broadcasting TV series that followed celebrities around in their everyday lives. Now, what network doesn’t have a reality show starring a celebrity? That’s Jeff Krulik: Always ahead of his time!

Borgnine’s joie de vivre is absolutely infectious when you watch this documentary. However, two things really make this film stand out. One is watching Borgnine act like he’s the mayor no matter where he goes. He can’t get through a diner or a convenience store without shaking everybody’s hand, or patting them on the back or signing autographs. Second, his old Hollywood stories are classic, whether it’s an involved tale like taking a leak at the 1956 Academy Awards or an offhand comment about how he used to beg Lee Marvin not to smoke or how he and Charlton Heston had beer taps installed in their homes.

Ernest Borgnine drives his massive bus

The best story that Borgnine tells, though, is the one where when he was filming a Love Boat reunion with Shelley Winters, his former co-star in The Poseidon Adventure. The two actors had such an acrimonious relationship, all their close-ups had to be filmed without them being on the set at the same time. Then, Borgnine closes his anecdote with: “Shelley is a wonderful person, don’t get me wrong.”

Although Borgnine clearly enjoys hamming it up for the camera — his fake drunk walk is hysterical — the guy just can’t fake his everyman, good-ol’-boy charm. No wonder he’s been such a beloved Hollywood icon for so many years. When Borgnine walks into the room — or diner or convenience store — everybody just lights up like they know they’re going to have a good time even if all he does is say hi to them.

Last night, Borgnine won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, just about the highest honor he can receive from his peers. He seemed genuinely touched and honored. But, as much as Borgnine loves his profession, this documentary shows just how much he equally — if not more! — loves being out and about and hanging with everyday people. That Borgnine: He’s one of a kind!

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