Thursday, May 16, 2013
'The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez:' Ernest (Borgnine) Goes to Shady Pines
The 2012 indie flick, which is newly available on DVD and VOD, "The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez" is most notable for being the last film that stars Ernest Borgnine. Although Borgnine's career included appearing in "From Here to Eternity" and winning an Oscar for his starring role in "Marty," he is best known for playing Lt. Commander Quintin McHale in the '60s military sitcom "McHale's Navy" and the awesome follow-up films the ORIGINAL "McHale's Navy" and "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force."
Borgnine's participation alone, this being his last film, and the respectable results of his efforts make this film worth owning if only to watch when you need a light Borgnine fix.
"Man" is a clever variation of the spaghetti Westerns of the '60s in which an earnest (pun intended) lone gunman defeats a gang of Old West malfeasors who are oppressing and terrorizing the local populace. In the case of "Man," Barry Corbin is a Maurice Minnifield type (Google it millenials) who has become the dictator of the second-tier Rancho Park convalescent home where he is a resident.
Like Shady Pines of "The Golden Girls" fame, the physical accommodations and care at Rancho Park are not so horrible, but corners are cut. No, Borgnine does not torch Rancho Park.
"Ugly Betty's" Tony Plana plays Dr. Dominguez who is in league with Corbin's Mr. Walker. Dominguez adds a telenovela element to the film by relentlessly and aggressively macing on 20-something nurse Solena. Dominguez's power over Solena extends beyond the power to terminate her employment to the threat of evicting her grandmother from the home.
Borgnine's Rex Page rides into town after a back injury that he sustains under very embarrassing circumstances requires a rehabilitation period. His back story is that he is a wannabe actor who allegedly was edged out for a role in a spaghetti Western that he constantly watches on a VHS tape. Not making it as an actor leads to Page becoming a local '70s era DJ.
Page's initial pain and his overall Archie Bunkeresque blue collar biases result in he and the latino nursing staff getting off on the wrong foot. Another telenovela element is introduced when thawing relations become very warm after said staff learns that Page once met (and shook the hand of) idolized Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez. Page entrances the staff and some of his fellow "guests" with stories of his encounter with Fernandez.
Personal significance regarding this plot point is that I once met (and shook the hand of) Borgnine's McHale co-star Gavin MacLoed.
The nice element of that encounter was that my intense chagrin immediately showed when I reflexively remarked that "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," in which MacLoed played Maury Slaughter, was much better series than "The Love Boat," in which MacLoed played Merrill Stubing. MacLoed just as immediately gave me a brilliantly white smile and stated "I know exactly what you mean."
Now back to our story. Having always envisioned himself as the hero of the spaghetti Western in which he did not get the role, Page soon takes on Walker and Dominguez on behalf of the nursing staff and the "guests." Rancho Park's day room plays the role of an Old West saloon for the showdowns; Walker drinks prune juice from a juice box, rather than high-proof rotgut from a dirty glass.
Perhaps the nicest element of this fable is that it provides a look at how McHale's life could have played out after he left the navy. Page married a good woman, had a daughter, and lived a relatively comfortable middle-class life. It is nice to think that things turned out alright for a beloved childhood favorite television character.
The entire decent and entertaining production, which has a few wonderfully surreal segments, has the feel of a higher-quality family-oriented Hallmark Channel movie; the plot and production values are similar, but the above-average story and performances regarding that genre do not prompt the incessant mocking that adds to the enjoyment of a typical film from that genre.
Anyone who would like to share thoughts regarding "Man" or Borgnine is encouraged to email me. Folks who wish to idolize me based on meeting MacLoed are also welcome to drop a line.