The Ernie Game
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 88 min
National Film Board of Canada,
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Ernie (Alexis Kanner) is released from a mental hospital and evicted from his apartment. Wandering down the street with his suitcase, he meets Donna (Judith Gault), a beautiful young woman who takes him home with her. She finds him attractive, in spite of his general sense of confusion, and the two begin to live together. At a party, Ernie meets a former girlfriend, Gail (Jackie Burroughs), and the two become involved again, even though Gail is aware of the dangers. But Ernie remains a loner and his imagined rejections drive him to fantastic schemes. In his frantic search for identity, he attempts car theft, armed robbery and assault, but always fails. He tries to kill himself by taking pills, but reaches out for help by phoning Donna and confiding in her.
Don Owen’s second feature was intended to be part of a series of National Film Board/CBC co-productions designed for initial television broadcast and later theatrical release (only one other was completed – Ron Kelly’s Waiting for Caroline, in 1967). Most critics found The Ernie Game either incomprehensible or a muddled failure, though Wendy Michener was a notable exception, calling it "a beautiful, funny, nutty movie." It was a total failure at the box office, despite having screened in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival and winning two Canadian Film Awards (for Best Feature Film and Director).
The Ernie Game remains, though, one of the most significant English Canadian films of the sixties. In retrospect, this is less perhaps for the Godardian influences and the innovative combination of direct cinema and fiction, than for Owen’s attempt to develop a style that would be both highly personal and yet totally open and ambiguous – a poetic approach that was later to become popular in Europe.