Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the place to wind down and relax for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Welcome to the final night we’re open for the week. We’ve waived the cover charge for you. Please tell us if there is anything you need. Bring your own beverage. Make yourself at home. You’re probably home anyway.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
The Mesa Solar Sox lost to the Glendale Desert Dogs, 9-4 on Wednesday. I suppose that’s the only real baseball going on outside of the Latin American winter leagues. Nelson Velazquez was 0 for 3 with a walk. Luis Vazquez went 2 for 4 with a double. They were the only two Cubs who played in this game.
Last time, I asked you what you thought of the “K-Zone” box on TV Broadcasts and 61% of you want to keep it. Another 24% thought they should dump it (presumably for the reasons listed in this article I linked to yesterday) and the rest of you thought that it should only be used in replays.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. Feel free to skip to the baseball question at the end if you wish. You won’t hurt my feelings.
I’m kind of running late tonight, so I’m just going to introduce the jazz track for a man that needs no introduction. Here’s pianist Horace Silver, along with trumpeter Blue Mitchell, saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Roy Brooks doing “Filthy McNasty” live in NYC in May of 1961,
Because the Criterion Channel is rotating out many of the films by director Ernst Lubitsch at the end of November, I’ve been trying to catch up on them while I still have a chance. I’ve already written about To Be or Not to Be and The Shop Around the Corner in this space and thought both of them were excellent. So I had high expectations when I sat down to watch 1939’s Ninotchka, starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas. It was also written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, so that raised my expectations even more. But overall, I found Ninotchka to be a pretty good film, but not on the same level as the other two later Lubitsch films that I mentioned above.
Ninotchka started with a simple two-sentence pitch from Hungarian exile Melchoir Lengyel: “Russian girl goes to Paris. She has a great time.” M-G-M pretty much approved the film on that pitch and put Lengyel to work on a script and George Cukor was set to direct. But Cukor got pulled off the picture to go direct Gone with the Wind instead and Lubitsch got drafted to direct the picture instead. (Of course, Cukor would later get fired from Gone with the Wind.) Lubitsch agreed to make the movie on the condition that he could make The Shop Around the Corner next and that he could throw out the screenplay that Lengyel was working on and replace it with a new one written by Wilder and Brackett. Both of Lubitsch’s conditions were met.
The tag line for this film was “Garbo Laughs!”, which was both a play on the fact that this was the first comedy ever made starring one of the biggest stars in Hollywood of the past 15 years, as well as a take on the “Garbo Talks!” campaign that accompanied her first talkie ten years earlier. They had more issues finding someone for the male lead. Cary Grant was considered, but he was sadly unavailable. I think he would have been better. Melvyn Douglas isn’t bad in this film, but I never really bought in to the chemistry between him and Greta Garbo. (Despite Garbo claiming that “Chemically, we’re already quite sympathetic” at one point.) Garbo is terrific on her own, deadpanning her way through much of the film. But I never felt the two of them as a couple like I did James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner, for example.
Ninotchka starts with three Russian emissaries arriving in Paris before the war—and the film takes pains to say the film takes place before war that had broken out between the time the film finished shooting and when it showed up in the theaters. These three men have a collection of jewelry confiscated from the Grand Duchess Swana, a Russian noblewoman who fled the country during the Bolshevik Revolution. The three Russians plan to sell the jewelry in Paris and use the money to buy grain to feed the Russian people.
(Spoilers for an 82-year-old movie to follow) The three emissaries’ mission quickly goes awry when they end up staying in the Royal Suite at a swanky Paris hotel. The conflict between the three men’s Communist ideals and their desire to party in Paris is quickly resolved in favor of partying. But a Russian exile working as a waiter at the hotel hears of their plans to sell the jewels and quickly informs the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) that the jewels are in Paris. The Duchess is determined to get “her” jewels back, and her boyfriend, Count Léon (Douglas), comes up with a plan to get them back. Or at least tie the Bolsheviks up in court for so long that they’d cut a deal.
When the deal that the three men had to sell the jewels is interrupted by Léon claiming the jewels are stolen from the Duchess, they wire back to Moscow to inform them of the problem. Their superiors send Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, or “Ninotchka” for short, (Garbo) to fix the problem.
Ninotchka is a no-nonsense believer in Marxism and the socialist revolution. She sends the three men out to find a French law firm and to look up the applicable laws. She then announces that while she waits, she’s going to tour Paris in order to learn about France’s “technological achievements” that the Soviets could copy.
While waiting for a bus, she runs into Count Léon, who is immediately smitten with her. Without knowing who she is (other than she’s Russian), Léon tries to pick her up. She allows him to follow her around as she inspects Paris (she wants to know the technical specs of the Eiffel Tower, for example) because she thinks it’s important to understand what men of the West are like. Later she returns to his apartment because she admits she has that “chemical” attraction to him.
But just as they are about to kiss, Léon gets a phone call which reveals that the two of them are adversaries over the Grand Duchess’s jewels. She immediately ends the encounter, but Léon is still smitten with his “Ninotchka.” He follows her around the next day in order to run into her. (OK, he stalks her.) Ninotchka goes for lunch in a small working-man’s restaurant. (Where she orders raw beets and carrots, to which the owner replies “Madam. This is a restaurant, not a meadow.” That’s actually a pretty good joke.) Léon pretends that he just ran into her at the restaurant and then tries to get her to laugh by telling her a lot of dad jokes. Ninotchka never changes expression until Léon leans back too far in his chair and goes flying backwards into the next table. At the pratfall, Ninotchka breaks into a fit of uproarious laughter, as do all the “working men” in the restaurant. At first Léon is upset that everyone is laughing at his injury, but he quickly realizes that this fall has broken through to the object of his desire.
Léon and Ninotchka then start a romance in Paris, with Léon taking her to fancy restaurants and dressing her in evening gowns and fancy hats. They get kicked out of one restaurant when Ninotchka gets drunk and heads to the powder room, where she tries to start a socialist revolution among the attendants, much to the anger of the other ladies of high society Paris. But overall, Ninotchka starts to appreciate the ways of capitalism and the West and Count Léon starts reading Das Kapital and talking about man’s injustice to man.
Eventually, Grand Duchess Swana finds out about the tryst going on between her supposed boyfriend and Ninotchka and she comes up with a way to get Count Léon back. She meets with Ninotchka and tells her that she’ll drop all claims to the jewels and let the Russians sell them for grain as long as she’s on the next plane to Moscow, without saying goodbye to Léon. Otherwise, she’ll drag them out in court for years.
Ninotchka knows she has no choice and puts her country above love. Léon finds out what happened and tries to follow her back to Moscow, but the Soviets will not let him enter the country under any circumstances. He writes her letters, but they are all either returned by the authorities or censored to the point that only the address and his signature remain for Ninotchka to read.
Ninotchka returns to a small Russian apartment that she shares with two other women. She meets with her three Russian friends from Paris and they reminisce about the great time they had in Paris. But overall, Moscow is portrayed as poor and paranoid.
Months go by, and Ninotchka is summoned to her supervisor’s office. Her three friends, the three emissaries from Paris, had been sent to Constantinople on another mission. There, they decided once again to party rather than carry out their orders. Ninotchka is sent to Constantinople to bring them back and for all four of them to face punishment.
But when she gets to the Russian restaurant that the three men are running in Constantinople, who is there but Count Léon. He had manipulated the whole thing, saying that if he couldn’t get into the Soviet Union, he had to get her out. They all live happily ever after in Turkey, except for one gag at the end involving one of the Russian emissaries.
Ninotchka is the first in a long line of Hollywood films that portrayed Russians and Communists as dull, emotionless people dedicated to the party and the state. It also is one of the first films to really satirize the Soviet Union and the Stalinist terror. Ninotchka makes cracks like “The last mass trial was a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.” But the film also takes some shots at the old order as well, as when the Grand Duchess tells Ninotchka:
You’re quite right about the Cossacks. We made a great mistake when we let them use their whips. They had such reliable guns.
Yeah, the Grand Duchess Swana is awful. No wonder Léon left her for Ninotchka.
Overall, Lubitsch’s message (along with Wilder and Brackett) is to “Make love not war,” some 30 years before it became a slogan. It’s a message of peace and understanding between the Soviet Union and the democracies of the West, although they pretty clearly don’t extend that spirit of understanding to Nazi Germany, which is to be expected as both Lubitsch and Wilder were German exiles. But I don’t think it’s an accident that the two of them end up in Istanbul, a place which is neither Paris nor Moscow. Lubitsch is making a plea for understanding and compromise.
The film does have a lot of good moments. As I said, Garbo is pretty funny ripping off deadpan jokes without once changing her expression. But a lot of the jokes are kind of dated these days and refer to some pretty specific stuff about the Stalinist USSR and the world situation of the summer of 1939 that don’t translate quite as well today. Heck, you could argue it was already dated by November of 1939 when it was released. The film was also banned in the US after Pearl Harbor for fear of insulting our Russian allies.
Ninotchka is a good film and I’d recommend it. But I had really high expectations for it, considering the talent that made it, and I don’t think it quite lived up to them. The biggest problem for me was that I didn’t buy the chemistry between Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas, and that’s a big problem in a romantic comedy. But Garbo is terrific anyway and Douglas isn’t bad at all. The script has a lot of Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett zingers in it that will get a laugh out of most audiences.
Here’s the scene where NInotchka arrives in Paris. It’s a good example of the dry humor throughout this film from Garbo.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
We’ve all read the comment by Cubs team president Jed Hoyer that the Cubs are going to spend “intelligently” this winter. We’re also all trying to figure out what that means. I guess we got a sense of that when the Cubs picked up Wade Miley on a waiver claim, but is that all that Hoyer meant?
Patrick Mooney wrote a little about the Cubs plans in an article for The Athletic (sub. req., of course.) but even that was a little cryptic other than saying that the Cubs wouldn’t sign any free agent with a qualifying offer attached, because they don’t want to lose the draft pick. So that rules out Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, etc., except as Hoyer notes, we don’t even know that there will be qualifying offers in the next CBA. After the coming labor war, the qualifying offers might all be rescinded for all we know.
But that still leaves a lot of talent in the market, as well as a lot of players who weren’t eligible for a qualifying offer, such as all the former Cubs stars dealt at the deadline.
So how “Intelligent” do you think Hoyer will go this winter? In order to gauge that, I’m going to ask you to pick the total contract value of the biggest free agent contract that the Cubs will hand out this winter. If you think the biggest contract they will hand out will be over $90 million total, that means you think the Cubs are going to sign one of the players who got a qualifying offer or they are going to bring Kris Bryant back. Or someone like Bryant who wasn’t eligible to get a qualifying offer. Maybe Marcus Stroman gets a big deal.
If you think the biggest overall contract will be in the $60 to $90 million range, then you think the Cubs will try to sign someone like Jon Gray or Carlos Rodón to a three- or four-year deal.
If you think the Cubs’ biggest contract offer this year is in the $30 to $60 million range, then you think they’re going to bring back someone like Anthony Rizzo or Javier Báez on a two-year deal. Or maybe the guys in the $60-90 million category on a two-year deal. Seems unlikely, but possible.
If you think the Cubs won’t sign anyone for a contract over $30 million, you think they’re going to be looking at role-players, relievers and back-end starters on one- our two-year deals.
So what do you think the total contract value of the highest free agent contract the Cubs will sign this winter?
What will be the total value of the largest free agent contract the Cubs will sign this winter?
This poll is closed
Over $90 million
Between $60 and $90 million
Between $30 and $60 million
Under $30 million
Thanks again for stopping by. I hope you had a good time. We’ll have someone get your hat and coat. Be sure to tip your waitstaff. We hope to see you again next week with another edition of BCB After Dark.