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BCB After Dark: How long will it be?

The hip spot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks you how long will it be before the Cubs make the playoffs again.

Chicago Cubs vs Los Angeles Dodgers, 2017 National League Championship Series Set Number: X161473 TK2

It’s another week of shows at BCB After Dark: the gathering spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Please come in out of the cold. Let us take your hat and coat. There’s no cover charge tonight. We’ve saved you a prime table. Bring your own beverage and relax.

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.

Last week, I asked you which free agent pitcher, with all other things being equal, would you most want to be on the Cubs? I don’t know what the results would have been last month and I wish I would have asked back then. But today, you seem to have fallen in love with the newest Cubs pitcher as Marcus Stroman won the vote with 42 percent. That beats out even Max Scherzer, who finished in second with 29 percent. Robbie Ray was third with 23 percent and only seven percent of you picked Kevin Gausman.

We’re still in a lockout. There’s still a lot of time before we’re in danger of losing games.

Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Tonight is a swingin’ Christmas tune from the 1961 album by the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Sounds of Christmas. This is “Here Comes Santa Claus” and I’m pretty sure that you’ve never heard that song groove like it does here. So with Eldee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums, here’s pianist Ramsey Lewis’s take on “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

I’ve watched a few classic films over the past week, including the classic 1945 film by Roberto Rossellini, Rome, Open City. But I’m going to hold off on writing on that one until I get a chance to see the next two films in Rosellini’s “Neorealist Trilogy”: Paisan and Germany, Year Zero.

So instead I’m going to delve into Caged, a 1950 film noir directed by John Cromwell. I expected this film to be a kind of cheap, exploitative “women behind bars” film that would be entertaining mostly for its camp value. But I was quite surprised to discover that it’s actually an activist message movie that advocates for not just the rights, but the basic humanity of women in prison. Oh, and it’s also a titillating movie about bad girls who get into fights and tear each others’ clothes and are punished by the cruel prison matron. It’s not all high art. They had to stick some scandalous camp in there to pump up the box office.

Way back in 1932, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang was not only a commercial success, it also caused a political scandal by calling attention the the living conditions of prisoners in the Deep South. It led to a series of prison reforms (such as the end to “convict leasing,” which was slavery in all but name.) and also the release of several inmates who had been trapped in the penal system with long sentences for fairly minor crimes.

Screenwriter Virginia Kellogg wanted to write a similar film and make a similar impact, only she wanted to highlight the injustices of the women’s correctional system. She reportedly even got herself locked up (undercover) to research her story, which she eventually published in a short story called “Women Without Men” along with her writing partner Bernard C. Schoenfield. The two of them then turned the story into the screenplay for Caged and sold it to Warner Brothers.

Caged is the story of Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker), a 19-year-old woman sentenced to 1-to-15 years for being an accessory to armed robbery. Allen was riding along with her husband when he stopped at a gas station. His stickup went awry and he was killed by the police. Marie, now a widow who is two months pregnant. was convicted for her part and sentenced to hard time.

This film has all the clichés of a “women-behind-bars” film, although in fairness to the movie, it pretty much created all those troupes. There’s a sadistic matron who abuses the inmates. There’s a hardened criminal, in for murder, who has connections with the outside and who runs her wing of the prison through intimidation and through bribes to the corrupt matron. There are prison riots and stabbings and women who just can’t take it. There are also a lot of bedtime scenes where all the women, especially the young and pretty Marie, wear nothing but a nightgown.

But for a film in 1950 and for a film that is interested in having some sex appeal, this is a surprisingly feminist movie. For one, the cast is almost all female. Almost all the women ended up in prison because they trusted a man in their life, usually a husband. The kind female warden constantly argues that these women deserve some basic human dignity and when a parole board argues that inmates can’t be let out because they don’t have a man to take care of then, the warden argues that the women are mature enough to take care of themselves.

That feminism, unfortunately, doesn’t extend to lesbians or women of color. While the sadistic matron brags of a “boyfriend” to the inmates, we don’t actually see him in the film and she would certainly come across to any mid-century audience as homosexual. The same goes for the leader of the inmates, although her portrait is more nuanced than just cruel. Using the code for lesbianism that filmmakers would have to use to get around the censors, one inmate tells Marie that “If you stay in here too long, you don’t think of guys at all. You just get out of the habit.” That’s ambiguous enough to get past the Hays Office, but clear enough to anyone who knows what she’s talking about. Although the film doesn’t portray that comment as bad or evil, the implication is that the cruel conditions of prison drive good girls to lesbianism. So yeah, the progressivism only goes so far.

Same goes for the conditions of inmates of color. Everyone in this film is white. I imagine that was more of a tactical move than anything else. Since the film is designed to engender sympathy for imprisoned women, the filmmakers naturally (and probably correctly) assumed that the American public might not feel so sympathetic to the plight of locked-up Black women.

Initially, Marie (or she’s usually forced to refer to herself in the film as “Allen, Marie”) is as innocent as they come. She doesn’t understand prison or legal jargon and she’s very worried what’s going to happen to her baby. After she’s processed, she meets with the kind, reformist warden, Ruth Benton, who is played by the magnificent Agnes Moorehead, even if she’s a bit underutilized here. Ruth truly cares about her inmates and advises Marie that if she keeps out of trouble, she’ll probably make parole in ten months, considering this is her first offense. Ruth also assigns Marie to the laundry, which is considered light work that’s fitting for a pregnant woman.

Spoilers for a 71-year-old movie to follow.

Upon reporting for work, the matron, Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson) ignores the request for Marie to work in the laundry and tells her to start scrubbing floors. Or at least she ignores it once she realizes that Marie has no money for bribes. Marie protests at first, but the threat of punishment gets her to back down and start scrubbing.

Marie’s backtalk to Harper impresses Kitty Stark (Betty Grande), the large, intimidating woman who leads the cellblock with the help of her gang and contacts on the outside. Kitty offers to get Marie hooked up with her shoplifting ring when she gets paroled, Marie says no thanks. She wants to live on the right side of the law when she gets out.

But another inmate, an old woman doing life for murder, decides to get even with Harper by informing the warden that the matron disregarded her laundry request, which permanently puts Marie on the matron’s bad list.

A constant struggle in this film is between the reformist warden and the cruel matron, who says the women need to kept in line with a beating from a rubber hose. Benton, the warden, is constantly trying to fire Harper, but she’s protected by political connections to men who are much more powerful than Warden Benton.

There are a series of events showing the cruelty of life in prison, and I’m not going to go into them all. Women, including Marie, are denied parole for flimsy reasons and that sends them into despair and worse. But a big turning point comes when Elvira Powell (Lee Patrick), the so-called “Vice Queen,” gets sentenced to the same cell block. Elvira is much more powerful and richer than Kitty is, and Harper takes great relish in informing Kitty than she’s no longer going to run the block and that she’s no longer going to accept her bribes. Elvira also dislikes Kitty, whom she sees as a small-time crook who infringes upon her large crime empire on the outside. Elvira sees to it that Kitty gets a week in solitary confinement, along with regular beatings, to see to it that Kitty learns her place.

The other event is that Marie finds a kitten that had snuck into the grounds and tries to keep it against prison rules. Eventually Harper finds the cat and when she tries to take it away, the inmates riot. During the riot, the kitten is killed and a bit of Marie’s soul dies with it. She’s also given three days in solitary, replacing Kitty. Harper additionally decides to teach Marie a lesson by shaving off all of her hair before she goes into solitary, which is against the rules of the prison, but Harper doesn’t care.

When Kitty emerges from a week in solitary, she’s a zombie. Her entire personality is gone. Elvira tries to apologize to her, saying she didn’t realize that her treatment would be that awful, but Kitty can no longer process what is being said to her. Harper continues to verbally abuse Kitty in the cafeteria and when Harper turns her head to deal with another inmate, Kitty grabs a fork and repeatedly stabs Harper to death. Our once-innocent Marie, also out of solitary by this point, cheers on the murder.

The last we hear of Kitty is that she’s been sent to death row for killing the matron.

Marie, who earlier in the film spurned Kitty’s offer to join her shoplifting ring, now goes to Elvira and offers her services. The next time Marie is up for parole, Elvira has used her connections to make sure that Marie’s parole is granted.

Warden Benton is distraught. She tries to talk to Marie and says that she could still have a good, honest life. Marie coldly responds “What good has that done me?” Marie leaves the prison and gets in a limo with several of Elvira’s male gangsters. Warden Benson is asked by her secretary what she should do with Marie’s file. “Leave it open,” she sadly says. “She’ll be back.”

End Spoilers

So the basic point of Caged is that the current women’s penal system takes good, kind women who made a mistake because they trusted the wrong man and turns them into hardened criminals. Maybe I should have led with that. A lot of people would say that nothing has changed since 1950.

This is a very unusual film because it shares DNA with both the kind of agitprop films like I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang and the tawdry women-behind-bars exploitation flicks that would follow in its wake. Caged wasn’t the first film about women in prison, but it was the first one to really try to show a somewhat realistic portrait of it. It was also the first one that tried to say that something needed to be done about it. Of course, it was also the first one to show women in prison fighting with each other and tearing each other’s clothes, although a film in 1950 could not show all that much.

The film was quite well-received when it came out and it wasn’t treated like a trashy movie, despite the trashy title and marketing behind it. Eleanor Parker got her first of three Oscar nomination for Best Actress for this movie and Hope Emerson got a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the cruel matron Harper. Emerson’s portrait of the villain is fine as far as it goes, but it’s pretty one-dimensional and Louise Fletcher would do a lot more with a similar part in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 25 years later. Nurse Ratchet was far, far more subtle in her cruelty, for example.

But Parker is really good in her transformation from an innocent girl to a hardened criminal by the end of the film. And you have to get director John Cromwell (the father of actor James Cromwell) a lot of credit for keeping the action going. He also makes effective use of shadow and darkness that you expect in a good noir.

Here’s the trailer for Caged, which gives you a good sense of both the film and the marketing behind it. There are also some scenes on YouTube, but I felt they were too spoiler-y and I wanted to show something that people who avoid the spoilers could watch.

Today’s question is a simple one that asks how you feel about the Cubs’ “rebuild” or “retool” or whatever you want to call it. The question is “When will the Cubs make the playoffs again?”

Of course, nothing could be as simple as that for the mere fact that we don’t know how many teams will make the playoffs in 2022 and beyond. One of the owners biggest demands in the labor negotiations is for an expanded playoff season, which makes sense because that’s where they make most of their money and where the players make the least amount of money. Of course, there’s always the argument that more playoff teams will only serve to cheapen the regular season.

When I was growing up, the Cubs went from 1946 to 1983 without playing meaningful baseball after the regular season. I wasn’t alive for most of that—I mainly caught the tail end of the drought. And for much of that time, only two teams played after the regular season ended. Then it became four teams and then eight teams and then ten teams. Now MLB wants 14 teams to make the playoffs.

But back to the point at hand. the Cubs have made the playoffs in five of the past seven seasons. But last season was also the first season since 2014 that the Cubs finished with a losing record.

So will the Cubs bounce back and make the playoffs in 2022? Or is going to take longer than that? How much longer?


When will the Cubs next make the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    (23 votes)
  • 29%
    (38 votes)
  • 37%
    (48 votes)
  • 14%
    2025 or beyond
    (18 votes)
127 votes total Vote Now

Thanks so much for stopping by tonight. Be sure to bundle up on the way home. We’ll call you a ride if you need it. Tip your waitstaff. And please return again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.