Welcome back to another week of BCB After Dark: your jazz, movies and baseball club for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We so hope that you had a Merry Christmas. It’s good to see you again. Come in and get warm. Let us take your hat and coat for you. We’ve still got a great table available near the front. No cover charge. Bring your own beverage.
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 what your favorite present was this past season and 47% of you said it was that magic moment when Javier Báez managed to “steal” first base. In second place was the surprise of Frank “The Tank” Schwindel, who got 22 percent. In third was the night that the Cubs scored six runs in the ninth inning to beat the Cardinals. That got 19 percent of the vote.
Major league baseball is still in a lockout for the time being. There’s no sign of any movement although there is no reason at this point for either side to try to settle. Things won’t get going until we get closer to Spring Training. Let’s all hope they do get going.
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. But you will miss out on all the fun.
To get us back in the swing of things, I’m just going to give you a track from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, because I know both of them are crowd pleasers. So here’s the Miles Davis Sextet live at Newport in 1958. The video doesn’t list the performers, but the Newport Festival recording lists Davis on trumpet, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, Coltrane on tenor sax, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.
Here’s Miles and Train playing “Bye Bye Blackbird,” the jazz standard written by Ray Henderson and Mort Dixon.
I’ve been writing about the oeuvre of director Ernst Lubitsch in these pages but until recently, I had never seen 1946’s Cluny Brown, Lubitsch’s final completed film. (He died of a heart attack the next year while shooting That Lady in Ermine.) The description of this film as the adventures of a young English woman who “doesn’t know her place” didn’t strike me as prime material for Lubitsch or anyone else, for that matter. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Cluny Brown, starring Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones, is an absolute delight. By managing to combine a comedy of manners, a sharp social satire and a romantic comedy, Cluny Brown won’t fail to bring a smile to the face of even the most curmudgeonly.
It’s hard for me to pick out much that this film could have done better. The script is witty and full of clever dialog, but it also skewers British class and gender hierarchies with the skill of a surgeon. Lubitsch keeps the story moving briskly and shoots the film mostly through medium shots, which keeps the focus on the interactions between the characters. The cast is uniformly excellent, playing ridiculous characters with all the seriousness of a ridiculous person who thinks they’re a serious person. For example, Sir Henry Carmel (Reginald Owen) dismisses Hitler as nothing more than a best-selling author who wrote an outdoors book entitled “My Camp.” Only the accents fail, as Jennifer Jones’s English accent comes and goes and Charles Boyer plays a Czech professor with an unexplained thick French accent.
Jennifer Jones stars as the titular Cluny Brown, an orphan raised by her plumber uncle and a girl who “doesn’t know her place,” according to said uncle. She’s sunny, innocent and eager to please those around her, even as she questions the silly social mores of England between the wars. For example, Cluny derives great pleasure from plumbing and she describes the experience she has fixing a clogged drained with as much sexual metaphor as one could get away with in a 1940s film. Everyone else thinks Cluny’s obsession with plumbing is indecent, especially for a girl, but Cluny is far too innocent to realize that she has a plumbing fetish or that there might be anything wrong with it.
Everyone is shocked by Cluny’s behavior, both by the way she violates gender norms by doing plumbing tasks and by the way she’s so obviously aroused by the whole thing. Everyone that is, except Adam Belinsky (Charles Boyer), a professor and refugee from Czechoslovakia who tells Cluny that if she prefers giving “squirrels to nuts” rather than “nuts to squirrels,” then who is anyone else to tell her differently?
Peter Lawford is also great is a supporting role as the young, clueless heir Andrew Carmel, except that he’s the only Englishman who realizes that Hitler is a threat to all of them. His solutions to Hitler leave much to be desired, however. Andrew is a man who talks a lot, does less and listens not at all.
Jones makes her comedic debut in this film after having won an Oscar for 1943’s The Song of Bernadette and she’s so terrific in this role that it’s shocking that she only made one more comedy afterwards.
The script, by Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt (who wrote the screenplay for Laura) sings. Charles Boyer’s Belinsky especially rips off several great lines, most of which go right over the heads of his English hosts. It also has that 30 Rock characteristic where the jokes come so fast that you’ll probably miss some of them the first time through. (They don’t talk quite that fast, however. They do have accents.)
The film mercilessly skewers the values of the English class system and the idea that anyone’s proper “place” is anywhere other than where they are happy. It also rips the idea of a gender hierarchy. The English are portrayed as a mostly kindly but generally clueless society, but the women are generally shown as being somewhat smarter and more capable than the men.
Cluny Brown is also just generally very funny. I can’t recommend it enough.
Spoilers for a 75-year old film to follow:
Hilary Ames is throwing a cocktail party for the “honourable” Betty Cream (Helen Walker) (who sits a horse well) and his sink is clogged up. As he’s frantically calling around for a plumber, the doorbell rings and in walks Adam Belinsky, a refugee from Czechoslovakia who is looking for the owner of the flat that Ames is subletting. Ames mistakes Belinsky for the plumber, but Belinsky artfully informs him he’s actually here to borrow £20 pounds so he can pay his rent.
The doorbell rings again and this time it’s the beautiful Cluny Brown. Ames and Belinsky don’t know what to make of Cluny until she informs them that Ames had called her uncle, a plumber, but that he wasn’t available and that she was here to do the job. Ames is aghast, but Belinsky asks him where is his sense of adventure? Let the girl try. The worst that could happen is that the place gets flooded and then he can cancel the party and drink all the alcohol by himself.
Cluny Brown immediately gets to work by rolling up her sleeves and taking off her stockings, much to the arousal of both men. And of course, Cluny is aroused by the act of working on the pipes. Belinsky is especially smitten with Cluny when he discovers what a free spirit she is.
Cluny clears the drain with a satisfying climax and the three of them celebrate with martinis before the party. That is, until Cluny’s uncle arrives to take her home. Uncle Arn is furious with Cluny, both for the plumbing and for drinking alone with two bachelors. He tells Cluny that she “doesn’t know her place” and vows to send her off to be a domestic servant.
Meanwhile, the cocktail party proceeds as planned and Belinsky decides to just take a nap in the bedroom. The young “honourable” Betty Cream (about whom no one fails to mention that “she sits a horse well”) is there with two suitors: John Frewen (Michael Dyne) and Andrew Carmel (Peter Lawford). Between the two of them lamenting over Betty repeatedly turning down both of their proposals for marriage, Andrew also tries to get everyone upset about the threat that Nazism poses to all of Europe. But when Betty asks him why he doesn’t do something about it if it’s so bad, Andrew says “I have. I have written a letter to The Times.” Andrew’s heart is in the right place, at least.
Anyway, the three of them stumble upon the sleeping Belinsky. Andrew recognizes him as the famous freedom fighter Adam Belisnky, who is no doubt on the run from Hitler’s assassins. Upon awaking, Belinsky tries to explain to Andrew that while he is a refugee from Nazism, he’s only a simple exile and not important enough for Nazi spies to track down in England and murder. But Andrew always interrupts him with offers of money and a place to stay, which is what Belinsky is looking for anyway. Andrew insists that Belinsky stay at his parents’ country estate.
As you might have guessed, Cluny is given a position as a junior maid for Andrew’s parents. Sir Henry and Lady Carmel initially mistake Cluny for a guest and treat her with tea and crumpets. When they discover that she’s actually the new maid, their demeanor changes immediately and while they don’t admonish her, they quickly excuse themselves and call for the butler to deal with her.
Cluny is a terrible maid who still doesn’t “know her place” but she keeps her job because as everyone keeps mentioning, it’s so hard to get a girl to come out to the country. Upon recognizing Professor Belinsky at dinner, she shouts “Nuts to squirrels!,” and drops the serving plate to the floor.
Belinsky is still smitten with the young Cluny, but aware of his status as a refugee and the difference in ages between the two of them, he gives Cluny her space. Cluny agrees and in her normal, eager-to-please state, tells Belinsky that “If you should ever seem romantic to me, don’t hesitate. Just kick me.”
Meanwhile, the local pharmacist, Mr. Wilson, has also taken an interest in Cluny. Mr. Wilson is a small-minded and petty man who takes great pride in his Englishness, in that he has never left this small rural town and that he’s earned a comfortable if boring and meagre bourgeois life as a chemist. He lives to please his judgmental mother, who never says anything. She only clears her throat in protest, which she does constantly.
Belinsky is upset by Mr. Wilson’s interest in Cluny, but he wants her to be happy and if Mr. Wilson can make her happy, then he’s willing to step aside. Cluny confides in him that Mr. Wilson is going to propose to her at his mother’s 65th birthday party. Except the proposal is interrupted by a clogged sink, which sends Cluny into ecstasy as she runs to unclog it. Her indecorum breaks up the party and causes Mr. Wilson to cancel the proposal.
There’s also a subplot here about Andrew returning home and Betty Cream (“who sits a horse well”) coming to visit as Lady Carmel tries to arrange a marriage between her son and Betty. But it’s Adam Belinsky’s (inappropriate) visit to her bedroom that finally drives Betty to accept Andrew’s proposal.
Belinsky doesn’t know that Cluny’s marriage to Mr. Wilson is off, so he decides to return to London rather than get in the way between the two. (Of course, Andrew assumes that Belinsky is just trying to stay ahead of Nazi assassins.) The Carmels are very upset about all of this, as Belinsky has become a beloved family friend during his stay. But Cluny is not around to say goodbye and Belinsky decides that it would be easier to leave without saying goodbye to his beloved Cluny.
But Cluny returns, finds out that he’s leaving and chases after Belinsky. When she arrives at the train station, she tells him about how she embarrassed herself and how the marriage proposal fell through. Belinsky tells Cluny to get on the train with him. He proposes marriage and he vows that he’ll build her a mansion with all the plumbing she wants. He’ll give up writing philosophy and write a best-selling murder mystery instead to make enough money to support her. (Cluny asks who gets murdered. “A rich man,” Belinsky responds. “Oh yes, sir. There’s no use in murdering a poor man.”)
The movie ends with the two of them married and in New York, admiring Belinsky’s best-seller in the window of a book store. Cluny is dressed in haute-couture and faints, indicating that she’s pregnant. The final shot is of Adam Belinsky’s best-selling sequel to pay for the baby.
Again, I really loved Cluny Brown and so did my wife. She doesn’t watch all these films with me, but she watched this one and she thought it was wonderful as well. Cluny Brown generally doesn’t get mentioned with the great Lubitsch films like Trouble in Paradise, The Shop Around the Corner, To Be or Not to Be and Ninotchka, but it should be.
The entire film seems to be available on YouTube, although I’m not in love with the quality of the print. If you hurry, you can still watch it on The Criterion Channel until the end of the month.
This seems to be a higher quality video transfer of the first ten minutes of Cluny Brown than the one I linked to above and it looks as if the entire film is available in ten parts, but I can’t vow that it’s all there. Unfortunately, they won’t let me embed it.
Here’s a scene where Cluny, Ames and Belinsky celebrate cleaning the drain. Cluny gets drunk and imagines she’s a cat.
Also, here are critics Molly Haskell and Farran Smith Nehme talking about the film.
Welcome back to everyone who skip the music and the movies.
Today I’m just going to ask you what present do you think the Cubs still need to get before next season starts. You may think the Cubs need more than one of these presents, but I’m asking which one you think the Cubs need the most.
I’m not asking for specific players tonight, just about specific roles.
What’s the biggest need when the lockout ends? Do you think the Cubs still need to add a starting pitcher? How about a closer or a set-up man? Maybe a shortstop? Or a power-hitting left-handed outfielder? Something else? Tell us in the comments.
The present the Cubs most need to still get is . . .
This poll is closed
Another starting pitcher
A left-handed hitting outfielder
Something else (leave in comments)
Thank you so much for stopping in. We hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and that you’ve gotten yourself warm. Please tip the waitstaff before you go. We’ll have someone bring your car around. Drive home safely and come back again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.