Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the evening spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We hope you all had a great weekend and we’re so glad to see you join us again. There’s no cover charge tonight. Please let us take your hat and coat. The hostess has saved a prime table for you. I hope you brought 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.
Baseball is still locked out. I think we’ll be saying that for a few months at least.
Last time, which was just an hour and a half after the lockdown took place, I asked you about the Cubs new signing, Marcus Stroman. I was curious about it because the poll question from a week earlier was whether or not the Cubs should sign Marcus Stroman, and it made me curious whether the numbers would change now that he was actually a Cub.
Boy, did they. When I asked on November 24 whether the Cubs should sign Stroman, 75 percent of you thought it was a good idea and 12 percent of you thought it was a bad idea. That’s a healthy majority, but certainly not unanimity. But now after the signing happened, 96 percent of you gave it a big “Yay!” and a thumbs up. Only one percent (one vote rounded up) thought it was a bad idea with four percent in the “meh” category.
I can see three possible reasons for that change in the voting. The first, and the one that I think is the most unlikely, is that the people who were against signing Stroman were so against it that they’re boycotting the Cubs and the site. The second reason is that people got so caught up in the excitement of a signing that they changed their mind on Stroman. The third possible reason, and the one I consider most likely, is that some people voted “Nay!” in the first poll because they didn’t think Stroman was worth the contract that they thought he’d get, but once they saw the terms they were on-board with the signing.
Anyway, if there is anyone who changed their mind on Stroman and would like to share their reasoning, please do so in the comments.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip to the baseball question at the end if you’d like. You won’t hurt my feelings.
We’ve got more bad news for Christmas music haters because today’s jazz track is another classic of the holiday jazz genre, The Modern Jazz Quartet’s version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” This song was a standard in The MJQ’s catalog. They played it all year ‘round and not just at Christmastime. If you listen to it, you’ll understand why they didn’t want to limit themselves to performing it at the end of the year.
So with John Lewis on piano, Milt Jackson on vibes, Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums, here’s a live performance of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” from Cologne, Germany in 1957.
Tonight’s movie is another one from The Criterion Channel’s “Fox Noir” collection. It’s 1953’s Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotton and Jean Peters and directed by Henry Hathaway. The film is notable for being a rare noir shot in Technicolor and for being the first film in which Monroe got top billing. It’s a pretty strong movie, thanks in part to producer and co-writer Charles Brackett, strong acting performances and Hitchcock-esque direction from director Henry Hathaway. Also, if you want to watch a travelogue about visiting Niagara Falls in the early-1950s, then this film has you covered as well.
Charles Brackett was arguably one-half of the top screenwriting pair of the 1940s. He was the McCartney to Billy Wilder’s Lennon. Or maybe he was the Lennon to Wilder’s McCartney. I’m not really sure. Or maybe after I “trashed” the Beatles last time, I should just keep my Beatles metaphors to myself. In any case, Brackett was one of the best writers of his era. He won three Academy Awards for The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard and Titanic (the 1953 one). He also co-wrote Double Indemnity and Ninotchka, both of which I’ve written about here.
Brackett and Wilder broke up in 1950, and both were writing and producing films on their own by 1953. (Wilder was directing as well, of course.) Brackett had wanted to do a film set at Niagara Falls, and along with his co-writers on this film, Richard L. Breen and Walter Reisch, the three of them hammered out a murder story. That was something that Brackett had a lot of experience with.
The film would be shot in three-strip Technicolor, because the Falls would be just as much of a star as the actors. Director Hathaway does a great job capturing the beauty of Niagara in this film. They went with a heavily-saturated look and the colors just pop. The first ten minutes of this film might as well be a travelogue with glorious nature shots of the Falls. Hathaway returns to the beauty of the area at several times later in the film and the climax takes place right on the Falls themselves.
Marilyn Monroe went from being a supporting player of girlfriends and prostitutes to a major sex symbol in 1952. Monroe was on the cover of all the magazines by the end of the year, thanks in part to the release of nude photos that she had taken in 1949. Monroe got past the public disapproval of such things by telling the truth and saying “I did it because I was broke.” That was a PR strategy devised by Fox. The public accepted her explanation and she became a big star in part because of it.
In any case, Fox had the biggest star on the planet under contract for the wages of a bit supporting player, and they wanted to take advantage of that. So studio head Daryl Zanuck looked at the film that Brackett was making and said he wanted Monroe to star in it. He also said that rather than Monroe playing the hero, that she was perfect for the villain.
That caused Brackett some problems, because the “good girl” part of Polly was bigger than the villainous Rose. So they had to do some re-writes to add material for Monroe. Polly, played by Jean Peters, is still the bigger role and she’s the main protagonist for the plot. But Monroe did get some meaty scenes to play.
The other problem turned out to not be a problem at all. Brackett was concerned that a star as big as Monroe was becoming would want the more heroic role of Polly. As it turned out, Monroe was thrilled to play the femme fatale of Rose.
And certainly, Niagara Falls was not the only piece of beautiful scenery in this movie. Hathaway made sure that there were a lot of shots of Marilyn Monroe, some of which linger on her for an uncomfortably long time. The first time we see Rose (Monroe), she’s getting out of bed wearing nothing but a slip. Later, she takes a shower and we can see her naked outline behind the translucent shower curtain. One scene has Monroe in a tight dress and as she sashays away, the camera shoots her from behind as we stare at her as she walks off into the distance.
In fact, if you like to watch Marilyn Monroe walk, this is the film for you. There’s another scene where Rose is being chased by her husband George (Joseph Cotton) that they say is the longest scene of anyone walking in film history. I have no idea if that’s accurate or not, but it’s what people say. At least it’s what the studio said.
The film starts with Polly (Peters) and Ray Cutler (Max Showalter, although he’s credited as Casey Adams) going on a belated honeymoon to Niagara Falls. Because, of course, it’s got to be a honeymoon at Niagara Falls. But when they get to their cabin, they find that it is still occupied by another couple, George and Rose Loomis (Cotton and Monroe) who haven’t moved out yet.
Spoilers for a 68-year old movie to follow:
The Cutlers and the Loomises immediately stand in contrast to each other. The Cutlers are a young “good” couple who are very much in love. Ray is a social-climbing cereal company executive whose main two characteristics are that he wants to suck up to the boss and that he gets really excited by breakfast cereal.
The Loomises, on the other hand, are a troubled couple. Rose Loomis begs to be allowed to stay in the cabin that the Cutlers were supposed to move in to, explaining that her husband was not in good shape and that he’d spent time in a military psych ward. The Cutlers, being the good people they are, let the Loomises stay in their cabin.
The next day, Polly and Ray take a tour of Niagara Falls, where Polly spots Rose making out with another man. Polly takes note of this, but minds her own business.
Rose and George are clearly a mismatched couple. Rose goes out to a party in the common area with the other campers wearing a very sultry pink dress. She asks to play a certain record and it immediately becomes clear that her husband does not want to hear that song. He bursts out of the cabin, smashes the record and then returns to his cabin alone.
After Rose declines to see if her husband was all right, Polly goes in to take care of a cut that George got on his hand smashing the record. There George tells Polly that he’s a Korean War veteran who got sent home with “battle fatigue” (PTSD) and that Rose had been a barmaid that he fell in love with. He’s much older than Rose and the two of them have very little in common.
Later, Rose sets it up with her clandestine lover to kill George and make it look like a suicide. It would be easy to push him off the falls and everyone has already seen that George is unstable. Her lover tells her that the bells at the Rainbow Tower will play “their song” (the same one that George smashed) when the deed is done.
The next day, Rose goes to the police, clearly distraught over her missing husband. Rose, like Monroe, is a pretty good actress. The Cutlers, who have befriended the Loomises by this point, try to comfort her. (Also, Ray kind of lecherously tries at times to get Polly to act a little more like Rose.) But when the tower bells play “her song,” she tells the Cutlers that she’ll be all right and walks away. (This is one of the several “Monroe walks” scenes.)
The police find George’s shoes at the entrance to the place where you enter the tunnel that goes behind the falls. He never picked them up. Later that day, they find a body in the river beneath the falls. Rose is taken to the morgue to identify the body. When the sheet is lifted, she immediately faints.
The Cutlers now go into the Loomis’s old cabin, since they don’t need it anymore. Polly takes a nap when she’s awoken by still-living George entering the cabin, thinking that it’s still Rose’s cabin. Polly screams and tells everyone that George is still alive, but her dimwitted husband tells her she was just dreaming.
The next day, the Cutlers go walking on the wooden steps on another tour of the Falls. Polly gets separated from the group and she’s confronted by George. Polly tries to run away from George (as much as she can on wet, wooden steps), but eventually George catches her and begs her not to tell everyone that he’s alive. It was Rose’s lover that she saw in the morgue, which is why she fainted. When he tried to kill George, George pushed him off the Falls instead. It was self-defense, but George sees this as a way to fake his own death and start a new life.
Polly doesn’t keep George’s secret and soon there is a police dragnet out for George. Rose comes out of her stupor in the hospital and tries to make a run for it. George finds her and chases her, and this leads to the long “walk” where Rose is trying to escape George. Eventually she breaks in to the closed Rainbow Tower (Really? You run from someone trying to kill you into someplace that is dark and empty?) but George eventually catches up to her and strangles his wife to death.
George is now on the run and is desperately trying to get across the border and back into the US before the police track him down. Meanwhile, Polly and Ray are taking a boat trip with an executive from Ray’s cereal company (Don Wilson from “The Jack Benny Show”) and his wife, who have joined the Cutlers on their vacation. When they stop to get gas, they all get out and George sneaks in. He tries to hot-wire the boat. Polly is the first one to return and George takes her hostage as he gets the boat going. Of course, the boat runs out of gas before they can get to Buffalo, so now they are in danger of going over the Falls and to their deaths. The shore patrol tries to rescue them, but George and Polly have too much of a head start. Eventually, George manages to maneuver the boat to a rock that stands just before the falls. He gets Polly on the rock, where she is eventually rescued, and then takes the boat over the Falls and to his own death.
While Marilyn Monroe gets top billing in this film, the protagonist is really Jean Peters’ Polly. Peters was a pretty talented actress who was a regular in crime dramas and Westerns for Fox in this time period. But Peters never really liked the limelight and quit acting in 1957 when she married the most reclusive man in the world—Howard Hughes. (Although Hughes wasn’t quite so reclusive when they were married.)
Peters really has the best lines in the film. When her husband asks her why she doesn’t wear a dress like Monroe’s Rose is wearing, she snaps back “Listen, for a dress like that you’ve got to start laying plans when you’re about thirteen.” (My wife laughed hard at that one.) When she catches Rose with her lover near the Falls, she asks Ray “Didn’t Mrs. Loomis say she was going to go shopping?” When Ray agrees with that, Polly shoots back “Well, she sure got herself an armful of groceries.” In a film with Monroe and Joseph Cotton in it, it would be easy to overlook Jean Peters. But one shouldn’t, because she’s terrific as the “good” wife.
But while Polly is the protagonist with the most screen time, the “stars” of the film are Monroe and Niagara Falls. The film had to be shot in Technicolor to highlight the beauty of its twin stars. Jean Peters was a beautiful woman, but the film puts her in mostly neutral colors and demure makeup to allow Monroe to really pop in pink dresses and blood-red lipstick.
Joseph Cotton was always a terrific actor and he plays a man driven to insanity by PTSD and an unfaithful wife well. Ray Cutler was probably the biggest-profile role of Max Showalter’s career, but he had a long, long career as a character actor. His final film appearance was as Grandpa Fred in Sixteen Candles in 1984. He does a good job as an ambitious executive who adds just a bit of a lecherous touch in the way he tries to get his “good girl” wife to sex it up a bit.
The plot is pretty standard noir fare, but Brackett was great at writing dialog, as noted from those two examples from Polly earlier. The acting performances are terrific. Director Henry Hathaway kind of had a reputation as a poor-man’s Hitchcock, and he does use some techniques and the kinds of shots that would not be out of place in a Hitchcock film. In fact, the scene at the Rainbow Tower could have come right out of the subsequent Vertigo, so maybe Hitchcock borrowed from Hathaway too. Hathaway also manages to use color effectively and even ominously, which means the film can still be rightly considered noir despite not being in black-and-white.
All-in-all, I very much enjoyed Niagara both for the performances and the beautiful shots of Niagara Falls. Jean Peters gets wet a lot, and the scene where Joseph Cotton is chasing her on the wet wooden stairs is an especially good one. So anyone who wants to see a good noir in color should watch this as well as anyone who is a Marilyn Monroe fan.
Here’s the scene where Rose plays the record that drives George crazy:
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and the movies.
Because baseball is completely locked out and there isn’t much news, I’m going to try something different tonight. I’m going to ask you a question related to tonight’s movie. Don’t worry, you don’t have to have read the essay to answer the poll question.
The film I wrote about tonight was Niagara from 1953. Now 1953 was a pretty big year in the history of the Chicago Cubs, because that was the year the team finally integrated with Ernie Banks, and later Gene Baker.
So I’m going to ask you who your favorite Cubs player on the 1953 team is other than Ernie Banks. For obvious reasons I’m excluding Mr. Cub—he’d get about 99% of the vote and the other votes would come from Hank Sauer’s grandkids.
The Cubs went 65-89 in 1953 and finished in seventh place out of eight. That was a big reason the Cubs finally decided to integrate. Phil Cavaretta was the player/manager.
So who is your favorite member of the 1953 Cubs other than Mr. Cub? Some of these guys only played a few games for the Cubs that year, but they may be your favorite for things they did in other seasons, or even for other teams.
Other than Ernie Banks, who is your favorite Cubs player on the 1953 team?
This poll is closed
Roy Smalley Sr.
Someone else (leave in comments)
Thank you again so much for stopping by. I’ll have someone get your hat and coat and bring your car around. Please tip the servers. I hope to see you again tomorrow night with another (shorter) version of BCB After Dark.