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BCB After Dark: Who will take the Central?

The hip spot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks who you think are going to be NL Central champions for 2021.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Pittsburgh Pirates
Here’s PNC Park at night.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the late-night theater for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. I’ve saved you a seat at one of our prime tables. Bring your own beverage. We’ll waive the corkage fee just for you.

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.

Today’s Cubs game was pretty awful. If you managed to watch the whole thing, you have a stronger stomach that I do. But congratulations to Carlos Rodón and the White Sox for the no-hitter tonight. That was a terrible way to lose a perfect game, but it’s clear that the pitch did hit Roberto Pérez on the toe. You can’t not call that a hit-by-pitch because you don’t want to break up a perfecto that way. Tough break, but a no-hitter is nothing to be ashamed of, naturally.

Yesterday I asked you how worried you were about Javier Báez’s struggles at the plate. If it were just the first two weeks, I think the correct answer would be “not at all.” But since this is a continuation of the struggles he had all of last year, I think it’s fair to ask the question. And fully 54% of you ranked your worry over El Mago at either a 4 or a 5 on a 1 to 5 scale and 28% of you went all the way to a five on your level of worrying. Only 16% of you ranked your level of worry as either a 1 or a 2.

Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. As always, you can just skip to the bottom if that doesn’t interest you. You’re not going to hurt my feelings.

I’m really falling down on the jazz part of these discussions. I’ve spent so much time following baseball and doing research on movies that I haven’t been able to research much jazz. There are at least two classic jazz albums I want to discuss, but I need to re-listen to them and maybe look up a few facts about them before I share them with you.

So instead, I’ll just share this song from Kandace Springs, which was the ringtone on my phone for a while. (I’ve since changed it to something else.) Yes, I first discovered Springs when she was a guest on Live from Daryl’s House a few years ago, so you know that Doug Glanville will approve of this selection.

Seriously, my advice to anyone is to find someone who loves you as much as Doug Glanville loves Hall & Oates. I’m not a H&O fan. but I truly admire Glanville’s level of commitment. And Hall & Oates did have some good songs. They also had “Maneater.”

“There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” Those words are instantly recognizable to anyone of a certain age. Even those of you too young to remember the movie that line comes from or the 1958-63 TV show of the same name, you’ve probably heard it modified or parodied somewhere else. It’s more famous than the film it comes from. But I’m here to argue that not only is 1948’s The Naked City one of the best movies ever made, it’s also perhaps the most influential. The DNA of this film can be found in pretty much every police story told since then.

Before The Naked City, crime stories were about the lone private detective solving the case. This is the format of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple from Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, etc. You’re familiar with these stories. A brilliant detective, usually working alone, deduces the perpetrator by discovering the holes in a story. In these cases the police, if they show up at all, are usually stupid or corrupt.

Screenwriter Malvin Ward had a different idea. He spoke with actual homicide detectives and he discovered that solving crimes required a team collecting evidence and interrogating suspects and witnesses. He discovered that investigators often wasted large amounts of time chasing false leads. In short, solving crimes was hard work and drudgery. It wasn’t glamorous at all.

So Ward decided to tell the story of a crime as it actually would have been solved, or close enough as he could get and still keep the audience engaged. He had some detectives collecting evidence. Others were doing the questioning. He showed crime labs, which had never been seen before on screen. He took the audience inside the autopsy room. Rather than one detective figuring everything out, he had the entire homicide division doing the legwork, even if he did focus on two main characters. There was the wise older detective, Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and the younger, inexperienced one, Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) who is eager to learn.

If all of this sounds familiar, it should. It’s basically the setup of every police procedural that’s been made in the decades since. If you watch CSI or NCIS or Law and Order or any of the million TV shows that follow this formula, it comes from The Naked City, which predates the debut of Dragnet on the radio by about a year.

Ward was also inspired by the book Naked City, a collection of photographs of New York published in 1945 by a photographer who went by the name Weegee. Weegee was known for his crime photography as well as a gritty look at urban life. Ward got the title from Weegee’s book.

The script eventually fell into the hands of director Jules Dassin, who fell in love with it. It wasn’t so much the plot that he loved (although from all accounts he did like it) but rather the possibility that he saw in the film. Dassin had grown up in East Harlem, and the way that New York was portrayed in the movies had always bothered him. Hollywood’s version of New York was shot on a soundstage in Burbank (or somewhere nearby) and bore little resemblance to the New York he knew. Instead, Dassin decided to shoot on the streets of New York, which doesn’t sound that remarkable today but was completely unheard of in the 1940s. Remember, movie cameras of the time were big things and were not very portable. No one really knew how to do the lighting for a real city. But Dassin convinced producer Mark Hellinger that doing it this way would make the film revolutionary.

And it certainly did. While Fitzgerald, Taylor and radio star Howard Duff were the listed stars of the film, the real star was New York. Shot at 107 different locations around the city in the summer of 1947, it includes dozens of shots of people just going on with their lives in New York. The movie showed the rich penthouses of New York and the poor tenements. Extras were real people of the area who managed to squeeze their way into the shots. Some are given newspapers to hold with headlines to connect them to the main story, but for the most part, the film emphasizes that they are just part of the other eight million stories in the Naked City.

And New York in 1947 is gorgeous. Dassin filmed in a semi-guerrilla style all around New York, although mainly in Manhattan and just on the other side of the river in Brooklyn. I say “semi-guerrilla” because there was no process of getting permits or shutting down roads for filming like there is today. Basically. Dassin and Hellinger just got in good with the NYC police department and they’d just push the crowds back after they set up their equipment. And yes, huge crowds turned out to watch a real Hollywood picture get made in New York.

Of course, this meant that the film crew had to stay in the good graces of the police department, which meant that the cops had to be portrayed positively. This was a big difference from the way cops had been portrayed in films. The incompetent or corrupt cops of the past are nowhere to be found in The Naked City. The film also tries to show the detectives as human beings—talking about their salaries and giving Halloran a young wife who worries about him on the job. This is an approach that has been much criticized in recent years as “copaganda,” but I don’t think it’s fair to lay 75 years of that at the foot of The Naked City. They were reacting to a much different (and very unfair) earlier portrayal of policing. The producers can’t be held responsible if the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction in the years since.

The other character in this film is the narrator, played by the producer Hellinger himself. Hellinger introduces us to “the city” and its inhabitants early in the film. He narrates some moments in the film, both important and mundane, as if it were a documentary. Later in the film, he speaks directly to the murderer with advice, as if he were in the audience trying to aid the criminal. (No, they don’t break the fourth wall and have anyone hear the narration.) And of course, he delivers the famous line that ends the film.

Unfortunately, Hellinger would never live to see his film, as he died of a heart attack before it premiered. He was only 44 years old. Dassin and co-writer Albert Maltz, who Dassin brought in to do a re-write of Ward’s original script, would both end up blacklisted. Maltz would turn to writing fiction to support himself and wouldn’t return to Hollywood until 1970 when he wrote the Clint Eastwood/Shirley MacLaine film, Two Mules for Sister Sara.

Dassin ended up moving to France to avoid the blacklist and having a career as a director French cinema. (His name and his career in France make most people assume he was French. In fact, he was from New York and Jewish.) While in France, he made several films including Rififi, which is quite probably the greatest heist film ever made. We will be discussing Rififi in some future installment.

You can watch The Naked City on HBO Max or on The Criterion Channel. Or if you don’t subscribe to those, here’s the entire film on YouTube with Spanish subtitles. You’ll get a better print if you watch on the paid channels though. Even if you don’t watch the entire film, watch the first 5-10 minutes to get a sense of the beauty in the shots of New York in the summer of 1947.

Welcome back to those who skip the movies and jazz. You can’t blame me for wanting to talk about something else while the Cubs are playing so poorly.

But the thing is, despite their poor play, the Cubs record of 5-7 only puts them two games out of first place in the NL Central. All five teams in the division are somewhere between 7-5 and 5-7.

So my question for today is, who do you think is going to win the NL Central? The Cubs have certainly looked poor, but there isn’t a single team in the division who has actually looked good. So can the Cubs come back and win a second-straight division title? Or who do you think will take the crown in 2021? Have the first 12 games changed your mind? Say so in the comments.


Who will win the NL Central

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    (16 votes)
  • 23%
    (41 votes)
  • 52%
    (91 votes)
  • 11%
    (20 votes)
  • 2%
    (4 votes)
172 votes total Vote Now

We’ll see you again Monday night/Tuesday morning. I’ll try to re-listen to some complete jazz albums before then.