Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the nightclub for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re so glad you could join us again tonight. We’ve got a prime seat for you. There’s a two-drink minimum, but you have to provide it yourself so you’re on the honor system.
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 Cubs had the day off today and the entire Cubs minor league system has every Monday off this year. (The only minor league games played on Monday this year is from the Triple-A West league, as that league said they wanted Wednesdays off instead.) But the White Sox beat the Cardinals tonight to cut the Redbirds lead in the NL Central over the Cubs to 1.5 games. After taking two out of three from St. Louis this weekend, the Cubs are now two games over .500.
Last Wednesday night/Thursday morning was the last time we met and it was just hours after Yankees pitcher Corey Kluber threw the second no-hitter in as many days. I asked if you were worried about the fact that MLB has seen six (or seven) no-hitters already this season. We know how Al Yellon voted, but 55% of you were worried that this was a sign that something is wrong with the game in 2021.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You can skip to the baseball poll question at the end if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Today’s jazz (?) track is from the Grammy-winning album from the Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio from 2012. Today’s choice is the opening number, appropriately entitled “Lift Off.” [VIDEO] Is it a jazz song? Is it R&B? Is it hip-hop? Is it all three of them? Does it really matter? Glasper really believes that the spirit of jazz is in experimentation, and this is certainly an experimental track, complete with a recorded mic check.
If you liked this one, or even if you’re just intrigued by it, I encourage you to seek out the rest of Black Radio. It ends it with a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” [VIDEO] I feel like jazz covers of that particular song are kind of overplayed at this point, but they weren’t back in 2012. And if you aren’t sick of covers of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I suggest you listen at the link and maybe seek out some other versions and compare them. Remember, there’s no point in trying to out-rock Nirvana on their own song, so the best covers get pretty experimental.
John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) is one of those 100 movies you’re supposed to see before you die. I watched it for the first time in quarantine last summer and then I watched it two more times, once with a commentary track from a film historian. It’s a movie that changed Hollywood, helped define the way that Americans saw themselves mid-century and made John Wayne the biggest movie star on the planet, for better and for worse.
By the late-1930s, the Western movie genre had fallen out of fashion in Hollywood. It was relegated to Saturday afternoon serials for kids or bad, cheaply-produced films. You couldn’t even call them “B-Pictures.” They were more like “D” or “Z” pictures.
Director John Ford wanted to change that. He had made Westerns in the silent era, but now he wanted to make a Western that was an “A-picture.” He wanted a big budget, a top script and adult themes. He wanted to shoot it in Monument Valley, the area along the Arizona-Utah border that Ford would return to many, many times later in his career. And he wanted the movie to star an actor who had been starring in those low-budget Westerns that everyone else looked down on, John Wayne.
The premise of Stagecoach is simple. Take a variety of western archetypes, put them together in a place where they’re stuck together, and then see what happens. Basically, a representative of several parts of American society go off into the West together.
A pregnant woman of the Virginia aristocracy, Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), arrives on the stagecoach. She’s not staying, but rather she’s continuing on to the army post where her husband is stationed, so that he can be at her side when she gives birth. Lucy is recognized by a gambler and a crook named Hatfield (John Carradine), who served under her father’s command in the Confederate army. The sight of Lucy re-ignites his lost chivalry, and he decides to travel with her to ensure her safety. You see, the Apache are on the warpath and . . . yeah. That part of the film is “problematic” to say the least.
Two other people get on the stagecoach because they’re being kicked out of town. Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell, in a role for which he’d win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) is a man whose considerable drinking problem made him the town drunk rather than the town doctor. And the nominal star of the movie is Dallas (Claire Trevor), the “hooker with a heart of gold” who is being put on the stagecoach by the town’s Decency League.
Two more people get on the coach. Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill) is a banker who acts like he’s better than everyone else because of his money, but he’s leaving town because he just embezzled the local payroll. Then there is Samuel Peacock, a traveling whiskey salesman from Kansas City, Kansas, who represents the greenhorn Easterner. He also has whiskey samples, which means that Doc Boone is going to insist he sits next to him.
There is also the happy-go-lucky stagecoach driver Buck, played by Andy Devine. Finally, the town Marshal Wilcox (George Bancroft) hears that the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) has broken out of prison to avenge the death of his father and brother at the hands of the Plummer brothers. Wilcox wants to arrest Ringo, more for his own safety than anything else. Wilcox was a friend of Ringo and his family and the Marshal is convinced that the Plummers will kill Ringo if he’s not in prison.
The stagecoach takes off and a short while into the journey, they run into Ringo in one of the great movie entrances of all-time. Wayne signals the stagecoach to stop by twirling his rifle around his finger, his body framed by the backdrop of the Monument Valley.
No one wanted to make this movie with Wayne in it. The studios already thought the idea of an “adult” Western to be ridiculous, but to put an unknown actor like Wayne as the lead was thought to be box-office poison. An independent producer offered to finance the film if Wayne was replaced with Gary Cooper and Trevor with Marlene Dietrich. No dice, said Ford. It’s Wayne or no one. Finally Ford got his way, but Claire Trevor had to get top billing.
You could write an entire book on Stagecoach and people have. So I’m going to limit myself to just a few points. The first is the way that Ford shot the film is masterful. His use of Monument Valley gave the film a grandeur that became standard for Westerns for years to come. But he also did an incredible job with the interiors. Low shots make the stars look like they are butting their heads up near the ceiling. The inside of the stagecoach is tight and claustrophobic. Ford takes the time to show the facial reactions of every member of the traveling party to developments. Wayne once joked “I’m not an action star, I’m a reaction star.” It was this film that started Wayne’s “reactive” style of acting.
The other is the famous chase scene, choreographed by Ford and legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt. Canutt was a former rodeo performer who had become a silent film star, but his voice had been damaged by an illness so his starring roles ended with the silent era. But he went on to become the top stuntman and stunt coordinator in Hollywood. He was the one who invented things like harnesses and cables so that jumps and falls could be done the same way at the same moment on every take. He also invented something called the “Flying W”, which is not the flag at Wrigley Field but rather a tripwire system that could get a stuntman to fall off a horse dramatically and safely. At least safely for the stuntman. It often killed the horse, which is why the technique has been banned for many decades. But you can see it on display here and it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t look spectacular.
I guess I should say something about the way the Indians are portrayed. They aren’t human beings. They don’t have any motivation other than murder. They’re bloodthirsty savages. I’m sorry. It’s racist. The film isn’t perfect. But their appearance does give that spectacular chase scene that I referred to earlier. [VIDEO]
If you can get past the racism, you’re going to see some incredible stunt work by Canutt in that scene that has been imitated in many films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I won’t spoil the rest of the plot of the film, but Stagecoach is subversive in the way that it portrays the outcasts of American society (Ringo, Dallas, Doc Boone) as the moral ones and the ones expected to be the leaders of society (Gatewood and Lucy, although at least she apologizes for her behavior in the end) as lacking in character. This is something we see in TV and movies all the time today, but these kinds of anti-heroes were not very common in 1939.
I could say more, but I think I’ve gone on long enough. The film was a huge hit, it made Wayne an “A-list” star and ushered in a 30-year golden age of Hollywood Westerns. The entire film appears to be available on YouTube [VIDEO] and it’s also available on many other streaming services. As I wrote, it’s one of those films that everyone says you need to see before you die.
Welcome back to all those baseball fans who skip my musings about jazz and film. Todays’ question is inspired by the Cubs recent run of good play. By taking two of three for the Cards in St. Louis and by the Cardinals loss to the White Sox tonight, St. Louis’ lead over the Cubs is now just 1.5 games. The Cubs are only one game back in the loss column.
Just a few weeks ago, with several key players reaching free agency at the end of the year, the Cubs looked like sure sellers at the trade deadline. But now, it looks like the Cubs could be competing for a division title this year. It seems a little crazy to trade Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo if the Cubs are just a game back of St. Louis in mid-July. And that scenario seems increasingly likely and is probably giving team president Jed Hoyer heartburn.
So what do you think? When late-July rolls around, are the Cubs going to back up the truck and have a fire sale? Or will Hoyer go for it and add talent and try for one last title with the core of the 2016 Championship team? Or will he just do nothing, either out of indecision, finances or an inability to make a good deal?
At the trade deadline in July . . .
This poll is closed
The Cubs will be buyers
The Cubs will sell off talent
They will either do nothing or add and subtract a few players.
Thanks for reading. Be sure to check in tomorrow night. Or the next morning if that works better for you.