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BCB After Dark: I don’t have to like you to work with you

The cool club for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad wants to know if you’d make a trade with a rival.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the nightspot for night owl, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It’s always good to see you stop by again. Please let us take your coat for you. Bring your own beverage. We’ve got a good table for you in the second row.

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 lost to the Cardinals tonight 8-3 in a game that I fortunately missed a good chunk of. Unfortunately for me, that awful bottom of the fourth inning was part that I did see. You’re free to discuss tonight’s loss here if you wish. Or you can look ahead to Tuesday’s game. Or 2022.

Last week I asked you what kind of prospects you wanted back if/when the Cubs start trading away players. Clearly we’d all like major-league-ready high-ceiling prospects, but teams don’t deal those kinds of players away much anymore. But 61% of you said to go with the riskier, high-ceiling types like the Cubs did in the Yu Darvish deal. Another 33% of you wanted guys who were closer to the majors, but maybe without as much upside. I used the Matt Garza trade as an example of that. Also the Ryan Dempster deal, which turned out about as perfectly as that type of deal can go.

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.

A little while ago I put up a bit of classic South African jazz and it seemed to get a good response. So I found this piece of modern South African jazz and let’s see if that gets a positive reaction as well. Here’s drummer Tefo Majola and his septet playing “The Tear” live in studio. [VIDEO]

The Front Page, written by two Chicago newspapermen Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, was one of the best comedies on the Broadway stage in the 1920s. In 1931, it was turned into an Oscar-nominated film starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O’Brien. So when director Howard Hawkes decided to take another crack at the material in the late-1930s, he was faced with a problem: How do you make something that’s already close to perfect even better?

You make the lead character a woman. And thus, 1940’s His Girl Friday, one of the top comedies of the Golden Age of Hollywood (or really of any age), was born.

Last week I was listing some of my favorite comedies of all time and I tossed His Girl Friday on to the list. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I probably hadn’t watched it in around fifteen years. So I watched it again this past weekend and I discovered that this 81-year-old movie still sparkles.

Hawks had wanted to re-make The Front Page for a while and hit upon the idea of casting Cary Grant, whom he was working with in the film Bringing Up Baby, in the role of Hildy Johnson, the young newspaperman who wants to leave the big city to get married and live a quiet life of domesticity. But while reading the lines with his secretary, he had a revelation. The plot worked better with a woman in the Hildy Johnson role. There was now an added romantic tension between Walter Burns, the hardboiled newspaper editor who would do anything short of murder to get the story, and Johnson, his best reporter. Grant slid over to the Walter Burns role and after getting rejected by the likes of Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert and Ginger Rogers, Hawks ended up with Rosalind Russell in the now Hildegard “Hildy” Johnson role.

The main plot of The Front Page remains mostly unchanged. Johnson arrives in Burns’s office to tell him she’s quitting because she’s getting married and taking the next train out of town. She’s going to settle down in a quieter life of domesticity. She’s found an insurance salesman fiancé, Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) who is going to take her back to a simpler life in Albany.

In The Front Page, Walter is determined to keep Hildy from getting married because he happens to be his best reporter. And because Walter is a completely amoral newspaperman for whom the morning front page is everything, he immediately starts a scheme to break up Hildy’s new relationship. But in His Girl Friday, there is the added complication that Hildy is Walter’s ex-wife and Walter still has feelings for her. I’d argue that Walter’s romantic attraction to Hildy is mainly driven by the fact that she’s the best reporter in the city who, like Walter, is also willing to do almost anything short of murder to get the story. The two characters are basically motivated by the same drive, except that Walter knows it and Hildy is still living in denial and a belief in traditional gender roles.

The plot is then driven by a major story about the upcoming execution of a man, Earl Williams, who had shot and killed a Black police officer; he says by accident. (And when we meet the condemned, it’s clear that this is not a hardened criminal but rather a confused and intellectually-challenged man.) The mayor wants Williams executed before the upcoming election. Williams eventually escapes due to the incompetent bungling of the mayor and the sheriff. That’s when Earl Williams, and the story of Hildy Johnson’s life, almost literally falls into her lap.

As much as Hildy keeps insisting that she’s going to get on the train to Albany with Bruce and his mother, the story of the escaped prisoner is too great for her to resist. She’s drawn irresistibly back into the smoke-filled room of male reporters, where she’s treated as just another one of the guys. She’s just another newspaperman and yes, they do call her exactly that.

That is what gives His Girl Friday an added dimension that The Front Page doesn’t have. Early in the film, Hildy tells Walter that Bruce “treats me like a woman.” Walter scoffs at that because he knows Hildy better than she knows herself. Hildy doesn’t want to be treated like women were treated in 1940. She wants to be treated like every other ink-stained wretch on the crime beat. She’s a modern professional woman, even if she doesn’t want to admit it. Every comedy with a career professional woman in the lead since His Girl Friday, from Mary Richards to Maddie Hays to Liz Lemon, owes a huge debt to Russell’s portrayal of Hildy in this film. (Cybil Shepherd, for example, insisted that the cast, producers and writing staff watch His Girl Friday before work started on Moonlighting.)

Hildy wasn’t meant to be a suburban housewife and raise kids. (Heck, she dresses far too well for that.) She was meant to be the first one to discover a dead body or get a confession from a suspect. That conflict between a woman’s “traditional” domestic role and a more modern professional one is at the heart of His Girl Friday.

The film came on the heels of many roles of tough-talking city women in movies during the Great Depression. Jean Arthur made a career playing them. But these roles would dry up after World War II. Because during the war, women were encouraged to leave their homes and fill the jobs of men who had left for the war. While the image of Rosie the Riveter is well-known, women even had to fill professional jobs like newspaper reporter while the men were gone. But once the war was over, women were told to leave the workforce so that there would be jobs for the returning soldiers. A film made in 1947 would never have had a woman question her role as a wife and mother or seriously consider a professional career. Films made after the war had unmarried women gladly trading their jobs for motherhood. Exceptions were rare.

For all this talk of the feminist implications of His Girl Friday, I’m afraid I’m leaving out the most important part—this is a very funny screwball comedy. Hawks came up with the idea of having everyone talk fast and on top of each other to keep the plot moving along quickly. The commonly-cited figure is that the characters in His Girl Friday talk at 240 words a minute. The average film of the time was closer to 90 words a minute. You’re going to miss some jokes in His Girl Friday, but don’t worry. Another one will be along in a second or two.

This fast-talking dialog is common practice today in any Aaron Sorkin project (or others), but it was unheard of at the time because the recording equipment of 1939 made it extremely difficult to get the sound right if everyone was talking at once. This is before multi-track recording and the production went long and over-budget because of all the fussing Hawks’s sound man had to do to get things right.

Hawks decided to let the actors ad-lib their dialog as well. Grant especially had fun with this, tossing in in-jokes left and right. When he sends someone out to get Hildy’s fiancé Bruce arrested, Walter is asked to describe him. Grant replies “He looks like that fellow in the movies . . .you know, Ralph Bellamy!” (Bruce Baldwin was played by Ralph Bellamy.) Later in the picture, he warns the mayor not to cross him, warning that he would suffer the same fate as the last man who crossed him, Archie Leach. (Archie Leach was Cary Grant’s real name.)

Russell wasn’t as comfortable ad-libbing, but she did feel her part was underwritten and hired her own writer to punch up her part. Every night she’d go home with what they were working on the next day and her own personal writer would add to the script. Hawks was letting the two say anything they wanted as long as it was funny, so no one batted an eye when she let out a long, terrific speech in the middle of a scene where there was none in the script. (Except Grant, who figured out what she was doing. But he also slyly encouraged it.)

Here’s a scene that really captures the relationship between Walter and Hildy. [VIDEO] Hildy tries to get away from all this and leave with Bruce, but the lure of the story proves too much for her to resist in the end. Also, get a look at the incredible pinstriped business suit that Russell is wearing in the second half of the film. These are not the clothes of a suburban Albany housewife, which should have been a hint for Bruce. Russell wears an even more stunning outfit earlier in the movie.

His Girl Friday is in the public domain, so the entire film is available from many sources for free or along with the subscriptions you already have. (It’s on Amazon Prime, for example.) If you haven’t seen it before, you definitely should. If you have, you should give it another watch like I did. You probably missed something the first time you watched.

Welcome back to those who skip the music and movies. Tonight’s question is more philosophical question about the trade deadline. Assuming the Cubs will be a selling team this month (and I think that’s a safe assumption), then who should the Cubs be dealing with?

There are two main schools of thought about trades. One is that you don’t trade amongst your division or with your biggest rivals. You don’t want those teams to get better at your expense.

The other school of thought is that you take the best deal available and you don’t care who you’re dealing with. Your goal is to make your team better, not your rivals team worse. And if it’s a good trade for you, then it’s probably not as great a deal for the other team.

So while I don’t think Kris Bryant is going to St. Louis after the “boring” comment, would you deal him to the Cardinals if they made the best offer? What if it’s only a little better than what the Mets are offering? Would you take a little less to get Bryant out of the division?

This applies to everyone the Cubs are trading, not just Bryant. Although I can see a position where you’d trade Ryan Tepera to the Brewers but not Kris Bryant, opening up that can of worms would leave us with too many poll choices.

So would you take the best offer available no matter who it’s from? Or do you refuse to trade within the division? What about the White Sox? Would you make a crosstown trade if it was the best deal? What if an offer came from the Brewers that was just a little better than any other offer? Or the Reds, who have a much better farm system?

So what’s your stance?


Who should the Cubs trade with?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Whomever makes the best offer, period.
    (115 votes)
  • 9%
    Agree to take a little less from a non-rival, but don’t rule out a divisional deal
    (18 votes)
  • 8%
    Don’t trade within the division or with the White Sox
    (16 votes)
  • 22%
    The White Sox are fine, but no divisional deals
    (44 votes)
193 votes total Vote Now

Thanks again for stopping by. We hope we’ll see you again tomorrow night.