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BCB After Dark: If you build it...

The cool night spot for night owls, early-birds and Cubs fans abroad asks for your opinion of a classic baseball movie.

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Chicago White Sox Field of Dreams Portraits Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the secret getaway for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. So glad you could join us on this rainy night. I hope you checked your coat umbrella. Take a seat by the fireplace. (Hey, we can have a fireplace if we want!) Make yourself at home.

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 were rained out tonight. The minors, except for the Arizona Complex League, have the day off. The rookie ball team is taking on the Diamondbacks and second-round pick James Triantos made his professional debut.

Last week, I asked you who was the best candidate for saves with what is left of the Cubs bullpen. Winning with 79% of the vote was Manuel Rodriguez, and that is probably because Rodriguez had just nailed down an impressive save in Colorado a few hours before the poll posted. He has not been as impressive in his two appearances since then. Second place was Codi Heuer with 9% and third was Dan Winkler with 8%.

Here’s the place where I talk about movies and jazz. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question if you wish. You won’t hurt my feelings.

I haven’t put much Charlie Parker out here before because when I think of Charlie Parker, I think of raucous bebop and Parker playing 100 miles a minute. That’s not music to help you get to sleep or gently wake you up in the morning, and that’s usually what I’m looking for.

But that characterization is not really fair to Bird, because while he could and did play like that sometimes, he didn’t play like that all the time. Parker’s biggest curveball was his two Charlie Parker with Strings records that were recorded in November of 1949 and in July of 1950. These two records have in the years since been combined into one collection.

Having Bird play his saxophone with an orchestral arrangement was controversial at the time. It engendered the same controversy and cries of “selling out” that Bob Dylan got when he went electric. And like Dylan going electric, Charlie Parker with Strings were Bird’s best-selling recordings when he was alive.

But the end product has stood the test of time, in part because there was only one Charlie Parker. But he also really interacts with the orchestra, which includes future TV star Mitch Miller on oboe.

Here’s the first track from those recordings, “Just Friends.”

I’ve been a bit down in the dumps over the past weekend, both because of the poor play of the Cubs and because I’m now resigned to the fact that this pandemic is never going to end and life is never getting back to normal because . . .well, I will just stop there. You know why it’s never going to end and if you discuss it here, you’re just going to depress me more. And I’ll probably block you. So don’t do that.

In order to cheer myself up, I decided to watch as escapist a fare as I could. I landed on 1933’s 42nd Street, which I discovered upon re-watching that it really wasn’t as escapist as I remembered it. But it’s not exactly Chinatown either. It’s still a flighty musical with several fantabulous musical numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley in his first big movie.

I wrote a bit about 42nd Street when I wrote about Gold Diggers of 1933, which I still think is the superior movie. The two films are connected, however, in that 42nd Street was such a hit that Warner Brothers quickly commissioned a second, similar film with Gold Diggers of 1933. They brought back Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbe and Ginger Rogers from 42nd Street to make Gold Diggers.

42nd Street is the more famous of the two films, in part because 47 years later they decided to make a Broadway musical out of it that ran for a decade on Broadway and has had several revivals. And it’s no surprise that Broadway would find fertile material in the film because the movie is about putting on a Broadway musical.

Warner Baxter stars as Julian Marsh, a successful Broadway director with a reputation for being a tyrant. Marsh is sick and his doctor warns him the stress of directing another production could kill him, but he does it anyway because he’s lost all his money on “fair-weathered friends,” “women,” and “Wall Street,” referring to the Crash of 1929.

The money for the show “Pretty Lady” gets put up by Abner Dillon, played by top character actor Guy Kibbe. Abner agrees to finance the production only because he’s got a thing for the star, Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels). Dorothy is willing to lead Abner on to get the money, but she’s still got the hots for her old boyfriend and former co-star Pat Denning (George Brent).

This whole “lecherous old man” gets led on by seductive young star plot has not aged well, to put it mildly. Fortunately, even though this is a “Pre-Code” film, there’s still a limit as to how far they can push this relationship on screen in 1933. There’s lots of talk and innuendo, as is common in Pre-Code films, but we don’t really get to the point where anything becomes truly disturbing, even in hindsight.

Ruby Keeler plays Peggy Sawyer, who is the young ingenue who dreams of fame on Broadway but has zero experience. Keeler didn’t need to act much as this was her first credited film role. But Peggy had so little experience that she wanders around backstage asking for directions to the person in charge and ends up going into the men’s dressing room, where Billy Lawler (Dick Powell), the show’s juvenile lead, is changing. She gets a good look at Billy in his underwear and the two of them hit it off immediately.

Also, Ginger Rogers has a supporting role as Annie (Or “Anytime Annie”), an actress with a bit of a reputation for loose morals, as they would have put it. Annie tries to disguise herself by wearing a monocle and speaking in a bad upper-class English accent, but she fools no one who knew her from before.

I’m not going to go through the whole plot, [Spoilers for an 88-year-old film] but Dorothy tries to keep Abner paying for the production without letting him get too close, while she continues her on-and-off relationship with Pat. Eventually a bunch of mistaken assumptions leads to a fights between Abner and Dorothy and Dorothy and Pat. Dorothy ends up breaking her ankle, and Annie is tabbed to go on in her role. But Annie says the show will fail with her in the lead, and says that Peggy needs to go on instead. Peggy is terrified, but after a pep talk from the injured Dorothy, she knocks it out of the park and the chorus girl becomes a big star. And just like Peggy in “Pretty Lady,” Ruby Keeler then steals the show in 42nd Street.

The script is snappy with a lot of wisecracks and sexual innuendo. There’s even a somewhat shocking (for 1933) gay innuendo line uttered by Warner, the director. None of this would have been permitted in 1934 after the Hays Code went into effect.

But the reason to watch a film like 42nd Street isn’t for the plot or the snappy dialog, it’s for the musical numbers. Here is a recording of the show that serves as the end of the film.

If you watch that, you’ve seen the best 16 minutes of the film. And yes, the Busby Berkeley musical numbers are absolutely nuts. But the rest of it is good too. Just not as good as Gold Diggers of 1933.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and old movies. Today was a rain out, so we can rest assured that the Cubs did not do anything stupid today.

I actually tricked you. I am going to talk about an old movie. But this one has a baseball theme. Thursday’s upcoming game at the “Field of Dreams” site in Dyersville, Iowa is going to be MLB big showcase special game of the 2021 season. In recent years, MLB has tried to make event games happen at special sites—either in Japan, Mexico or England or games on army bases or at the Little League World Series. These games are pretty fun. It’s interesting to see Major League Baseball played in places where it normally doesn’t get played. I feel the same thing about the Field of Dreams game. I’m looking forward to it, and not only because I’m a Hawkeye as a University of Iowa graduate.

But the movie Field of Dreams? That’s more controversial. You see it on lots of lists of the “Best” baseball movies ever made, but praise for the film is not universal. Craig Calcaterra has made a career writing about how terrible that movie is and to be perfectly honest, I agree with him. (And that’s not even Calcaterra’s best anti-Field of Dreams rant) The movie is trite sentimentality, and that’s not even getting into the tone-deafness in regards to race. No one even questions that maybe there was something wrong with baseball as something that brings all of America together when every single player coming out of that cornfield is white. Changing the notoriously-litigious J.D. Salinger from the book into a fictional Black writer played by James Earl Jones doesn’t help things.

I’m a guy who cries at movies a lot. I didn’t shed a single tear the first time I watched Field of Dreams. I remember my first feelings after watching the film from 30 years ago was disappointment. And why was Joe Jackson batting right-handed?

As a Hawkeye, I do admit that I love the “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.” line.

But have at it in the comments. Are you one of the millions who love this tearjerker about a man and his dead father? Or are you a cynical curmudgeon like me and Calcaterra who think the movie is trite and incoherent?

So tell me how many of you think I’m a moron with no heart. I can take it.

I’m still going to enjoy the game on Thursday.


Field of Dreams?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    I love it!
    (86 votes)
  • 8%
    I hate it!
    (14 votes)
  • 35%
    (56 votes)
156 votes total Vote Now

Thanks for stopping by. I hope I didn’t ruin your evening. We’ll see you again tomorrow with a shorter BCB After Dark.