Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the swinging afterparty for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. By all means, come on in out of the cold. Please let us take your hat and coat. No tie required. We’ve saved you a prime table in the second row. Please bring 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.
I’m so happy that some of you stopped by for the special New Year’s Eve edition of After Dark. Al asked how many games you think the Cubs would win if they went into the 2022 season with their current roster. He was also assuming that there would be 162 games in 2022, which is not a sure thing. But assuming there are 162 games, 34 percent of you thought the Cubs would win 75 to 79 games. In second place with 26 percent was 70 to 74.
We also had our regularly-scheduled BCB After Dark last Wednesday night/Thursday morning where I asked you if you thought the Cubs signing outfielder Michael Conforto was a good idea. In first place with 35 percent was “Nay!”, but that comes with a caveat. Ten percent of you would sign him under any circumstances and another 33 percent would sign him if there were no draft pick compensation attached. So depending on what happens in the lockout, maybe you do think that bringing Conforto to Wrigley is a good idea.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Today’s jazz performance is from Sydney, Australia in 2008 when Minneapolis’s The Bad Plus played a jazz cover of Tears for Fears mega-eighties hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” So with Ethan Anderson on piano, Dave King on drums and Reid Anderson on bass, here’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
I’m going to give a short apology tonight. Usually on Monday night/Tuesday morning, I do a big write-up of a classic film. But some family obligations got me started late on the project and rather than do a slapdash summary of a great movie, I figured it was better to put it off until Wednesday night/Thursday morning and just give you a little something to tide you over tonight.
But I am going to let you decide which film you want me to write about. I’ve watched three or four noir pictures since last week and I have two of them I’m willing to write about. Now just tell me which one you want me to write about.
The first of them is Nightmare Alley, a 1947 film directed by Edmond Goulding and starring Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell and Helen Walker. A remake of this film was just released a few weeks ago, directed by Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro and starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Toni Collette. Although technically, they’re claiming this second film is just a different take on the same source material rather than a remake of Goulding’s 1947 film. You say po-TAY-to and I say po-TAH-to.
Anyway, Nightmare Alley is the story of a con man who becomes a carnival barker. He pulls off his greatest scam as part of a mentalist act, only to get dragged back down from those heights.
The second choice you have is 1955’s The Night of the Hunter, which was the only directing credit of Charles Laughton’s career. Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish, The Night of the Hunter is one of those films on the Sight & Sound’s list of the 100 greatest movies of all-time.
Mitchum stars as a con man/serial killer who works as a self-appointed itinerant preacher who travels from town to town, marrying and then killing women for the money. But he works his biggest score after he discovers that one of his prison cellmates has stashed $10,000 somewhere back on his family’s ramshackle farm.
Which film should I write about next?
This poll is closed
Nightmare Alley (1947 version)
The Night of the Hunter
Finally, I did watch Aaron Sorkin’s new film Being the Ricardos, which is a biopic of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it very much, primarily because Sorkin takes way too many liberties with the story and I just couldn’t get past that.
As far as the biggest controversy of this film goes, Nicole Kidman was terrific as Lucille Ball. Many “Lucy” fans on the internet complained about the casting of Kidman, saying that the part should have gone to someone with more comedy chops.
But Kidman wasn’t playing Lucy Ricardo, she was playing Lucille Ball and this isn’t a comedy. Yes, there are some scenes of Ball performing and doing comedy, but that’s not the emphasis of the film. Instead, the focus of this movie is Ball’s career and the way she had to carve a career and a personal life for herself an a world dominated by men. Makeup makes Kidman look at least passable as one of the most-recognizable women in history and she gets the voice down close enough for a biopic. She portrays Ball as a woman who wants it all—to be the biggest star in the world and to have a happy home life with a loving family—only to discover that it’s not that easy and that sometimes you have to be a bastard along the way. Luci Arnaz has praised Kidman’s performance, and that’s good enough for me. Even without her approval, I thought Kidman was great.
I don’t think Javier Bardem was as good as Desi, but he was OK. I’m not too concerned about the entire “Spaniard playing a Cuban” thing that others were upset about. If Bardem can play the part he can play the part. But while he’s solid in the dramatic parts, he lacks the music and rhythm that Arnaz had. In fairness, Arnaz was a giant in the history of Latin jazz and it would be hard to find any actor who could recreate that.
In fact, that tends to be true across the film—the women are better than the men. The film is surprisingly feminist and beyond the main story of the relationship between Lucille and Desi, the other story is of three women—Ball, Vivian Vance and writer Madelyn Pugh—trying to carve out a role for themselves in a man’s world. But while J.K. Simmons is a terrific actor, I never once believed he was William Frawley and not an actor trying to be William Frawley.
(As an aside, the movie is framed by older versions of Pugh, her writing partner Bob Carroll and producer Jess Oppenheimer recalling the events of the movie. I thought it was a lovely touch for Linda Lavin to play the elderly Madelyn Pugh, since Pugh had actually been an executive producer on Lavin’s sitcom Alice twenty-five years after the events of this movie.)
But I just couldn’t get past the inaccuracies in this film, even taking into account the needs of a film to fit the facts into a compelling story. The basic premise was that Lucille Ball’s pregnancy, the allegations of her communist ties and the revelations of Desi’s infidelity all happened in the same week. Those three events actually took place over almost three years, but I’ll accept it for the sake of the film.
But there were so many little things that were wrong that there was no reason for them to be wrong. Sorkin has to have a big speech at the end where right triumphs over wrong, and he sticks one in here. But this thing never happened and the man who comes to Lucy’s rescue was someone who was no fan of the Arnaz family in real life, although he didn’t think that they were communists. That speech at the end never happened, nothing close to it ever happened and what really happened was better than what Sorkin wrote.
But there are so many tiny incidents. I’m not an expert on Ball’s career, but the film has her going into a rage whenever Judy Holliday’s name is mentioned. I don’t know what Ball thought of Judy Holliday, maybe she did hate her. But to set that up, it has Ball getting the lead in The Big Street when Rita Hayworth and Judy Holliday dropped out. Rita Hayworth maybe (although it was actually Carole Lombard who dropped out), but Judy Holliday was still Judith Tuvim and a teenage lounge singer when The Big Street was made.
Then there’s this big scene where the head of RKO drops her contract after the success of The Big Street, which again, never happened. What actually happened was that RKO sold her contract to MGM after the film. To put it in baseball terms, what happened was that Ball had a big season for the Pittsburgh Pirates on The Big Street, so they traded her to the Yankees. But the Yankees already had a bunch of stars playing the same position as Ball so they weren’t able to get her enough playing time and let her go after that. Instead, Sorkin makes up a nonsensical tale about Ball getting cut by the Pirates after finishing 5th in the MVP voting the year before.
Also, the RKO studio head suggested that Ball try radio. That’s insulting. Ball, like almost every Hollywood star, was already doing radio in the 1940s and when her contract with MGM expired, the radio networks were falling over themselves to offer her a contract. (Reportedly, Ball was offered either Our Miss Brooks or My Favorite Husband and took the second one and suggested Eve Arden for the first one. As usual. Ball’s creative instincts were dead on. I can’t imagine the two of them in the other one’s role.)
And Desi’s life is just as mangled. It’s suggested that Arnaz hated communism because the communists imprisoned his family and confiscated his family estate. Now that did happen, but it wasn’t the communists that did that. Castro’s revolution in Cuba was still seven years into the future. The rebels who seized his family estate in 1933 were connected to the revolution that brought Fulgencio Batista to power, with the backing of the United States.
The film also takes pains to make Arnaz an equal partner to Ball and one plot point is about Desi’s “wounded pride” of being seen as a “second banana.” Now that was true, but to try to stress Arnaz’s importance, Lucy claims that Desi figured out how to film the show with three cameras and get the lighting right while still allowing a studio audience to see the show. That was actually the work of the legendary cinematographer Karl Freund, who is written out of the movie. (I thought I saw an extra in the background that might have been Freund.) Now if you want to give Desi some credit for hiring Freund, we’ll allow it, but Arnaz wasn’t some kind of camera and lighting savant who did that in his spare time while he continued to be a giant of Latin jazz.
I could go on and on with lots of examples of these kinds of inaccuracies, but the bigger point is that so many of them were unnecessary. They were little things where the truth would have worked just as well. Sorkin didn’t even use the real line that Desi used when defending Lucy against the charges of being a communist: “The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that is not legitimate.” That’s a great line and it has the added bonus of having actually happened. But instead Sorkin makes up some sort of silly fairy tale instead.
That’s more than I wanted to say about Being the Ricardos. There are a lot more little inaccuracies that I could mention that just bugged the heck out of me because they were so unnecessary. The film has a terrific performance from Nicole Kidman, a great one from Nina Arianda (playing Vivian Vance) and a strong one from Alia Shawkat playing the young Madelyn Pugh. (Although I don’t know enough about Pugh’s life to know how accurate the portrayal was.) The women are by far the best part of this movie. There is a nice story in there about women fighting for their place the patriarchal 1950s. The rest of the film is a mixed bag and I can’t really recommend it for anyone who isn’t a Lucy expert. And even then, you’re going to get upset by all the things that never happened.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
Today’s question is the same one I’ve asked before and I could ask again every time between now and Spring Training: “When is the lockout going to end?”
A report came out today that the owners and the union are not talking and that they have no talks currently scheduled. Obviously this can change at any time, but the idea that a lockout in the offseason would spur talks has obviously proven to be a mistaken one.
So how long are we going to continue to be locked out? Is this going to end in time for Spring Training to start on time, which would mean by the end of the month? Or are we going to lose some of Spring Training? Maybe even the regular season?
When will the lockout end?
This poll is closed
May or later
Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll have the girl bring your hat and coat. Someone else will bring you your car. Please drive home safely. Stay warm. And stop by again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.