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BCB After Dark: Whither Willson?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks what is going to happen to Willson Contreras this winter.

Chicago Cubs v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark, the swingin’ after-party for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’ve got one more show this week and we’re so happy that you stopped in for it. The dress code tonight is casual. There is still a table available for you in the second row. We hope you’ll stay for a while. 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.

When the Cubs aren’t playing, I usually cheer for more baseball in the playoffs rather than less. That’s why I’m happy that both National League Division Series are tied at 1-1. OK, I admit. I’d rather the Padres were up 2-0. But I feel dirty cheering for the Padres.

Last time asked you which free agent shortstop you most wanted the Cubs to sign. The vote wasn’t really close as 49 percent of you thought Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner was the prime “get” for the Cubs. In a distant second place was Twins shortstop Carlos Correa with 21 percent.

In a totally coincidental development, Turner Classic Movies had Here Comes Mr. Jordan on earlier this evening, which was the subject of Monday night/Wednesday morning’s essay. Probably none of you watched it because there were two Divisional Series games on at the same time. I know I didn’t watch it except to flip over during commercials. But if you have access to TCM, you can probably watch Here Comes Mr. Jordan on demand.

Here’s the part where I talk about movies and jazz. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Postmodern Jukebox is a made-for-YouTube project by pianist Scott Bradlee, who does jazz (or sometimes other genres) versions of classic rock and pop songs. He puts together a group of musicians, dresses them up in period costumes and records the performance for a video. It’s not great art, but it can be pretty entertaining at times. And in the end, isn’t that what’s important?

Here’s PMJ doing David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.” It features vocals by Olivia Kuper Harris and Bradlee on piano, Luca Pino on guitar, Adam Kubota on bass, Cameron Johnson on trumpet and Martin Diller on drums.

Why do they always re-make great movies? When a film is already a classic, all a remake can do is look worse by comparison. Even if the remake is great, it’s only going to equal what was already made. What they should do is re-make bad films, only do them right the second time around. Figure out what went wrong in the first movie and fix that.

That’s a rhetorical argument. The simple reason that they re-make great cinema is that they come with a built-in marketing campaign. The first film was good, so this one should be good too! It just features younger, contemporary actors that young people are probably more familiar with. Bad films, in contrast, were likely hated by the public and why would an audience fork over their hard-earned cash for a film they didn’t like the first time? So that’s why Hollywood only re-makes good movies.

What Warren Beatty did for his 1978 directorial debut was the next best thing. He took a well-loved but aging film (Here Comes Mr. Jordan) and fixed the few problems with the original. Beatty hired the best in the business, both in front of and behind the camera, and then let them work their magic. But otherwise, he left the original film alone. In the end, Beatty achieved what some might have thought was impossible. He improved Here Comes Mr. Jordan into something even better, Heaven Can Wait.

Beatty had been one of the top box-office stars in Hollywood throughout the seventies, so he could pretty much write his own ticket as far as what he wanted to do next. He had been interested in directing for a long time, but he’d never officially taken the plunge before Heaven Can Wait. (I say “officially” because some of Beatty’s directors found that he would throw his weight around the set and end up being a kind of unofficial director, overruling the actual director’s vision at times. You can do that when you’re a star as big as Beatty was.)

Beatty wisely thought he could use some help on the film, so he enlisted two of the best comedic minds in the industry at the time. The great comedienne Elaine May was enlisted to co-write the script. Beatty and May didn’t change the overall plot of Here Comes Mr. Jordan at all, but they did make some minor changes to fix some plot holes. But mostly, May and Beatty tightened the dialog and added a lot more humor. Here Comes Mr. Jordan is more of a romantic fantasy with comedic elements, whereas Heaven Can Wait can better be described as a romantic comedy with fantasy elements.

To help with his first directing job, Beatty brought in legendary screenwriter Buck Henry to co-direct. From what I understand, Henry did most of the directing when Beatty had to be on screen. Beatty paid attention to his own performance and mainly dealt with the other actors when his character was off-screen. Beatty said Henry was great to work with and he enjoyed the give and take that co-directing requires.

Beatty had some grand ideas for Heaven Can Wait, some good and some not so good. For the lead of the boxer Joe Pendleton, he wanted to cast Muhammed Ali. Ali was willing, but he couldn’t fit it into his schedule. Probably a lucky break, since the part of Pendleton really needed a talented actor like Beatty and not a bit of stunt casting. When it was decided that Beatty would play the lead himself, he switched Joe Pendleton from a boxer to a football quarterback, because Beatty thought he’d be more believable in football than boxing.

Claude Rains was so good as Mr. Jordan in the original that Beatty knew it would be difficult for anyone else to step into that part. He had one great idea—to lure Cary Grant out of retirement to take the role. Beatty lobbied Grant hard, and he even cast Grant’s ex-wife Dyan Cannon in the film. (More on her later.) In the end, Grant decided against coming out of retirement and James Mason got the role. Mason is actually quite good as Mr. Jordan, but he lacks that little spark of charisma that Rains had or that Grant would have likely had. Mason may not have been a home run in the role, but he was a two-run triple. He’s very good.

The biggest thing Beatty and May did to the script is to punch up the roles of the supporting cast. Cannon may have been cast as Julia Farnsworth as a lure to Cary Grant, but she’s terrific as the loopy wife prone to hysterics. Her manic presence plays off very well with the dry, deadpan delivery for which Charles Grodin was famous. Grodin plays Cannon’s partner in murder, Tony Abbott. The two of them are quite funny in Heaven Can Wait whereas the same parts really aren’t in Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Beatty cast Julie Christie as his love interest, Betty, and Jack Warden as his trainer, Max Corkle. Both of them had worked with Beatty before and play well off of him. James Gleason’s performance as Corkle was one of the highlights of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Warden is every bit his equal in the same role. Christie was an improvement over Evelyn Keyes.

Co-director Henry steps in front of the camera to play the Edward Everett Horton role as “the Escort.” Both actors were great in the small role.

I mentioned that Beatty and May fixed some of the holes in the plot of Here Comes Mr. Jordan. That Joe Pendleton is a boxer wasn’t really a problem in the first movie, but changing him to a football player lets them put some of the great Los Angeles Rams of the late-70s like Deacon Jones and Jack Snow in the picture. If you don’t like Beatty much, you will at least want to see Deacon Jones knock Beatty flat on his back several times.

But making Joe Pendleton a backup NFL quarterback and not a boxer allows for the final scene to land a bigger punch, no pun intended.

Quick spoiler: Now the final body that Joe enters is not his rival, but his friend and teammate, the starting quarterback on the Rams. Joe gets his wish of winning the Super Bowl, but it comes at the cost of the death of a teammate. Spoilers over.

Joe is no longer a pilot in Heaven Can Wait, the accident that almost took his life at the beginning of the film is a truck hitting him while he’s running in a tunnel. The saxophone is still there, but it’s no longer “lucky.” It’s just a character trait for Joe and a nod to the original film. (It’s also a soprano sax rather than a tenor sax. I’m assuming that’s just because the soprano sax is lighter to carry around.)

Joe no longer falls in love at first sight with Betty. Instead, his sense of fairness and justice cause Joe to decide to help Betty and the romance between the two develops more naturally later. Betty’s father is no longer in jail because of Farnsworth, rather his town in England is threatened by a polluting power plant that Farnsworth intends to build. This also gives Beatty a chance to deliver a brief message in the film in favor of environmentalism, responsible capitalism and the “No Nukes” movement of the time. Don’t worry, it’s very brief.

Perhaps the biggest change is that Heaven Can Wait makes Farnsworth out to be a rich kook before Joe enters his body. Therefore, Joe’s odd behavior is not as suspicious—Farnsworth was always crazy. On top of that, that change puts Beatty in some ridiculous costumes and provides some more visual gags around Farnsworth’s mansion.

(One of Joe/Farnsworth’s “crazy” actions is buying the Los Angeles Rams for $67 million so he can play quarterback for them. It’s funny that everyone in the film thinks that’s an outrageous number as Forbes values the Rams at over $6 billion today. Maybe he’s not so crazy!)

Other than those minor changes, the plots of the two films are basically identical. All the same beats and basic plot points are there. But despite being only seven minutes longer, Heaven Can Wait seems like it just has a lot more in it. There’s more jokes, more character development, and the supporting characters get more time to shine.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a very good film that has deservedly earned the status of “classic.” What’s remarkable is that other than in the performance of Claude Rains in the first film, Heaven Can Wait manages to outshine the original.

A quick bit of trivia about the name. Here Comes Mr. Jordan was based on an unproduced play by Harry Segall called Heaven Can Wait. The name was changed to Here Comes Mr. Jordan when they adapted to the screen in 1941. In 1943, Ernst Lubitsch directed another, completely unrelated film and called it Heaven Can Wait. Beatty went back to the original name Heaven Can Wait for his remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

However, in 1947, Here Comes Mr. Jordan director Alexander Hall made a kind-of, sort-of sequel to that film called Down to Earth. Edward Everett Horton and James Gleason were the only actors to return for the sequel. But in 2001, Chris Rock wrote and starred in yet another remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and it was called it Down to Earth, even though it was a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and not a remake of Down to Earth. Is that clear? Probably not.

Here’s a scene from Heaven Can Wait that features Beatty, Christie, Cannon and Grodin.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the movies and music.

Tonight’s topic is one that’s been discussed around here a lot. Has Willson Contreras played his last game with the Cubs?

Everyone expected that Contreras would be dealt at the trade deadline, but when the Cubs didn’t get an offer they felt was worthwhile, they kept him for the rest of the season. Now team president Jed Hoyer has made it clear that Contreras will receive a qualifying offer, which will be somewhere in the $19 million range for next season.

Contreras has three options. Actually, two that he controls and one that is dependent on the Cubs. His first option is to turn down the qualifying offer and become a free agent. Any team signing Contreras will lose a draft pick (what pick depends on the team) and the Cubs will get an extra pick at the end of the second round of next year’s draft.

Contreras’ second option is to accept the one-year qualifying offer and return to the Cubs for the 2023 season. Then he would be eligible for free agency again next winter, when there would be no draft pick penalty to sign him, nor would the Cubs get a pick in compensation.

For the final option, the Cubs have to play along. Contreras (presumably) rejects the qualifying offer and then signs a new multi-year contract with the Cubs. (I suppose he could accept the QO and then negotiate a new deal, but that would limit his negotiating power and decrease the Cubs’ incentive to offer him a new deal. So I’m ruling that out, or just lumping it in here.)

Which of those three options do you think will happen with the Cubs and Contreras this winter?


What will Willson Contreras do this winter?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Sign with another team as a free agent
    (160 votes)
  • 19%
    Accept a qualifying offer from the Cubs
    (51 votes)
  • 17%
    Re-sign a new contract with the Cubs
    (45 votes)
256 votes total Vote Now

Thank you again for another great week here at the club. It’s just a better place with you around. Please tell your friends. Get home safely. If you need us to call a ride for you, let us know. If you checked anything, give us the ticket and we’ll get it for you now. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.