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BCB After Dark: Happy Halloween

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks about free agent catcher Christian Vázquez.

Halloween Decorations In Chicago Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Welcome back to another week of BCB After Dark: the spookiest spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Glad to see you stop by tonight. Was this evening a trick or a treat for you? The good news is there’s nothing but treats here. Come on in out of the rain, if you were going to the World Series tonight. There’s no cover charge. No costume required, although you can wear one if you want.

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.

Because it’s never sunny in Philadelphia, Game 3 of the World Series was rained out tonight.

Last time I asked you for your World Series predictions. The number one choice was the Astros in six games with 34 percent of your votes. In second was the Astros in five with 28 percent. Overall, 66 percent of you voted for one of the “Astros win” options and 34 percent of you thought the Phillies would win.

Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. I was going to skip the movie part because it’s a holiday and our traffic will probably be down, but tomorrow’s not a holiday and I know that most of you read this feature the next day. So I do have a movie essay tonight. But for those of you who want to skip ahead to the baseball question, you can do so now. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Our jazz selection tonight is from the 1936 film Pennies From Heaven which starred Bing Crosby and featured the legendary Louis Armstrong in a supporting role. Crosby was a huge fan of Satchmo and insisted he appear in the picture. Of course, since this is a musical, Armstrong was going to do a number. It’s this spooky Halloween treat “Skeleton in the Closet.”

I wanted to give you one more treat before we move on from the Halloween season, so tonight I present a few thoughts on the 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein, directed by James Whale.

I go back and forth on what I think is the “best” of the classic Universal Horror films, but I generally end up concluding that Bride outshines them all. The Bride of Frankenstein pushes a lot more boundaries and has a lot more going on in it than the other films in the series. While Whale ran into some major problems with head censor Joseph Breen and the Production Code in Bride (over 15 minutes had to be trimmed from the film to get Code approval) that he didn’t have to worry about in the first film, it’s amazing how much he actually managed to stuff in to this movie.

Whale had no desire to make a sequel to Frankenstein, but the amount of money that film made demanded that Universal make another one. So Whale cut a deal where Universal would bankroll a film he wanted to make in exchange for him directing Bride. Then he decided that he would “Go big or go home” on the sequel, to use a modern term.

The Bride of Frankenstein is loaded with all kinds of stuff that made the Production Office (which came into being in mid-1934) queasy. Murder and gore goes without saying, but there is also the defilement (mocking?) of the symbols of Christianity and some barely-veiled homosexual subtext.

Whale brought back Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Boris Karloff as the monster, despite having both of them dying in the first film. Yeah, I know you might say Henry didn’t die in the first film, but that’s complicated. He’s presumed to have died at the end of the last film in The Bride. (Also Clive was cast despite the alcoholism that would kill him shortly thereafter being far worse than it was during the first film.) Dwight Frye’s Fritz was also killed in the first film, but he’s back playing several small parts, including an assistant named “Karl” who is just Fritz without the hunchback. Unfortunately, Mae Clark was recovering from a serious car accident at the time of filming, so the part of the actual “Bride of Frankenstein,” Elizabeth Frankenstein, was played by Valerie Hobson.

Whale brought Una O’Connor and E. E. Clive from The Invisible Man, which he also directed, to play Frankenstein’s housekeeper and the town burgomeister respectively. The part of the film’s main villain, Dr. Pretorius, was written for Claude Rains, the star of The Invisible Man. But Rains turned it down. We don’t know why, but perhaps Raines was worried about being typecast as a horror actor. Instead, the role went to another veteran of Whale films, Ernest Thesiger.

If you can say something bad about The Bride of Frankenstein, it’s that the “Monster’s Mate” doesn’t appear until the final five minutes of the movie. Makeup legend Jack Pierce deserves a lot of credit for the look of the Bride, which is just as iconic today as his original look for Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. The look can best be described as “What if an Egyptian mummy stuck her finger in a light socket?” The Bride’s look was also heavily influenced by the robot in Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent classic, Metropolis.

But while Pierce created the look, it was Elsa Lanchester who sold it. Lanchester was an accomplished actress of the English stage and screen, but in Hollywood, she was mostly known as Charles Laughton’s wife. But the English Whale was familiar with her work in London and saw in her the both the talent and relative anonymity to play the Bride. Much like Frankenstein credited the Monster as “?”, The Bride of Frankenstein credits “The Monster’s Mate” as “?”. Boris Karloff, now famous, gets credited as “KARLOFF” in all caps above the title this time.

Lanchester steals the show at the end as the Bride. Her robotic body movement, her bird-like hissing (which Lanchester said she copied from the swans in Hyde Park) and her scream of terror at the sight of Frankenstein’s monster are perfect.

Lanchester does get credited in the film for the part of Mary Shelley, although the author was actually still Mary Godwin when she wrote the novel Frankenstein. The prologue puts Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron in their famous stay in Geneva in 1816. Shelley marvels at how a woman could write something so horrible as the story of Frankenstein, which gives the film a chance to do a “Previously on . . .” highlight reel. It’s also the first sign that The Bride of Frankenstein has a bit of a feminist undertone, as Lanchester has Mary gives a “Oh, you don’t know what women are capable of” attitude to the men and the audience. She then tells them “But there’s more to the story,” which leads us into the events of the second movie.

The part of Dr. Pretorius, the main villain of the piece who convinces Henry Frankenstein to build a mate for the Monster, has been the subject of a lot of analysis. Pretorius is often seen as a stand-in for Whale himself and as such, he codes as “gay.” Some of the deleted lines from the script make Pretorius’ sexual orientation much clearer. Still, anyone who knew what to look for was going to see it. Aunt Edna from Terre Haute could let it go over her head, which is likely how it got past the Production Board.

Whale was a rarity in Hollywood at the time in that he was open about his sexuality. (To a point. He was actually very private about his personal life.) You can watch the 1998 film Gods and Monsters, starring Ian McKellen, for a somewhat fictionalized portrait of Whale’s life. (I’d highly recommend it, by the way.) I’m not really qualified to go in detail on the area of The Bride’s place in LGBTQ cinema, but I will say that Whale (and Thesiger, of course) very much instills Pretorius with a strong sense of gay camp. It gives the film a lighter touch than might be found in the first movie. I’m not sure they’re trying to do anything beyond that, but I’ll leave that to the scholars.

The theme of the novel and the film Frankenstein is science gone too far and man substituting himself for God. Pretorius toasts Henry Frankenstein and himself with the famous quote: “To a new world of gods and monsters.” Pretorius sees himself as one of the gods, but he’s actually one of the monsters here.

There’s religious iconography all over the film. At one point the Monster is put up on a cross in a kind of mock crucifixion. It’s a mistake to say that the Monster is a Christ-figure—he’s not dying for anyone’s sins here but his own. Plus, he was already dead in the first place. It’s more a mockery of Christ from the committed atheist Whale. In one scene, the Monster runs through a graveyard and smashes a statue of an angel. The part of the same scene where the Monster tries to save a statue of Christ by ripping him off the cross he’s nailed on was ordered deleted by the Production Office.

There is a sign of genuine Christian charity when the Monster meets the blind hermit in the woods. In that tiny hovel, the monster makes his first friend and the hermit’s prayer for a friend is answered. The hermit is dressed as a medieval monk. The two share bread and wine, or in other words, partake of the Eucharist. It’s a touching scene that has kind of been ruined by Gene Hackman’s brilliant parody in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Eh, what are you going to do about that? Just appreciate it for what it was and try to refrain from making espresso jokes.

Whale made some changes to the Monster in Bride. First off, in a move that Karloff strongly opposed, the Monster can now talk. But more importantly, instead of being a destructive force of nature, the Monster is more of a sad creature to be pitied. Sure, he kills people, but most of them were trying to harm him first. In the first picture, he throws a girl into the lake where she drowns. In The Bride, the Monster actually rescues a maiden from drowning. Of course, he gets blamed for trying to kill her anyway. His desire for a mate comes from his simple desire for a (dead) friend like him. Whale wanted the Monster to have the mind of a ten-year-old and the hormones of a fifteen-year-old. Yeah, that’s pretty scary.

There are a couple of other elements that make The Bride of Frankenstein stand out from the other Universal horror films. One is that it seems to have a bigger budget, which leads to better sets. The film was actually budgeted for the same amount, but Bride went over budget and I think on top of that, Whale just did more with the money he had.

The other remarkable element missing from the first film is the Franz Waxman score, complete with separate themes for the Monster, the Bride and Pretorius.

I imagine that most of you have already seen The Bride of Frankenstein, so I’m not going to recap the plot or anything. But it’s always worth a re-watch at this time of year and like me, you’ll probably catch something new every time you watch it.

Here’s the famous reveal of the Monster’s Mate. I normally don’t like showing clips from the end of films, but this piece is so famous I think you’re already familiar with it, even if you’ve never seen the movie. This is also a good example of Waxman’s score.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

While I’m not convinced that catcher Willson Contreras is definitely gone this winter, I do believe that the odds are very much against him returning. That means that unless the Cubs intend to go through the 2023 season with Yan Gomes and P.J. Higgins as their only catchers, they are going to have to acquire a new one.

It’s certainly possible that the Cubs trade for a catcher and the Athletics might be willing to deal Sean Murphy. But Murphy has three more years of control and I’m sure that the A’s would want a prospect haul in return for him. Again, I don’t think it’s impossible that the Cubs make a deal like that, but I think they still want to add prospects, not deal them away. So I’m going to mark that down as “unlikely but not impossible.”

More likely, the Cubs go out and sign another free agent. The best catcher on the market is Contreras, so that is probably out. The Rays’ Mike Zunino is a free agent if the Rays (as expected) don’t pick up his option, but he’s coming off a terrible season where he didn’t play after early June after undergoing thoracic outlet syndrome in his left arm. I don’t think anyone can count on Zunino to play a major role in the 2023 season.

The best option on the free agent market, as far as the Cubs are concerned, seems to be Astros catcher Christian Vázquez. After spending his entire career in Boston, Vázquez was traded to Houston at the deadline for prospects. He played 119 games between Boston and Houston last season and hit .274/.315/.399 with nine home runs. Those numbers are pretty close to his career averages as well. That’s not eye-opening, but it’s certainly an acceptable number for a catcher with a solid defense and a very good reputation for handling a pitching staff, which Vázquez has.

Vázquez just turned 32, so it’s not like he’s young. On the other hand, you’re not going to find a young catcher on the free agent market.

Vázquez made $7 million last year and is probably looking for a small raise this winter. He also probably wants a two-year deal or two and an option. So he won’t be cheap, but Vázquez isn’t going to break the bank, either. He won’t prevent the Cubs from pursuing other free agents.

So what do you think? Assuming Contreras is gone, should the Cubs try to sign Christian Vázquez?


Christian Vázquez as a free agent signing?

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Thank you so very much for stopping by this evening. If you checked any rain gear, we can get it for you now. Please clean up the area around your table. Tip the waitstaff. Drive home safely. Stay away from ghouls. And join us again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.