clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

BCB After Dark: Winter Meetings Blues

The late-night/early-morning club for Cubs fans asks if the Cubs will make a big acquisition at the Winter Meetings.

Chicago Cubs Introduce David Ross - News Conference Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the jumpin’ joint for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re so glad to that you decided to stop in this evening. I hope to find you well tonight. Come on in and relax for a while. There is still one table by the fireplace still available if you’re looking to warm up. Let us know if we can do anything to make your stay better. 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.

Last night I asked you what you thought the Cubs were going to do with outfielder Ian Happ. In the end, only 32 percent of you thought that the Cubs would sign Happ to a contract extension. Thirty-five percent thought the Cubs would trade Happ sometime during the 2023 season and twenty percent of you think the Cubs won’t even wait that long to deal him.

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

I don’t watch a lot of college basketball these days and I don’t live in the state of Illinois. So I was very, very confused when I saw Coleman Hawkins showing up repeatedly in my Twitter timeline yesterday. My first thought was what I always think when someone who has passed trends on Twitter; “Well, he couldn’t have died again.” Then I saw someone saying Hawkins had a triple-double and wondered if that was three double basses. (Not really. I knew people were referring to a basketball player with the same name by then.)

So in honor of the original Coleman Hawkins, here he is in London in 1964. This is a colorized video of a British television broadcast. Hawkins in on tenor sax, Harry “Sweets” Edison is on trumpet, Charles Thompson on piano, Jimmy Woode on bass and Jo Jones on drums.

I promised that I’d write something on The Thin Man (1934) and its first sequel, After The Thin Man (1936) tonight. So despite the fact that I’m a little under the weather this evening, I’m going to give it a go. But I do want to remind you that I’m still taking suggestions for our Winter Noir Classic. I’ll try to make up a bracket this weekend. Also, I watched Sweet Smell of Success (1957) last night and I can say that film, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, is certainly a candidate for our little bracket tournament. This film also reminded me that while the noir of the 1940s tends to be stronger than that of the 1950s, one thing that late-fifties noir has going for it is the extensive use of cool jazz. The music by the Chico Hamilton Quintet in Sweet Smell of Success was much appreciated by me, anyway.

Walk into a television network executive’s office and pitch this series: A San Francisco police detective marries a rich heiress and retires to a life of luxury. The glamorous couple spend their evenings going to parties, swapping clever dialog and drinking superhuman amounts of alcohol. They spend their days nursing their hangovers and taking care of their cute dog. But wherever they go, murder seems to follow. Nick and Nora Charles then somewhat-reluctantly spring into action to solve the case.

I don’t know about the TV industry these days, but throughout most of the history of television, you could sell that pilot. And many did. Every man/woman detective couple in the history of TV gets at least some of their DNA from The Thin Man series of films. Hart to Hart is the most obvious—they even included the dog—but the witty banter from Moonlighting is here as well. Remington Steele, McMillan & Wife, Bones, Castle et. al. all fall into the genre that The Thin Man created.

The first Thin Man movie from 1934 was meant to be a cheap quickie B-movie. It was shot in two weeks and for a small budget. Stars William Powell and Myrna Loy had been well-received as supporting players to Clark Gable in an earlier picture from the same year, Manhattan Melodrama, so M-G-M quickly threw this one together with Manhattan Melodrama director W. S. Van Dyke to make another one as quickly as possible.

To everyone’s surprise, The Thin Man became a huge hit. Most of that is because America immediately fell in love with Nick and Nora Charles and the actors that portrayed them, Powell and Loy.

In Nick and Nora, The Thin Man portrays a married couple as two people who haven’t retired to a quiet life of domesticity and raising children. Nick and Nora party, drink huge amounts of alcohol and still have sex with each other. (That last one is just implied rather than shown on screen, of course.) That may not sound like much today, but in 1934, an on-screen portrait of a married couple like that was positively revolutionary. And America ate it up with a spoon.

Much of this is due to the on-screen chemistry between Powell and Loy. Audiences couldn’t get enough of the two of them and mostly when they were on-screen together. Powell and Loy made 14 films together and six Thin Man movies. They were so good together that many people thought they were married in real life. They were not, and they were never a couple. They were, however, lifelong friends. It probably didn’t hurt that Powell and Loy both had a reputation for being two of the nicest people in Hollywood, a place where nice people tended to be in short supply.

Dashiell Hammett, the author of the novel by the same name the first movie is based on, based Nick and Nora on an idealized version himself and his partner, playwright Lillian Hellman. The movie is a somewhat cleaned-up version of the book. Even in the pre-code days, they couldn’t just show anything in the movies.

Another misconception is that the “Thin Man” of the Thin Man movies referred to Nick Charles. Actually, the “Thin Man” was an inventor who disappears in the first movie. (Admittedly, by the time they got around to the fourth or fifth sequel, the studio just quit fighting the misconception said “Whatever. William Powell is the Thin Man.” It’s kind of like the Frankenstein or Pink Panther movies in that sense.) But the actual “Thin Man” in the first movie is Clyde Wyant, an inventor who goes missing after he discovers that $50,000 he had intended to give to his daughter on her wedding day is gone. Because Nick Charles had previously helped out Clyde on an earlier matter, Clyde’s daughter tracks down Nick to ask for his help.

If Die Hard can be a Christmas movie, The Thin Man is a Christmas movie. Nick and Nora are visiting New York from San Francisco for the holidays. Mostly that involves throwing a lot drunken Christmas parties. I could go into the entire plot of The Thin Man, but it’s mostly difficult to follow and doesn’t make a lot of sense. You aren’t watching this movie to solve the murder. You’re watching because you want to see Nick and Nora drink a lot and say funny things. You also probably want to see Asta, their cute dog who covers his eyes whenever his masters are doing something embarrassing.

When we first meet Nick Charles, he’s teaching the bartenders the proper way to mix drinks by comparing shaking styles to different dances. (That scene was reportedly improvised and William Powell wasn’t even aware that the cameras were rolling.) When Nora shows up, Nick orders her a martini. Nora asks how many Nick’s had and he says he’s on his sixth. Nora then orders five more martinis to keep up.

The Thin Man is also pre-code, so they’re able to get in a lot of sexual innuendo and such that they wouldn’t be able to in the later films. After a scene where a suspect takes a shot at Nick, Nick and Nora spend the next morning nursing their hangovers and reading about the incident in the newspapers. Nick notes that the papers are getting the story all wrong and says “I was shot twice in the Tribune.” Nora, reading a different paper, tells him “I read you were shot five times in the tabloids.” Nick responds “He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.” (rimshot)

I said that The Thin Man isn’t noir and it isn’t. But there are a few scenes, beautifully filmed by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe, where you can see the language of noir being developed. There are some menacing shadows in the basement workshop of inventor Clyde Wyant that certainly foreshadow (pun intended) the cinematic language of noir. Wong Howe’s camera work is another reason why this cheap quickie film turned out so well.

Many people will argue that the first sequel, After the Thin Man, is the best of the six Thin Man movies. It’s post-Code, so most of the double entendres are gone. Nick and Nora still drink almost as much, however. Director Van Dyke returns, but Wong Howe is replaced by Oliver T. Marsh. But because the first one was such a hit, the second one had a lot more time and money behind it. The sets and costumes are a lot more elaborate. There are more settings for Nick and Nora to play in. Dashiell Hammett came up with an original story for the second film and that one makes more sense. After the Thin Man also features Jimmy Stewart in one of his earliest roles, so that’s another point in its favor. If you ask me, I’ll take the original over the first sequel, but they’re pretty close in my mind.

Now I just have to watch the next four sequels. I wonder if anyone’s tried to “binge” them. Because they really are like a good, addictive TV series.

Here’s where we first meet Nick and Nora Charles.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the movies and music.

I’m getting the sense that Cubs fans are getting a little antsy this winter. After two rebuilding seasons that no one on the team is willing to call rebuilding, the fanbase has a reasonable expectation that the Cubs will start making moves to put a competitive team on the field in 2023. With 12 teams making the playoffs—and the sixth-seed in the National League making it all the way to the World Series—it doesn’t seem like it would take a lot to give the Cubs a chance to snag a playoff spot. On top of that, they don’t exactly play in the toughest division in baseball. If they needed to finish ahead of the Dodgers in 2023 to have a chance at a title, then I could see the reluctance to spend this winter. But they only have to outplay the Cardinals and Brewers, neither of which are superteams. (OK, there’s also the Reds and the Pirates. There’s a chance they’ll be good this year as well, but not Dodgers-level good.)

I get a sense that Cub fans are frustrated by every mention of “intelligent spending” and “comfort zones” by baseball writers. And to be sure, I share their frustration. The Cubs have been linked to every single top free agent on the market (except maybe Aaron Judge) but few have said that the Cubs were the favorites to sign any of them. The one free agent that many said the Cubs were the favorites to sign, first baseman José Abreu, signed with the Astros.

So I’m frustrated, you’re frustrated, we’re all frustrated. But Abreu and Tyler Anderson are the two biggest names in the free agent market who have signed already. It’s not like any other team has made a big move. The Cubs are pretty good at keeping their intentions to themselves. Maybe they’re close to signing a big name at the Winter Meetings which start next week.

So today’s question is “Will the Cubs make a major move at the Winter Meetings?” Of course, lots of deals are made after the Winter Meetings these days and superagent Scott Boras especially liked to drag out the negotiating process for as long as possible. But lots of deals are still made at the Winter Meetings, both trades and free agent signings.

I guess I need to define what a “major” trade or free agent signing is for the purposes of this poll. It certainly isn’t the Miles Mastrobuoni deal, no offense to Miles. That might end up as a good trade for the Cubs, but no one would call it “major” right now.

For free agent signings, I’m going to say anything over $50 million in total contract value counts as “major.” For a trade, I’m defining “major” as anything involving someone who is an established major league starter. (Or a bullpen pitcher who could would have a reasonable chance to close on this team.) If the Cubs traded away Ian Happ, that would count as major. If the Cubs traded for Tommy Edman, that would count as major. (That’s not going to happen, which is why I used it Edman as an example.) If the Cubs trade away Nick Madrigal? I guess that’s depends on the return.

So will the Cubs make a “major move” at the Winter Meetings?


Will the Cubs make a "major" move at the Winter Meetings?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Yes, they’ll sign a major free agent
    (67 votes)
  • 3%
    Yes, they’ll make a big trade
    (9 votes)
  • 15%
    Yes, they’ll both make a trade and sign a free agent
    (43 votes)
  • 57%
    No, the Cubs won’t get anything done next week
    (161 votes)
280 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you’ve warmed up a little this cold evening and that you’ve been able to relax for a while. I hope whatever beverage you had was tasty. Please stay warm out there. Get home safely. If you need us to call a ride for you, let us know. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.