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BCB After Dark: Sharper than Steele

The cool spot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks you if Justin Steele is going to claim a rotation spot.

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

It’s another week here at BCB After Dark: the hippest hole-in-the-wall for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Wasn’t sure you were going to make it here tonight, but we’re glad you did. We’ve got outdoor patio seating for this pleasant spring night. Or you can grab a table in the corner where you can keep to yourself. There’s no cover charge tonight. The show will start any time now. 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 week I asked you which former Cubs legend did the best for himself in free agency. With 50 percent of the vote, you decided that the guy who got the most money, Kris Bryant, was the “winner” in this category. (They’re all winners, of course.) In second place was Javier Báez and his deal with the Tigers got 24 percent. Kyle Schwarber’s contract with the Phillies got him in third place with 22 percent of the vote.

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

Tonight we have a performance for KEXP radio in Seattle from just this past December. It’s contemporary vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, who is considered one of the rising stars in jazz vocals with two Grammy nominations for her first three recordings.

Here she does four songs live in studio with Keith Brown on piano, Russell Carter on drums and Kris Funn on bass.

Between all the basketball and baseball and family obligations, I only managed to watch one film over the past week, 1958’s Terror in a Texas Town, directed by Joseph H. Lewis. I watched it because Lewis teamed up with screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (more on him later) eight years earlier to make Gun Crazy, which is truly one of the great B-movies of all time. I hoped that lightning would strike twice and they’d turn out another low-budget masterpiece, but unfortunately, Terror in a Texas Town is not a great movie. The good news is that it’s not really a bad film either. Instead, it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill Western with one of the greatest hooks of all time: an old West duel between a black-clad gunfighter and a man with a whaling harpoon.

Screenwriter Trumbo is perhaps the best known of the “Hollywood Ten,” or the original group of Hollywood screenwriters and producers who went to prison for contempt of congress rather than testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. (HUAC) Trumbo went to federal prison for 11 months in 1950 and when he got out, he was “blacklisted” and unable to work on any picture under his own name.

To get around that restriction (and to earn enough money to support his family), Trumbo worked mostly for “poverty row” studios who didn’t care about any blacklist, but only under pseudonyms or with other writers serving as “fronts,” taking credit for Trumbo’s work. Trumbo won two Academy Awards while he was blacklisted—one for Roman Holiday and another for The Brave Ones, but the statues went to the “fronts” who put their names on the scripts. The blacklist on Trumbo continued until 1960 when Spartacus was released under his own name.

Trumbo’s life has been well-documented, and he even got a biopic starring Bryan Cranston as Trumbo in 2015. That film deals mostly with Trumbo’s time on the blacklist. Cranston got an Academy Award nomination for his role as Trumbo.

The film itself was almost a family reunion of blacklisted artists. The main villain of the piece, the hired gunfighter Johnny Crale, was played by blacklisted screenwriter Nedrick Young, under the name Ned Young. As a screenwriter, Young penned such classics as Jailhouse Rock (the only Elvis movie you really must see) and Inherit the Wind under pseudonyms. He also used his relative anonymity (at least compared to someone like Trumbo) to take on small acting roles like this one, since no one in the public really knew what he looked like.

The star of Terror in a Texas Town, Sterling Hayden, was also hauled before HUAC to testify in the early days of the Red Scare, but unlike Trumbo and Young, Hayden did confess that he had been duped by communists and named names to the committee. He always said afterwards that he regretted doing so more than anything else he’d ever done and tried to make amends for it the rest of his life. It appears that Hayden was forgiven for his sins much more than some other Hollywood figures who testified. After all, he apologized and agreed to make a movie like this one with several people whom Hayden knew were blacklisted.

The film itself is a kind of by-the-number B-western with a bit of High Noon tossed into it. It’s not Trumbo’s best work by any means, but there are places where he takes firm aim at the blacklist and the hypocrisy of America. Also, it’s got a duel between a gunman and a guy with a harpoon. I don’t think I can stress that last part enough.

That scene of the gun/harpoon duel isn’t really a spoiler since Terror in a Texas Town starts out with the set-up to the duel, with Johnny Crale and George Hansen (Hayden) meeting in the main street of a poor rural Texas town of the Old West. The rest of the story is a flashback explaining what led up to the duel.

McNeil (Sebastian Cabot, who would go on to play Mr. French on Family Affair) is a wealthy landowner who also owns all the judges and the local sheriff. When it is discovered that there is oil on these poor dirt farmers’ lands, he hires the vicious gunman Crale to force the farmers to sell their land to him. When George’s father Sven, a Swedish immigrant, refuses to sell his farm, Crale guns him down dead. He even unloads his revolver into Sven after he’s down on the ground in a mark of his special form of cruelty. The murder is witnessed by the Mirada family, a poor but kind Mexican family that lives nearby. But they keep their mouths shut out of fear.

George had been away serving on a whaling ship, but he returns home a couple days after his father’s murder, unaware of what happened to him. He takes the news of his father’s death fairly stoically, but George also says he’s going to take possession of his father’s farm as outlined in his father’s will.

The sheriff, who works for McNeil and not the people, tells George that no one has any idea who killed his father and George really doesn’t have any right to his family farm as it is now claimed by McNeil. George calmly insists that he is his father’s heir and the land belongs to him.

This is where Trumbo really lets the people who blacklisted him have it. The sheriff tells George that this is America and that of course, George has a right to have his claims heard and that a fair judge will decide who has the proper claim to the land. Of course, these claims of American justice and honesty are all a sham, since we all know that the system is already rigged in favor of McNeil and that there is no way the local judges, who are all in McNeil’s pocket, will rule for George. All of the sheriff’s talk about the rights of all Americans is all a bunch of nonsense, as it was for Trumbo. George neither believes nor disbelieves the sheriff. He just insists on what is right, and that is that the son inherits his father’s land.

Hayden’s stoic acting style doesn’t really suit him here. Combined with a pretty terrible Swedish accent, George comes across as kind of dumb, even though the movie shows he’s probably the smartest man in town. Honestly, Hayden is so good in The Killing, Dr. Strangelove and The Godfather (among other films) that it’s sad to see him miss here like he does. The accent is really bad and distracting—I think if he’d have dumped that he probably could have done a better job.

The other way that Trumbo and Lewis take shots at the America who turned its back on the blacklisted is by making the heroes of the film immigrants. For all the talk of the sheriff about the rights of Americans, the two groups actually stand up for the rights of the ordinary people are the Swedish immigrant Hansen family and the Mexican Mirada family. Those people are the true Americans in Trumbo’s portrait.

There’s not a lot of point in my going through the rest of the plot of the film. George eventually figures out what’s going on and Crale tries to cover his tracks. That all leads up to the scene with the duel between the six-shooters and the harpoon.

I should mention that the other “hook” of the film is that Crale fires his gun with his left hand because he got his right hand shot off in an earlier gunfight. He wears a prosthetic iron right hand. But he’s almost as fast with his left hand as he was with his right. So there’s the “hook” of his hand and the “hook” of the harpoon, both of which are story hooks. Get it?

The most interesting part of Terror in a Texas Town is seeing what a two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter like Trumbo was turning out in his bathtub to make ends meet under the blacklist. (The bathtub had nothing to do with the blacklist. He just liked to write while taking a bath. He’d sit in there for hours typing.) The films had to be cheap, because that’s all the studios who would hire him could afford. They also had to appeal to the kinds of drive-in and Saturday matinee audiences that those studios marketed themselves to. Under these circumstances, Terror in a Texas Town is not bad. But it’s no Gun Crazy.

I generally don’t like showing the final scene of a film because I don’t want to spoil things for you, but c’mon! All you really want to see in Terror in a Texas Town is the harpoon vs. revolver duel! And you know it’s going to happen—they preview it in the first scene.

So for those of you who just want to see the awesome parts of a film, here’s the end of Terror in a Texas Town. Sterling Hayden has a whaling harpoon and the left-handed Nedrick Young has a pistol.

And how about those townspeople! Pro tip: when watching a duel between a man with a pistol and a man with a harpoon, always stand right behind the man with the harpoon. That way if the man with the pistol misses, you can catch the bullet for him.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.

It’s so great that the lockout is over, almost all the free agents have signed and they’re playing baseball again. Spring Training is going to be really short this year, so we’re going to have to start making decisions about the Opening Day roster soon.

The Cubs have a lot of problems heading into this season, but maybe the biggest is who is going to pitch in the back of the rotation. On Saturday, left-hander Justin Steele made his case for being in the starting rotation with a strong outing in a Spring Training game against the Padres.

Now there are about half a dozen pitchers in the mix for that fifth starter job. Drew Smyly, certainly. Keegan Thompson is another. It was supposed to be Adbert Alzolay, but his injury has him out until at least the end of May.

But tonight is about Justin Steele. The question is “How confident are you that Justin Steele can be the Cubs’ fifth starter this season?” By being the “fifth starter,” I mean you think that Steele is going to win a spot in the starting rotation out of Spring Training and spend more than half of the season pitching out of the rotation. In Steele’s rookie season last year, he made nine starts and eleven relief appearances, going 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA. He was much better as a reliever than a starter, however. His ERA as a starter was 4.95 and as a reliever it was 2.03. However, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a small sample size. I think we also expect (hope?) that Steele will improve on his rookie campaign now that he’s got some major league innings on his resumé.

So on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being “no chance” and 5 being maybe not 100% but “pretty darn likely,” how confident are you that Justin Steele will be a starting pitcher for the Cubs in 2022?


How likely is it that Justin Steele will spend the majority of 2022 in the Cubs rotation?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    1 (no chance)
    (3 votes)
  • 14%
    (21 votes)
  • 43%
    (63 votes)
  • 26%
    (39 votes)
  • 13%
    5 (pretty darn likely)
    (20 votes)
146 votes total Vote Now

Thank you again for stopping in. Be sure to drive home safely. Tip the waitstaff. Tell your friends. And stop in again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.