It’s another week here at BCB After Dark: the cool spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’ve got everything ready for another week of shows. Please come on in. We’ve got some new chairs tonight for you to try out. There are still a few good tables available, so please seat yourself. There’s a two-drink minimum tonight, but it’s bring your own beverage. I hope you brought enough for yourself.
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.
Both the Cubs and the minors were dark tonight, but we’re open for business.
Last time I asked you which future free agent shortstop you’d like the Cubs to sign this upcoming winter and 50 percent of you said “None of the above,” preferring that the Cubs spend the money elsewhere. Thirty-four percent of you would like to see Trea Turner in a Cubs uniform.
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.
It would have been the 100th birthday of the great jazz bassist Charles Mingus this past Friday. so there have been a lot of Mingus celebrations going around the jazz world. Here’s a copy of a 1965 public television show by Mingus’ group, joined by a group led by pianist Cecil Taylor, and hosted by author Ralph Ellison and music critic Martin Williams.
Ellison makes the point of how this is all “experimental” jazz and tries to explain what it all means. Certainly Taylor playing the inside of the piano by striking the strings with a mallet rather than depressing the keys isn’t the standard way of playing music. I find this video interesting not only for the music, but for what a show on public television (then called National Educational Television) could look like in 1965.
It’s Harry Belafonte week here at BCB After Dark. Belafonte is best-known today as a singer and an activist and if truth be told, that’s probably how Belafonte would describe himself today if you asked him. But he also had a career as an actor and his career, both as a singer and an actor, was at its peak in 1959. Belafonte had a gold record with the live Belafonte at Carnegie Hall in 1959, he starred in his first television special that year and had the starring role in two motion pictures. The first film was The World, the Flesh and the Devil, directed by Ranald MacDougall. The second film was Odds Against Tomorrow, directed by Robert Wise. Both films are parables about racism, which was still a controversial topic in 1959. (I guess it still is today.) But while The World, the Flesh and the Devil makes some more interesting points about that topic, Odds Against Tomorrow is the one you want to watch.
Maybe it should be clear from the two directors that Odds Against Tomorrow would be the better film. MacDougall was a noted screenwriter. He wrote Mildred Pierce, for example, and he wrote the script for The World, the Flesh and the Devil as well. But his resumé as a director was pretty thin. On the other hand, Robert Wise is still considered among the greatest directors of the fifties and sixties and he would go on to win two Academy Awards for Best Director for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Odds Against Tomorrow certainly doesn’t have a lot in common with those big-budget musicals, but the craftsmanship of visual storytelling that Wise puts into the film really does stand out in Odds Against Tomorrow. Plus, it’s just a better script.
You unfortunate readers tonight are going to get my take on The World, the Flesh and the Devil tonight. You’ll have to get tickets for the showing of Odds Against Tomorrow on Wednesday night/Thursday morning.
The World, the Flesh and the Devil combines two “messages” that were common in films of the late-fifties and early-sixties: the anti-racism film and the final survivors of a nuclear apocalypse film. Other than a few off-camera voices, there are only three actors in this film: Belafonte, Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer. The first 28 minutes of the film features Belafonte all by himself.
Belafonte plays Ralph Burton, a mine inspector who was deep inside a Pennsylvania coal mine when there’s a cave-in. Ralph escapes without serious injury, but he’s trapped deep below the surface of the earth. The phone line that is used to call for help is damaged, but he can hear the people on the surface trying to dig him out and they communicate with him by tapping on the pipes.
After several days, the noise of the digging stops. Ralph starts searching for another way out and is able to dig his way through the rubble to find the steps to the surface. Left unanswered is the question of if it were so easy for Ralph to dig his way to the surface, why did he wait a week before he tried it? It’s a mystery, like many others in this picture.
When Ralph climbs to the surface, he finds the coal mine on fire and everyone is gone.
Spoilers for a 63-year-old movie to follow:
Ralph goes to mine office to call for help where the missing operators have helpfully left behind a couple of newspapers with big headlines explaining that a cloud of nuclear dust has been circling the earth and that it’s the end of the world.
Ralph goes out and searches for any other survivors and finds none. Also suspiciously, there are no bodies anywhere nor any sign of animal life. (There are still trees and plants) Abandoned cars everywhere, but there are no human remains. You would think that what happened to all the bodies of the people who died would be an important detail. You would be wrong.
Ralph goes to a car dealer and grabs a new car, which makes sense, and then decides to drive to New York, which doesn’t. If you’re in Pennsylvania coal country and you’re looking for survivors, wouldn’t you check out Pittsburgh before New York? Nope. You’d head straight for Manhattan, where all the bridges into town are blocked by hundreds of abandoned cars. Again, no bodies. Ralph eventually makes his way into Manhattan anyway and finds no one.
Ralph heads to a TV studio to get some more news about what happened, but the taped broadcasts don’t provide much insight other than the radioactive dust cloud covered the entire planet. He loots a bunch of food and takes some mannequins for companionship (makes more sense than a volleyball) and sets up a home in a nice New York high-rise apartment. Ralph plays guitar and sings songs to the mannequins because we want to hear Belafonte sing. (He also sang a song while trapped underground. Maybe that’s why he didn’t dig out earlier. He wanted to perfect his song first.)
While walking around Manhattan, we see that Ralph is being followed by a pair of women’s shoes. The mysterious woman stays in the shadows until Ralph gets angry at one of the mannequins and tosses him off the balcony. She screams, and Ralph hears it. He rushes down to the street to find her.
The woman is Sarah Crandall (Stevens). Spelled with two “L”s. That’s a detail they’re sure to mention, unlike the whole “where are all the bodies” thing. Crandall had gone into a shelter for a week with two other people. Those people left the shelter early and died. Apparently the radioactive dust was only deadly for about five days, which explains why Ralph is still alive but not why he and Sarah are the only ones who seem to have survived. I mean, that’s a pretty wimpy radioactive half-life.
The next part of the movie is Ralph and Sarah building a life for themselves in Manhattan. Ralph sets up a generator to give the two of them and their little neighborhood power. They also fall in love, except that Ralph is constantly pushing Sarah away. He makes Sarah live in a different building, for example. When Sarah finally confronts Ralph about this, Ralph points out that he’s Black and she’s white and what would she think of him if he weren’t the last man alive? (He’s Harry Belafonte. She’d still be interested.) He also asks what other people would think of the two of them? Of course, “What other people?” That’s is actually one of the more interesting points the movie makes.
Sarah and Ralph have a big fight over this, but they eventually make up. But everytime Sarah thinks that Ralph might have gotten over his hangup over dating a white woman, he pushes her away.
Ralph sets up a short-wave radio and manages to make some contact with a French-speaker, but that’s about as far as that goes. All Ralph and Sarah know is that they aren’t the only two survivors, but there definitely aren’t many.
Sarah spots a small boat heading towards Manhattan and it turns out to be Benson Thacker (Ferrer). How Ben survived is unclear, but he’s been sailing up the Atlantic coast looking for survivors and Ralph and Sarah are the first two he finds.
Now we have a love triangle set up. Ben clearly finds the young Sarah attractive and desirable. Ralph tells Sarah to go be with Ben, who seems like a nice guy. But Sarah doesn’t love Ben, she loves Ralph. Of course, no one seems to consider that maybe monogamy is a luxury that the last three survivors of a nuclear holocaust can’t afford, but maybe the Production Code survived the fallout.
Anyway, nice guy Ben keeps getting less nice as he realizes that Sarah only has eyes for Ralph. Ben gets a gun and tells Ralph that he’d better either leave town or he’ll kill him. (That’s the way to win a girl’s love, although maybe a nuclear holocaust has changed that too.) Eventually, there’s a shootout between Ralph and Ben through the abandoned streets of Manhattan. Running away from Ben, Ralph ends up at Ralph Bunche Park near the United Nations and sees that quote from the Book of Isaiah about beating swords into plowshares inscribed on the wall.
Ralph reads that and decides to throw down his gun and tells Ben to kill him if he must. Ben can’t do it, and Ralph walks away. For the first time, Ralph takes Sarah’s hand. The two of them start walking, then stop and wait for Ben. Ben gets up, joins them and takes Sarah’s other hand. Have they finally abandoned monogamy after armageddon? Unclear! But the film ends with “THE BEGINNING” written across the screen.
What’s really interesting about The World, the Flesh and the Devil is the way that it posits that attitudes about race are so ingrained that the final survivors of a nuclear holocaust can’t shake them. You could say the same about monogamy. Belafonte is also his normal appealing self here, albeit with a bit of a raging dark side. Of course, the end of the world could do that to anyone.
But if you didn’t skip the spoilers, you know that much of the plot makes no sense. The three characters do things for no reason other than that’s what the plot demands. Ferrer’s transformation away from pretty nice guy comes really quickly and doesn’t work well. I get that director MacDougall (with two “L”s. So that’s where that comes from!) is trying to make a point about desire and jealousy, but it just doesn’t work. Ferrer was probably just too nice a guy.
Of course, even with this chaste and almost-completely unrequited interracial romance, this film was banned throughout most of the South.
The World, the Flesh and the Devil is a picture with a very charismatic lead who has the screen to himself for one-third of the film. It also has some very interesting things to say about how mid-century American mores would survive even the end of the world. It’s just too bad that all that is surrounded by a whole lot of nonsense.
The film for next time, Odds Against Tomorrow, does not have anything as interesting to say about race or humanity as this one does. But it’s simply a better and more engaging film.
Here’s the scene where Sarah comes on to Ralph and Ralph pushes her away and addresses the issue of race. Fair warning: Belafonte uses the “N-word” once to describe himself.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and the movies.
Tonight’s question is about the Cubs hitters who are off to slow starts. Overall, the Cubs have a team batting average of .273 through 16 games, which is pretty good considering that their team batting average for all of 2021 was .237. Of course, they had pitchers hitting that year, but even taking them out, it’s a lot higher.
But there are five players who are still hitting below .250. Tonight I’m going to ask you which of these players are you least worried about at the moment. You can define “worry” anyway you’d like. Obviously, you would figure a power hitter like Frank Schwindel could still be productive hitting .240 if he draws walks and keeps homering whereas a singles hitter like Nick Madrigal probably can’t be. So you don’t have to just predict who will have the highest batting average come July.
The five players who are under .250 are:
Frank Schwindel .241
Nick Madrigal .213
Rafael Ortega .205
Clint Frazier .143.
Michael Hermosillo .118
As I noted, you don’t have to just take batting average into account. Hermosillo has the lowest average, for example, but he’s also got the highest on-base percentage of these five hitters at .318.
Patrick Wisdom escapes this poll by getting his average up to exactly .250 after the Pirates series.
So who are you least worried about?
Which of the following Cubs are you least concerned about?
This poll is closed
Thank you again so much for stopping by. We hope we made your Cubs off-night a little more enjoyable. Please tip your waitstaff. Get home safely. And stop by again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.