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BCB After Dark: ‘Twas the night before . . .

The pre-party before Opening Day asks you who the Cubs MVP will be for 2022.

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jay Drowns/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the invite-only pre-party for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It’s our final night before the season starts. We’re so glad you got your invitation and decided to stop by. We’re sold out tonight, but we will definitely honor your reservation. No cover charge for our friends on a night like tonight. 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 who was going to win the NL Central. With 58 percent of the vote, you thought the I-94 neighbors, the Milwaukee Brewers, would take the crown. In second place, with 23 percent are the optimists who thought the Cubs would win the division. Or are they the realists and we’re the pessimists? The Cardinals were in third with 16 percent and the Reds and Pirates both got two percent.

(I’m not cheering for the Pirates, but what kind of a story would it be if they won the division?)

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.

I’ve played this clip before, but since tomorrow (or today) is Opening Day, I thought I’d share organist Joey DeFrancesco’s jazz version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

And just so you have a new clip, here’s Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly singing the title track to the film, Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

I promised that I’d write some more about director Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place (1950) tonight, but I’ve got to say that at least some of what I still had to say you people said in the comments yesterday and on Monday night. But I’ll try to write a little about it here tonight anyway.

One of the great strengths of Humphrey Bogart as an actor is that he could convincingly play both a hero and a villain, sometimes at the same time. That ambiguity is key to In A Lonely Place, because much of the tension in the film depends on both the other characters and us, the audience, not knowing which one Bogart’s Dixon Steele is.

The film instantly established two things about Dix Steele. The first is that he’s either modest or suffers from low self-esteem. When an actress recognizes him as the man who wrote her last picture, he cynically points out that he makes a point of it not to see any picture he wrote. When a kid asks him for his autograph as he enters a nightclub that’s frequented by Hollywood types, he agrees with the kid’s friend who calls him a nobody.

The other thing that is established immediately is that he has a violent temper and doesn’t hesitate to throw a punch. A fist fight with the actresses husband is avoided only by them driving off. While at the club, he punches the son-in-law of a studio executive who was making fun of a washed-up actor.

Dix is at the club because his agent and a director want him to write the screenplay for their new movie, based on a novel. The hat-check girl Mildred (Martha Stewart—no, not that Martha Stewart. A different one.) is reading the novel and she just raves about it to Dix. So when it comes time to leave, Dix comes up with an idea. Rather than read the book himself, he offers to pay Mildred to come back to his place and just tell him the entire plot of the movie. Mildred has to break a date with her boyfriend to do it, but the excitement of helping make a Hollywood movie is too tempting to turn down.

While the two return his apartment, they are met by Dix’s new neighbor, an aspiring actress named Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). She walks right past them, but it’s clear that they both take notice of each other.

After listening to Mildred go on and on about the novel, Dix decides that the entire thing is a piece of crap. He barely makes any attempt to hide how little he thinks of the novel, but Mildred is so innocent and enthusiastic that she doesn’t notices. Eventually, Dix tells Mildred he’s tired and tells Mildred to catch a cab around the corner. He gives her money for cab fare and closes the door.

The next scene is the next morning, when Dix is woken up by an old army buddy at his door, Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy). Brub is now a police detective and informs him that it’s not a social call. Mildred turned up dead the night before and Dix was the last person to see her alive.

Dix gets called down to the station for questioning, and he doesn’t take any of it with the seriousness that it deserves. But he cites Laurel as an alibi and she confirms that she saw Mildred leave her apartment alone.

Did Laurel really see Mildred leave? Or is she just lying for Dix because she’s a struggling actress who finds a successful screenwriter fascinating? Unclear! Did Dix follow Mildred out the door? Did he kill Mildred, or did someone else do it? Again, unclear!

Ray skillfully plays on that ambiguity throughout the film. Laurel, like most people, takes a liking to Dix and he enlists her to type up the screenplay while he writes it. The two of them fall in love over the middle portion of the film. But lurking behind this love story is the danger of Dix’s violent temper and the possibility that he’s guilty of murder. That Laurel begins to have doubts is a pretty strong indication that she made up that alibi.

Ray does a great job of keeping the picture going and it checks in at a tight 94 minutes. The film is also a great example of how the Golden Age of Hollywood could make a film on a small budget look a lot bigger. Bogart is at his best here, showing a man of outward toughness but inner vulnerability. That’s a character he’d played many times, but Dix’s random acts of violence gives his character a disturbing edge. But Bogart never overplays the temper. He keeps it in the realm of the believable. As I wrote last time, it’s a picture-perfect view of a charming domestic abuser and it serves as an explanation as to why such people get away with violence for so long.

Grahame is great as Laurel. She’s especially terrific in the way that she uses her voice and small facial movements to show that doubt is creeping into her mind, even when her words say that she doesn’t believe for a second that Dix is capable of murder.

The film also serves as a commentary on the movie-making process. Like the screenplay that Dix is writing throughout the movie, the film In A Lonely Place bears very little resemblance to the novel In a Lonely Place. Ray even constantly re-wrote the script on the set, even going so far as to turn an explosive, but a very melodramatic, “Hollywood” ending into something quieter and more poetic.

(Ray actually slept on the set during shooting because he was going through a divorce with Grahame at the time and he didn’t want to spend his evenings with her after spending all day with her.)

All in all, In a Lonely Place is a must-watch for fans of noir and Bogart. Also fans of Grahame, although I’m not sure how one could be a big Grahame fan and not have already seen this film. Are there really big fans of Violet Bick? Because In A Lonely Place is certainly the performance of her career, one that earns her the title of the queen of noir.

Here’s the opening almost-nine minutes of In A Lonely Place. For some reason, someone tagged Alfred Hitchcock on this video. Hitchcock had nothing to do with this film and the film isn’t very Hitchockian in any case.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.

I want to start the season on an “up” note, so I’m just going to ask you who you think the Cubs MVP will be for the 2022 season. Like the league MVP award, I’m not going to bother to define what “valuable” means. You can define it any way you like. I will insist that pitchers are eligible for this award. So if you think the most valuable Cub in 2022 is going to be a pitcher, don’t vote for a position player just because the pitcher doesn’t play every day.

So who will be the Cubs’ MVP for 2022?


Who will be the Cubs 2022 MVP?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Willson Contreras
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    Clint Frazier
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Ian Happ
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Kyle Hendricks
    (1 vote)
  • 4%
    Nico Hoerner
    (5 votes)
  • 4%
    Nick Madrigal
    (5 votes)
  • 18%
    Frank Schwindel
    (20 votes)
  • 10%
    Marcus Stroman
    (11 votes)
  • 47%
    Seiya Suzuki
    (51 votes)
  • 1%
    Patrick Wisdom
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else (leave in comments)
    (1 vote)
107 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so much for stopping by our pre-party. Make your way to Wrigley Field safely. Pray for no rain. Except it can rain baseballs on Waveland and Sheffield when the Cubs are at bat. Tip your waitstaff. Tell your friends. And stop by again next week for another edition of BCB After Dark.