It’s another edition of BCB After Dark: the happening spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. So glad you could stop by for our final show of the week. We’ve got no dress code tonight, except that you do need to be dressed. No cover charge. A few good tables are still available. Bring your own beverage. Invite a friend.
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.
The Cubs lost a frustrating game to the Pirates tonight, 3-2. It’s also frustrating that the team is 15-21 despite having a +4 run differential. A 3-9 record in one-run games will do that to you. But one has to think that is going to even out a bit over the rest of the season, right? If the team had a lousy bullpen and were blowing leads late, that would be one thing, but they just are losing all the close ones.
Last night, I asked you what you thought about the five big free agent shortstops who signed over the winter and their struggles in 2022. With 43 percent of the vote, you said you were the least concerned about Carlos Correa. Corey Seager got 30 percent of the vote in that poll. On the other hand, 35 percent of you were the most worried about Trevor Story, with Marcus Semien close behind with 27 percent and Javier Báez in third with 26 percent.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. Feel free to skip to the baseball question at the end if you wish. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Tonight we have a treat in a 2013 performance from pianist Randy Weston and saxophonist Billy Harper. Weston, who left us in 2018 at the age of 92, started out as a Thelonious Monk-influenced pianist and he never lost that touch. But by the time the 1960s rolled around, Weston started to explore his African heritage and was one of the first jazz greats to incorporate African rhythms and instruments into his works. And by Africa, I mean all of Africa. Morocco and Nigeria were his specialties, but he was influenced by the music of other African nations as well. Weston traveled the whole continent. He was one of the great innovators of world fusion.
Billy Harper is still with us, in case you were wondering, and still recording music.
This is a selection from the 2013 album the two of them made together, “Blues from Senegal.”
High Sierra, the 1941 film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Ida Lupino and Humphrey Bogart, has often been described as a transitional film between the gangster movies of the 1930s and film noir of the 1940s. It’s the “missing link” in the evolution of Hollywood crime movies, so to speak. Certainly it has a foot in both genres. But beyond that, it’s simply a very entertaining crime film that is highlighted by a great performance by Bogart in what was his first real leading role, even if he didn’t get top billing.
Earlier this week, I explained how Bogart schemed to get the part of Roy Earle in this film and why Lupino’s name was above his on the marquee. But it’s hard to see how anyone other than Bogart could play the role of Roy. I’ve always said that Bogart’s range wasn’t the greatest, but no one could play someone who straddled the line between hero and villain better than he did. Early in his career, he was always the villain and he revolted over the one-dimensional nature of some of those parts. But he always tried to find a place to add some humanity to those early roles. More often than not, he succeeded.
Above all, High Sierra is a solidly entertaining crime film, shot with the majestic background of the California Sierra Mountains. That’s the biggest reason to watch it. But there are also a few other things going on. There’s a doomed love story between two broken people played by Bogart and Lupino. It’s also an elegy for the honorable gangster, the Depression-era thieves who were often glamorized by Hollywood and the general public as modern-day Robin Hoods. Loyalty is a big theme as well and how it’s also something that is disappearing with the younger generation—meaning your grandparents or great-grandparents. It is also about the seductiveness of a simple, ordinary life and how innocence can be just an illusion. There’s also a weird point about people with disabilities, although I’m not quite sure what it is. Maybe it is more a point about how able-bodied people react to people with a disability than it is about people with disabilities in general.
Another reason to recommend High Sierra is the majestic on-location shooting in the Owens Valley and around Mt. Whitney in California. Few films from 1941 shot on location like this, especially not while climbing up a mountain. But director Raoul Walsh fought for an on-location shoot, arguing that the location was just as important part of the film as the characters. He was right. Bogart’s fall is all the more impactful when you know that it comes on the side of the tallest mountain in the 48 states of the time.
In High Sierra, Bogart plays Roy Earle, a gangster that writer W.R. Burnett (who wrote the novel and co-wrote the screenplay with John Huston) loosely based on John Dillinger. Earle is serving life in prison in Indiana for a series of bank robberies, but mob boss “Big Mac” (Donald MacBride) bribes the governor to get Roy a pardon. Big Mac is dying, but he wants to pull of one more big score before he goes and he needs Roy to pull it off. He (probably correctly) feels that the two young gangsters that he’s hired, Red (Arthur Kennedy) and Babe (Alan Curtis), aren’t up to the job without Roy’s leadership.
Roy, on the other hand, has dreamt of nothing but a quiet life in the country since he was locked up. He has little interest in returning to a life of crime, but his strong sense of honor dictates that he has to do this one more job for Big Mac before he goes straight for good. He also admits to himself that he could use the money from the job to get him started in his new pastoral life.
Spoilers for a 82-year-old movie to follow:
The job is robbing a luxury resort hotel in the Sierra Mountains. Roy meets up with Red and Babe at some mountain cabins where they need to hole up for a few days until the job is ready.
Roy is immediately dismayed by what he sees. Red and Babe are clearly amateurs. Worse, Babe brought along his girlfriend Marie (Ida Lupino), a dance hall girl whom Roy and Babe are constantly fighting about. Roy orders Marie to head to Los Angeles, but she begs him to let her stay.
On top of that, Louis Mendoza, the gang’s inside man at the hotel, is clearly in over his head. Roy has a little talk with Louis about what happens to guys who don’t follow orders or talk too much. Guns have a way of “accidentally” going off, Roy explains.
There’s also a dog named “Pard” who is supposedly bad luck. Roy wants to get rid of the dog, but he just doesn’t have the heart to leave the dog behind. (Pard was played by Bogart’s own dog.)
While on his way to Los Angeles to meet with Big Mac, Roy meets the Goodhue family who had lost their farm and are heading out to California. Roy is immediately struck by Pa Goodhue’s (Henry Travers) granddaughter, Velma (Joan Leslie). Velma is young, pretty and innocent, but she has a club foot. Roy immediately bonds with the Goodhues, who have the kind of simple life that he longs for. It’s also love at first sight for him with Velma, although Velma doesn’t quite think the same way about him.
When Roy meets with Big Mac, it’s clear to anyone that he’s dying. And in case you missed the message, Doc Blanton (Henry Hull), one of those shady doctors who fix up gangsters with no questions asked, tells Roy that Big Mac is dying. Big Mac laments that he and Roy are two of the last of the real gangsters. What’s left are fools like Red and Babe.
Roy, still smitten with Velma, asks Doc Blanton if Velma’s club foot can be fixed. Roy says he’ll pay for any operation. Blanton checks Velma out and says that it’s a simple operation to fix her foot and that he knows someone who can do it. The entire Goodhue family is excited and Pa Goodhue tells Roy that he’s a good man. But he also warns him that Velma already has a boyfriend that she’s crazy about back home. Roy agrees to pay for the operation anyway. His code of honor dictates nothing less.
Roy returns to the mountain cabin, still smarting about Velma. Red and Babe had a big fight about Marie, so she flees to Roy’s cabin and begs to stay with him. Like Roy and Velma, Marie has fallen for Roy but he doesn’t reciprocate the feelings yet. But you can tell he’s going to get there eventually. Marie shares the story of her abusive upbringing and how she ended up as a dance hall girl. Both of them bond over doing time in “prison.” He means actual prison and she means the prison of an abusive family.
Velma’s operation is a success and Roy offers to marry her. Velma tearfully turns him down, explaining that she doesn’t love him and then gives him the “we can still be friends” speech. Ouch.
With Roy’s dreams of quiet domesticity with Velma smashed, he returns to Marie, Red and Babe and plans the hotel robbery. He was going to do that anyway, but now he’s in a bad mood.
I don’t need to tell you all the details. You’ve seen enough of these movies to know the robbery goes badly. Roy is shot, although, not badly enough to prevent him from getting away. Red and Babe are killed and Louis is arrested. Roy was right that these three guys weren’t up to the job.
However, Roy does get away with the jewels that Big Mac wanted. But when he gets to Los Angeles, he finds that Big Mac has died, so there is no one to give him his cut. Mac gave Roy instructions on what to do if Mac didn’t live to see the job finished, but Big Mac’s aide Kranmer (Barton MacLane), a corrupt ex-cop, thinks the two of them should just fence the jewels themselves and split the money. Roy’s sense of honor, as well as his desire to fulfill his friend’s final wish, causes him to decline. So Kranmer decides to just rob Roy of the jewels. Roy shoots him dead in the confrontation.
Roy goes to see Velma, having promised to see her walk once she’d recovered. He’s in for a rude shock. Velma’s financé has shown up along with an equally-sketchy friend. Velma is no longer the innocent girl with a clubfoot anymore. Now she’s a a party girl who dances and has little time for Roy. Roy doesn’t like the new Velma much. (Neither do her grandparents, to be fair.)
Roy takes the jewels to the fence that Big Mac told him to take them to, only to be told that the fence doesn’t have the money on him and that he’ll have to wait a week. That means he’s got to wait around in California rather than running for cover. Roy decides to wait, taking only a ring from the stash which he uses to propose to Marie. Roy realizes that the peacefulness of the Goodhue family is forever denied to someone with his past. Marie, a fellow broken soul with a dark past, immediately says yes.
Roy and Marie stay hidden for a week until Roy gets word that the fence has his money and he should come and get it. Roy tells Marie to head to Las Vegas and wait for him there and that it’s too dangerous for her to come with her. She protests, but this time Roy won’t give in.
Roy heads to Los Angeles, but he’s stopped by a roadblock. He turns the car around and makes a break for it, but the cops are in hot pursuit through the Owens Valley. Marie is on the train to Las Vegas when she hears that the police are after Roy. She exits the train and heads back to be with him.
(As the police follow Roy on their chase through the Owens Valley, I was struck that the map the cops were following along on had Roy going through the town of Manzanar. That was jarring because in just one year’s time, Manzanar would become synonymous with one of the most shameful events in American history. In the spring of 1941, however, it was just another abandoned spot along a highway.)
Eventually, Roy is cornered on the entrance to Mt. Whitney. He tries to climb the mountain and find a way to hold the cops off, but the wound from the bullet he took is starting to wear him down. Pard follows him up the mountain as well. Because he’s bad luck, I guess.
Marie gets to the scene and is identified as Roy’s “partner.” The police urge Marie to tell Roy to give himself up, which she only does reluctantly. But Roy doesn’t give up and instead is killed by the police, dramatically rolling down the hill.
Marie consoles herself by saying that by dying, Roy is finally free.
Bogart thought this would be the part that would make him a star and he was mostly right. Real stardom wouldn’t come until The Maltese Falcon later in 1941, but High Sierra proved to Warner Brothers that Bogart could be a leading man. (Although again, he only got The Maltese Falcon after George Raft turned it down.)
Bogart plays Roy Earle as a man who could be kind, gentle and understanding, but he also had a killer’s instinct underneath. He could fly into a rage at any moment. He also lived by a code of honor and sometimes that code meant you had to knock someone off. Roy also was a man haunted by his experiences in prison and there was no way he wanted to go back.
Lupino is also excellent as Marie, someone whom life has dealt a bad hand. She’s bright, attractive and fearless and could have really been someone under different circumstances. (Under the Production Code in force at the time, films really couldn’t make any character a prostitute, so they substituted prostitution-adjacent professions like taxi dancing and bar girls. But really, Lupino is playing a prostitute.) Marie knows that Red and Babe are losers, but she sticks with them because her other option is going back to taxi dancing. Once she sees Roy, she realizes that this is a man of character and ability, even if that ability is robbing banks. Or hotels in this case.
Leslie’s Velma has to undergo the biggest transformation in this film, going from a shy and innocent girl with a clubfoot to a thoughtless party girl once her disability is corrected. Whether that was her character all along and Roy just didn’t see it or whether the operation changed her isn’t quite clear, but the change is stark.
Henry Hull as Doc Barton and Henry Travers (whom you know as the Angel Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life) as Pa Goodhue are also standouts in the cast.
All in all, High Sierra is an entertaining picture with a couple of great performances set in some terrific scenery. What more could you ask for?
Welcome back all of you who skip the jazz and movies. For those of you who don’t, I hope I didn’t prattle on too long.
As I wrote above, tonight’s loss to the Pirates stung because it was a game that you think they could have won. The Cubs are not doing well in one-run games and it is costing them in the standings.
But still, the team has been playing much better lately. They’ve won three series in a row and gone 6-3 over that time. Yes, there was a rough spot before that against the Dodgers and White Sox, but the Cubs aren’t the first team to struggle against the Dodgers. And after a rough start, the White Sox are playing like we thought they would as well.
So I’m just going to ask you are the Cubs playing up to your expectations coming into the season? Not what their overall record is, but how well they are playing? How pleased have you been with their quality of play? Back in March, did you think they’d look better or worse?
So have the Cubs lived up to your expectations? Are you more optimistic about the future of the team now than in March? Or less?
Have the Cubs lived up to your expectations so far this year?
This poll is closed
They’ve looked better than I thought they would
They’ve looked worse than I thought they would
They’ve looked about what I expected
Thank you all again so much for stopping by. If you checked anything, we’ll fetch it for you now. You do still have the claim ticket, right? Please get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for another edition of BCB After Dark.