Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the soulful spot for night owls early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in and get out of whatever weather you’re experiencing where you are. There’s no cover charge tonight. Settle in and relax before heading to bed or before getting up and going to work or school. Bring your own beverage. The hostess will seat you now.
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’ three-game win streak came to an end tonight with a 4-3 loss to the Reds. Let’s not do that anymore.
Last night I asked you which current Cubs injury hurt the most. In the standings, that is. I didn’t mean which one was literally the most painful. I don’t know how we’d figure that out anyway. In a runaway vote, 53 percent of you thought that the injury to Nico Hoerner was the one that was hurting the Cubs the most. I guess then that it’s good news that Nico is back off the injured list. In second place was Adbert Alzolay with 23 percent, and it’s clear that the Cubs could use another starting pitcher.
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.
Earlier today in the Outside the Confines feature, reader MolineMac told me that he discovered a love for trumpeter Chet Baker through this feature. That comment really meant a lot to me. If me featuring a video in this space opens someone up to a new sound that they really enjoy, then it makes what I do here worthwhile. I’m certainly not doing it for the money.
I’m not sure anyone played the trumpet with more melancholy than Baker.
So in honor of that, I found this hour-long television program featuring Chet Baker. It appears to be from British television in 1986, just two years before Baker’s death. It also features Elvis Costello singing, playing with Chet and interviewing him between songs as well. Van Morrison shows up to sing Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” with Baker playing trumpet in the background.
Tonight in the film essay, I’m doing something a little different by looking at two films at once. But the two versions are so similar to each other that it makes sense to look at them this way.
If you forgot what we’re talking about this week, you can go back and look at what I wrote about these two films and the actors involved here.
Pépé le Moko, the 1937 French film directed by Julien Duvivier and starring Jean Gabin, and Algiers, the 1938 American remake by director John Cromwell and starring Charles Boyer, are basically the same picture. Rather than use the original French film as a launching pad for a new and hopefully improved American version, producer Walter Wanger asked Cromwell and screenwriter John Howard Lawson to simply reproduce the original, only in English and in line with the Hollywood Production Code. Obviously this approach stifled the creativity of some very impressive Hollywood talents, but it also has the advantage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In the end, these are two very good films with the same plot and either is worth watching. However, only true fans of the work and film scholars really need to watch both. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them both.
(For purposes of clarity here, I’m going to refer to the character Gabin plays in Pépé le Moko as “Pépé” and the one that Boyer plays in Algiers as Pepe, since the US production omitted the accent marks. I’m also going to refer to the French production as le Moko, since there are already enough “Pépés” floating around here.)
The two films tell the tale of a master French criminal, Pépé (or Pepe), who is hiding out in Algiers in the French colony of Algeria. More specifically, he’s hiding out in the native Arab section, also known as the casbah, where he is protected by his gang, sympathetic locals and a labyrinth of buildings and streets that make any attempt by outsiders to arrest Pepe impossible. The French authorities, sent in from Paris, are insisting that Pepe be arrested immediately, only to be told by the locals that any attempt to grab him in the casbah would only end up in the deaths of many police officers. In fact, previous attempts have ended in disaster. The Arab liaison, Inspector Slimane (Lucas Gridoux in le Moko and Joseph Calleia in Algiers), has been working on this case for two years now and cautions patience.
In fact, Slimane knows Pepe better than anyone else, having befriended him, in a way, in the casbah. Slimane goes in every day and talks with Pepe, but he makes no attempt to arrest him as Slimane knows that he would be immediately killed if he tried. Since Slimane is no threat to him as long as he stays in the casbah, Pepe tolerates him and the two have a great deal of professional admiration for each other, even though they are on opposite sides of the law.
In both productions, the Algiers casbah is portrayed as a dark and foreboding place filled with vice, sin and crime in an example of what future scholars would call “orientalism,” or the othering and exoticizing of the Arab world. The American version makes this much more explicit than the French version, although that may be because the French were already more familiar with the idea of Algiers and also because the American version makes almost everything more explicit. But I don’t think that anyone goes into any film from the late-1930s expecting a culturally-sensitive portrait of a colonized people. I will say that both films are probably better than most films of the era in their portrait of the Arab peoples, especially with the highly-intelligent and capable Inspector Slimane serving as the most notable example of one.
Slimane realizes that the only way to arrest Pépé/Pepe is to get him to leave the casbah. But Pepe hasn’t left the casbah in over two years. What would get him to leave now? Through his friendship with Pepe, Slimane realizes that the hopeless romantic could only be enticed to leave through a beautiful woman. And when the beautiful tourist Gaby (Mireille Balin in le Moko and Hedy Lamarr in Algiers) shows up, Slimane knows he has his bait.
Much of Algiers is almost a direct shot-by-shot recreation of le Moko. Sometimes the dialog is as identical as translated dialog can get. Algiers even uses the same b-roll footage of Algiers and its casbah that was used in le Moko. Some of the music cues are the same. Many of the actors in Algiers are wearing identical costumes to the ones their characters wore in le Moko.
There are, however, a few subtle differences between le Moko and Algiers. Some of these have to do with Production Code that was fully in-force in the United States in 1938. There’s more violence in le Moko, although it’s hardly very violent film. There’s a scene in Algiers where one shot in fired whereas the same scene in le Moko is a more involved gunfight with several shots and Pépé taking a slug in the arm. In a scene where Pépé/Pepe confronts an informant, Boyer grabs the man around the collar and tries to tighten his scarf around his neck. In le Moko, Gąbin grabs the same man around the neck with his bare hands and comes close to strangling him. There’s also a change in the ending to get around one particular Hays Office rule.
There are a few other minor changes to the film to make it more palatable to American audiences. In le Moko, they make it quite explicit the number of bank robberies and jewelry heists and other criminal activities that Pépé is responsible for, whereas Algiers keeps his criminal activities more vague, presumably to make the character more sympathetic. We know that Pepe is a jewel thief because, just like in le Moko, we first meet him as he’s busy fencing some stolen jewels, but Algiers leaves it unsaid just how many crimes he’s committed.
The other thing that’s different is that in the lead up to the climax, Algiers takes a break for Boyer to sing a song. Sticking one song in an otherwise non-musical film was so common in Hollywood films of the 1930s that American audiences probably would have felt cheated if they didn’t get one, especially with a star known for his voice like Boyer. This song means that some of the other sequences around this time get shortened and Algiers gets a lot more telling rather than showing in the sequence leading up to the end because of it.
As I wrote last time, the debonair Boyer wasn’t quite right for the part of Pepe. Gabin’s Pépé is certainly stylish and cool, but he’s also rough around the edges and gives off a vibe that his calm exterior could explode at any minute. And it does. Boyer was five years older and than Gabin and he was much more traditionally handsome that Gabin. But it’s a credit to Charles Boyer’s skill as an actor that, for the most part, he pulls it off. He was asked to recreate Gabin’s performance and honestly, if you hadn’t seen the original you wouldn’t have thought that there was anything wrong with what Boyer did. He’s very good, even if he doesn’t quite turn in the performance that Gabin gives.
The part of Gaby in Algiers was Hedy Lamarr’s first American role. She isn’t asked to do a lot and while she’s clearly understandable underneath her Austrian accent, her line deliveries are a bit flat. Lamarr’s main purpose is to look pretty and stare longingly at Boyer. She’s good at that, but Mireille Balin performance as Gaby is better. (On the other hand, Lamarr was the better human being.)
But while Ballin and Lamarr get top billing among the actresses, I’d say the part of Inès, the Arab woman whom Pépé/Pepe throws aside for Gaby, is the better part. Played by Line Noro in le Moko and Sigrid Gurie in Algiers, the jealousy of Inès leads to the one betrayal that Pépé/Pepe can’t overcome. Both actresses do a good job with the part, but Gurie is saddled with having that “tell, not show” problem that the last part of Algiers suffers from. She still does quite well, however.
But the one actor who really shines in Algiers over his French counterpart is the Maltese-born Joseph Calleia, playing Inspector Slimane. Calleia carries Slimane with much more dignity and honor than Lucas Gridoux did in Le Moko. The friendship between Pepe and Slimane feels much more real in Algiers and Calleia seems far more sad at having to bring his friend down, but his honor as a police officer dictates nothing less. Sure, Calleia’s Slimane enjoys the cat-and-mouse game he plays with Pepe and he is devious in the way he sets up the trap, just like the original. But you get the impression that it’s nothing personal from Calleia. There are also a few ways that Gridoux, who was born in Romania, seemed to lean into some negative Arab stereotypes that Calleia avoids.
Director John Cromwell was under orders to recreate le Moko, but he was able to add a few personal twists to the film at the end. His decision to film Pepe leaving the casbah by simply filming his shoes as he walks the cobblestone alleys was ingenious. Showing Pepe’s thoughts by having images float on the screen over his head maybe wasn’t as good an idea.
So which one should you watch? Either, really. As I said, Gabin’s performance is better than Boyer’s, but there’s not a big enough difference to get too worried about it, especially with Calleia stealing the show in Algiers as Slimane. The budget for Algiers was probably higher and that shows up in some more detailed sets, but again, it’s not that big a difference. In fact, the Hollywood designers clearly spent a lot of time recreating the Paris sets as closely as they could.
If you don’t want to read subtitles, watch Algiers. It’s also in the public domain, so it’s probably more accessible. Algiers is available on Amazon Prime and there’s at least one full copy on YouTube, although the one I saw had some poor picture quality. If you want the full Pépé le Moko experience with the terrific performance of Jean Gabin, then watch the original. That would be my choice, but you really won’t go wrong either way.
Welcome back to all of those who skip the jazz and movies.
I’ve resisted turning this section into an extension of the Minor League Wrap. One of the reasons I write this piece three times a week is because I wanted to write about something other than minor leaguers.
But much like the 2012 to 2014 period, I’m getting a lot more interest these days in the Minor League Wrap. People are excited about the guys down on the farm. Sure, some of that is because they want to get excited about something and the major league roster isn’t doing it for them, but some of it is because the minor league kids are putting on a great show. I believe the Cubs farm system has the best overall record in all of baseball. The Pelicans are playing out of their minds. They are on a ten-game win streak and have an overall record of 30-11.
So today I’m going to ask you which minor league ballplayer has excited you the most this season? I’m leaving out Brennen Davis, who’s been either slumping or hurt, and I’m leaving out Christopher Morel since he’s not a minor leaguer at the moment, is he? I’m leaving out Cristian Hernandez because he’s down in Extended Spring Training. But otherwise, here’s a good list of the hottest Cubs prospects at the moment.
So which Cubs prospect are you most excited about right now?
Which Cubs prospect are you most excited about at the moment?
This poll is closed
OF Kevin Alcantara
OF Owen Caissie
OF Alexander Canario
OF Pete Crow-Armstrong
LHP DJ Herz
RHP Caleb Kilian
SS Kevin Made
INF Reginald Preciado
INF Yohendrick Pinango
INF James Triantos
OF Nelson Velazquez
LHP Jordan Wicks
Someone else (leave in comments)
Thank you again for joining us for our final performance of the week. I hope you were able to take you mind off things for a little while. If you checked anything with us tonight, we’ll get it for you now. Please get home safely unless you’re already home. And please join us again next week for another edition of BCB After Dark.