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BCB After Dark: Was the right-hander the right deal?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks you to grade the free agent signing of Marcus Stroman last year.

Philadelphia Phillies v Chicago Cubs Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the groovin’ after party for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re always happy to see you, especially on a night like tonight. Please come on in. There’s no cover charge tonight and we still have a few tables available. The hostess will seat you shortly. Bring your own beverage.

CB 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.

Tonight the Cubs beat the Phillies 4-2 for their third-straight win and the third career win for rookie Hayden Wesneski. I think those cheers you heard were coming from farther north up Lake Michigan than they normally come.

Last time I asked you if the Cubs will avoid losing 90 games this year and they certainly took a big step in that direction with the win over the Phillies. But even before tonight’s game, 64 percent of you think the Cubs will avoid losing 90 games this season.

Here’s the part where I talk about movies and jazz. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.

I’ve always been a fan of Chet Baker’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It was probably the first Baker performance I ever heard and I’ve been hooked since. Since I’m kind of strapped for time and stuck for something appropriate to play, I thought I’d just share that with you. At least it’s a tune that all of you are familiar with, so you can evaluate what Baker is doing with it.

Silver Streak, the 1976 film directed by Arthur Hiller and written by Colin Higgins, is a mess of a film that tries to do way too much and nearly ends up doing nothing at all. However, the first hour of the film is saved by a strong everyman performance by Gene Wilder, offering a new spin on the “ordinary man gets swept up in a ridiculous plot” character that Alfred Hitchcock specialized in. And then, halfway through the picture, Richard Pryor shows up and Silver Streak becomes a truly great buddy comedy for about forty minutes before a silly runaway train plot takes up the final 15 minutes or so. The only reason this film is really worth watching is for the first pairing of Wilder and Pryor, which is pure comedy magic.

The general plot of Silver Streak is straight out of Hitchcock films like North By Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much. George Caldwell (Wilder) works in the book publishing business and is taking the train from Los Angeles to New York so that he can have a “restful” business trip. He meets an obnoxious vitamin salesman who is not what he seems to be (Ned Beatty) as well as the woman in the sleeper compartment next to him, Hilly Burns (Jill Clayburgh). Burns is a secretary to an art professor. There’s a romance between George and Hilly that gets interrupted when George sees Hilly’s boss hanging dead out of the window while they’re getting intimate. Of course, in true Hitchcock fashion, no one believes what George says he saw. But Wilder at least acts crazy enough when he’s describing it that it at least makes some sense that everyone thinks he’s lost his mind.

As a train picture, Silver Streak is also a weird artifact of the mid-seventies when people thought cross-country train travel was going to make a comeback. It also fits into a long Hollywood history of movies that have big events take place on a moving train.

Behind the whole plot is Roger Devereau (Patrick McGoohan), who is essentially a Bond villain working in the world of art masterpieces. Now I know there are a lot of con men in the world of art, but it really stretches the imagination to think that there are ones that walk around with a group of henchmen who kill people. One of those henchmen is even played by Richard Kiel, who would go on to play the henchman “Jaws” in two Bond pictures!

There’s even a Hitchcock MacGuffin in the form of some “Rembrandt letters” that Devereau desperately wants to get his hands on and is willing to kill to get. The idea that any art history professor would be carrying around 300-year-old correspondences from a famous painter unsecured in a manila envelope is absolutely ridiculous. Such things would never be allowed out of a climate-controlled archive. There would also be no reason to kill for such letters—anything which such a questionable chain-of-custody and provenance could be easily dismissed as forgeries, even if they were authentic.

The entire first hour of the film continues in this low-rent Hitchcock movie. Clayburgh is completely wasted without a lot to do. McGoohan has a lot of fun playing the evil genius and he does improve the film by leaning into its ridiculousness.

Silver Streak also has a musical score from the great Henry Mancini, but unfortunately its one of his lesser efforts. It’s not terrible—Mancini wasn’t capable of that—but it’s no Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade or a Pink Panther film. You won’t leave the film humming it.

But Wilder’s performance as George makes the first half of the film tolerable. George is always flustered and crazy sounding without going too over-the-top. He manages to find a chuckle in an eye roll or a smile where there might not otherwise be one in the scene.

George also gets tossed out of the moving train twice after encounters with Devereau’s henchmen. Of course, both times he manages to find a way to catch up to the train and get back on at a later stop. I’m going to allow this because on the second time he’s knocked off the train, George finds Richard Pryor in the back of a patrol car he steals.

Why oh why do we have to wait an hour into this picture until Richard Pryor shows up? Because the moment that Pryor and Wilder are on the screen together, Silver Streak becomes a terrific buddy comedy. The chemistry between the two is instantaneous. Literally, since Pryor and Wilder had never met until a day before they started shooting together and even that was just a “Hi, nice to meet you” encounter. But somehow, the two of them are like an improv team that had been bouncing jokes off of each other for a decade. In the very first joke Pryor pops out of the back of the patrol car Wilder had just stole and is careening down a highway in a car chase. Grover (Pryor) is wearing handcuffs and explains that he’s a thief and asks “What they want you for anyway, man?” George (Wilder) responds “Murder” and Pryor’s eyes get big as they bounce from side to side and he deadpans “Drop me off anywhere.” That’s funny.

I’m honestly a little angry that we had to wait an hour to see Pryor show up because the next part of the film is terrific. How you could see what those two do together on screen in this picture and decide “You know, we’re fine with Pryor only being in half the picture” is beyond me.

(I actually know why Pryor is in only half of Silver Streak. The part wasn’t written for him and the studio, Fox, actually didn’t want him in the role. Despite being the most popular comic in the world in the mid-70s, Richard Pryor was borderline persona non grata in Hollywood because of his explosive temper and unreliability, mostly due to his drug habit at the time. Wilder and Pryor could have appeared opposite each other in Blazing Saddles, which Pryor co-wrote with Mel Brooks, but Warner Brothers refused to let Pryor star in the film because of his problems. Of course, how Wilder ended up in Blazing Saddles is another story for another time. Still, Pryor was reportedly on his best behavior while filming Silver Streak and it was a mistake that director Arthur Hiller didn’t find a way to get him into more of the picture.)

There is a blackface scene where Pryor puts Wilder in shoe polish as a disguise to get George past the cops at a train station. You’re going to have to decide for yourself how offensive that is, but the general gag is that Wilder is so embarrassing and ridiculous that everyone turns their head to avoid looking at George. Pryor and Wilder actually re-wrote the scene themselves to try to make it acceptable and again, it’s a matter of debate whether blackface is ever acceptable even in the course of a story where it does make some sense. But some of you are going to find it funny and some will just find it offensive. Certainly the studio found it funny as they included it in the trailer for the picture.

The final 15 minutes of the film unfortunately pulls the focus away from Wilder and Pryor and puts It on a thriller runaway train scenario that threatens to destroy part of Chicago. But at least they are still mostly together in the climax, which helps, and Fred Willard shows up near the end to play his oblivious bureaucrat character whose job it is to explain why things can’t be done.

Wilder and Pryor would go on to make three more movies together, and it’s clear why filmmakers would want to try to recreate the magic of the 40-minutes in the middle of Silver Streak. Because that’s what makes this otherwise disposable Hitchcock pastiche with a runaway train thriller thrown on the end worth watching.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the movies and music.

Tonight I’m going to ask you to grade one of the two big free agent signings this past winter. I’ve already recently asked your opinion of the Seiya Suzuki signing, so tonight I’m going to ask your opinion on how Marcus Stroman is working out.

As a refresher, just hours before the lockout, the Cubs agreed to a three-year, $71 million contract with Stroman. Stroman makes $25 million this year and next and there is a third year that is a player-option for $21 million.

In his first year with the Cubs, the 31-year-old Stroman has struggled to stay on the field, going on the injured list twice. But when he has pitched, he’s been solid. Stroman has made 24 starts and managed 132 23 innings. In that time, he’s posted a record of 5-7 with a 3.66 ERA. He’s been much better in the second-half as well. He got off to a miserable start with the Cubs with a 6.98 ERA in April. Both of his stints on the IL came in the first half. But since the All-Star Break, Stroman has made 13 starts (and he probably has one more coming) and has posted a 3-2 record with a 2.92 ERA.

Of course, Stroman also brings his positive energy and veteran wisdom to the Cubs and the community. It’s fair to take that into consideration when grading his contract.

So now knowing what half (or one-third) of Stroman’s contract with the Cubs looks like, what grade do you give the signing?


Grade the Marcus Stroman signing after one year

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    (38 votes)
  • 63%
    (154 votes)
  • 18%
    (44 votes)
  • 2%
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    (1 vote)
243 votes total Vote Now

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