Welcome back to another week here at BCB After Dark: the swingin’ spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on it out of the cold. There’s no cover charge. Let us take your coat for you. Shake the snow off your boots. We’ve saved you a good table in the second row. The show will start shortly. Bring your own beverage. No corkage fee.
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 week I asked you about free agent left-handed relievers. Seventy percent of you want the Cubs to bring Andrew Chafin back to Chicago. Only 17 percent said they want to see Matt Moore in Cubs blue. So that was about as clear a vote as there could be. But only 29 percent of you felt that the Cubs would sign Chafin and 37 percent of you think that the Cubs will sign none of the three big-name remaining lefties.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Last time, I featured guitarist Bill Frisell playing the Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong composition “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Then over the weekend, Barrett Strong passed away. I know he was 81 and it’s probably just a coincidence, but there’s still a little voice in the back of my head that says “Did you accidentally kill Barrett Strong?”
So in tribute, I decided to feature another Whitfield and Strong song, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” There’s no chance of me killing of Norman Whitfield as he died back in 2008, so I think we’re safe. As Miller says in the video, how good does a bass line have to be for him to play just two notes and everyone in the audience just screams their approval? From what I understand, Whitfield wrote the bass line, but they both get the credit in my book. That’s the way songwriting goes. They certainly both got the royalty checks.
You voted in the BCB Winter Noir Classic and I predicted this week would be a close one. It couldn’t have been more close. With 50.4 percent of the vote, The Postman Always Rings Twice came out over The Big Sleep. It was a one-vote difference. I still haven’t had to break a tie, but this is the second-time I came within one vote of having to.
Tonight’s matchup features The Third Man (1949) taking on The Night of the Hunter (1955). Both of these films are on the most recent BFI Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All-Time list. The Night of the Hunter was ranked 25th and The Third Man was ranked 63rd. Despite that, I ranked The Third Man as the higher seed and The Night of the Hunter had to beat the Orson Welles-directed film Touch of Evil to make it to the second round. Can The Night of the Hunter beat another Orson Welles film, albeit one that he just acted in rather than wrote and directed?
The Third Man. Directed by Carol Reed. Starring Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles and Trevor Howard.
The primary reason I insisted upon including UK films in our little tournament was to include The Third Man. Novelist Graham Greene was determined to feature postwar Vienna in a film and after hanging around the city for a while, he heard about the black market and thought it would make a good plot for a story.
Cotton plays Holly Martins, a down-on-his-luck American writer of cheap Western novels, who comes to Vienna with the promise of a job from an old friend Harry Lime (Welles). Only as soon as he arrives, Holly discovers that Harry had just been killed after getting hit by a car. The British authorities have written it off as an accident, but they’re very interested in what Holly knows about Harry’s activities. You see, Harry Lime was involved in the black market for penicillin and all of it was diluted, which lead to the deaths of many sick children.
Soon, Holly begins to smell something rotten about Harry’s death. The official report speaks of two men who carried Harry off the street and one of those men tells Holly that with Harry’s dying breath, Harry told him to take care of Holly and Harry’s actress girlfriend Anna (Valli). But eyewitnesses claim there was a third man at the scene and Holly begins to suspect that not all is what it seems with Harry Lime’s death. He also begins to become obsessed with Anna and her situation in Vienna. As it turns out, her papers are forged and that she’s actually Czechoslovakian and should be deported out of the British zone.
Welles was just an actor in this movie, except that he did write the famous “cuckoo clock” speech, which he adapted from a 19th-century quote. He also added a bit about antacids and how you couldn’t get them in postwar Europe.
Besides Cotton, Valli, Welles and Howard, who plays the British major in charge of things, there is another important character in the streets (and sewers!) of Vienna. While the interiors were shot in London, the film beautifully takes advantage of the run-down condition of post-war Vienna to add menace around every corner. (Even when there isn’t any!) Most of the action takes place at night and the noir shadows are everywhere. But on top of that, cinematographer Robert Krasker makes extensive use of the “Dutch tilt” camera angle where the camera is tilted to one side, making the shot at a diagonal on the screen. For this and the fantastic way he uses the backdrop of Vienna, Krasker won an Academy Award for The Third Man.
Also, this is the film for anyone who loves zither music. It’s hard to think of any film that uses a soundtrack of just one instrument, but famously, all of the music in the film was played by local zither musician Anton Karas. The music from the film turned out to be a big hit in 1950 as well.
There was a British and an American version. The US version mostly just made Joseph Cotton’s character look better by cutting a few scenes when he acted stupid. Nowadays, most showings are just of the UK version.
Here’s the trailer for the restoration of The Third Man. I thought it just conveys the spirit of the film better than contemporaneous trailers did. If you want to watch an original one that appears to be for the US version, it’s here.
Here’s what I wrote about The Night of the Hunter the last time:
The Night of the Hunter (1955). Directed by Charles Laughton. Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. A fable of good versus evil as well as the true meaning of Christianity, Mitchum stars as the “Reverend” Harry Powell, a con man and serial killer for whom the Gospel is just another tool to scam people out of their money. After a former cellmate of his, Ben Harper, (Peter Graves) is executed for a bank robbery, Powell marries and then murders Harper’s widow (Winters) in order to steal the money that Harper had stolen in the first place. But Harper gave the money to his young children, who then flee from the Reverend through Depression-era West Virginia. Powell chases the children with the intent of murdering them and stealing the money, but they are first found by the saintly Rachel Cooper (Gish), an old woman who takes in orphans.
The Night of the Hunter was not a success when it was first released, and that was probably why it ended up being the only film ever directed by Laughton. But Laughton incorporated several film techniques of German expressionism which gave the film a haunting and quite unreal look. The screenplay was credited to James Agee based on a novel from Davis Grubb, but most accounts have Laughton and Mitchum completely re-writing Agee’s script themselves.
Even though the original film was a flop, the reputation of The Night of the Hunter has only grown since then. It was just this month ranked as the 25th-best film of all-time in the BFI Sight and Sound Top 100 greatest films.
And while I didn’t plan it, it is a bit of a Christmas movie as the film ends with a Christmas celebration.
Adding to what I wrote last time, this is really the performance of his career for Mitchum. As I noted earlier, Mitchum re-wrote almost all of the Rev. Powell’s dialog alongside Laughton. There weren’t many who can show real menace like Mitchum. He’s a serial killer who is going to kill two small children, which is really dark for a pre-1967 American film.
Powell is the embodiment of pure evil and a false Christianity. That gets contrasted with the pure good (but tough-as-nails) Gish playing Rachel Cooper. It’s Cooper who knows true Christianity and therefore isn’t fooled by a false prophet, unlike everyone else Powell comes across.
Here’s the trailer for The Night of the Hunter. You can see both movies tonight have some very striking cinematography. The big difference in the look is that The Third Man is tossing in some neorealism with the use of the city (and sewers) of Vienna and The Night of the Hunter is much more artificial, befitting the fable-like tale it tells.
The Third Man or The Night of the Hunter
This poll is closed
The Third Man
The Night of the Hunter
You have until Wednesday evening to vote.
Next time we have the final matchup of the second round as Sunset Boulevard (1950) takes on The Killing (1956).
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and the cinema.
I’m not going to say the off-season is over, but it’s clear the Cubs are pretty close to having the team that they’ll open up Spring Training with. They could still sign a left-handed reliever and there is always the possibility of trading Nick Madrigal, but both moves would just be tinkering around the margins.
So I think it’s safe to ask you now to grade the Cubs’ offseason. Besides, I can’t think of any other questions other than a few on the World Baseball Classic that I want to save until we get closer to that event.
So grade team president Jed Hoyer and the front office. How did they do this winter? As has been noted before, the Cubs signed more major league free agents from other teams than any other team this winter. (The Mets signed more free agents, but three of their signings were re-signing their own players and the Cubs only re-signed Drew Smyly.) But they didn’t sign anyone to a “mega” contract, like Aaron Judge, Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts got. Or whatever Carlos Correa ended up getting from the Twins. The Cubs’ biggest signing, Dansby Swanson, wasn’t even the biggest free-agent contract in Cubs’ history, coming in second behind the Jason Heyward deal before the 2016 season.
So the Cubs spread their money around a lot. Do you think they spent their money wisely? Or did they just spend a lot of money on players that don’t make them much better.
So grade the Cubs’ offseason.
Grade the Cubs off-season
This poll is closed
Thank you so very much for stopping by. We’ll get your coat now. You’re going to need it out there. Please get home safely. Clean up after yourself and recycle any cans and bottles. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.