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BCB After Dark: Glass half-full or half-empty?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if this year was a success or a disappointment

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Welcome back to another performance here at BCB After Dark: the swingingest soiree for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re so glad you stopped by for our final show of the week. We’re waived the cover charge for the evening. I think we’ve still got a table or two available, so seat yourself. There’s a two-drink minimum, but 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.

My dreams of a white World Series in Minneapolis were dashed today as the Astros beat the Twins, 3-2 to win their American League Division Series three games to one. I think we’re all sick of the Houston in the AL Championship Series. Oh well, at least it was a good game and maybe next year for that white World Series.

The Diamondbacks swept the Dodgers with a 4-2 win later tonight, thanks to four solo home runs in the third inning. I watch a lot of Dodgers games out here in California and frankly, it doesn’t surprise me at all that they laid an egg in the playoffs after winning 100 games in the regular season. Because by September, the Dodgers starting rotation was a hot mess of garbage, filled with either raw rookies who aren’t ready for prime time (Bobby Miller, Emmett Sheehan), crappy veterans (Lance Lynn) or a legend whose arm turned to goo sometime mid-season. (Clayton Kershaw). I’m a little surprised that it was the Diamondbacks that knocked them out, since their starting rotation is Gallen and Kelly and pray the rest aren’t too smelly, but I’m not shocked either. This Dodgers team wasn’t making the World Series, and that’s always a lost season for Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the Phillies pounded the Braves, 10-2, to go up two games to one in the NLDS. I’m sure Braves fans will blast MLB for their unfair playoff system if Atlanta doesn’t come back and win the final two games. Because any playoff system that the Braves don’t win is rigged, I guess.

Last night, I asked you which reliever the Cubs should non-tender this off-season. The good news for the players is that 44 percent of you said “neither.” But 35 percent of you would non-tender Mark Leiter Jr. and five percent would non-tender Julian Merryweather. Another 16 percent of you would cut both of them loss, so a bare majority of you would non-tender Leiter.

Here’s the part where we play the tunes and talk movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Today (Wednesday) would have been drummer Art Blakey’s 104th birthday, so I thought we take a moment to honor one of the greatest drummers in jazz history on the anniversary of his birth.

Here’s a terrific seven-song concert from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers from Belgium in 1958. This is one of the classic Jazz Messengers lineups—Lee Morgan on trumpet, Benny Golson on saxophone, Bobby Timmons on piano, Jymie Merritt on bass and Blakey on drums, of course. The second song in the show is the Timmons-penned “Moanin’,” and if you’re familiar at all with Blakey, you know that tune. Even if you aren’t familiar with Blakey, you probably still know that tune and just didn’t know it was a Jazz Messengers song.

As I work my way through the pre-code horror movie collection, tonight’s film is 1934’s The Black Cat, which was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Ulmer would go on to later be a productive director in the “Poverty Row” studios, so-called because they produced a lot of low-budget films independent of the “Big Five” studios (MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., RKO and 20th Century Fox) that dominated the Golden Age of Hollywood. But low-budget doesn’t necessarily mean “low-quality” and Detour, a great film a lot of you discovered during our Winter Noir Classic last off-season, was one of Ulmer’s later directorial efforts.

Universal Pictures stood somewhere between the “Big Five” and the “Poverty Row” studios, sometimes getting promoted to a top-5 studio at the expense of Fox or RKO and sometimes getting relegated back to the next tier of studios. Universal was big during the silent era, but it fell on hard times when the sound era began for several reasons and the transition to talkies was merely one of them. But in 1931, Universal gambled on two horror pictures—Dracula and Frankenstein—and they came up big. While some of this country’s moralists decried those films as trash and a threat to public morality, the bottom line was that they sold a bunch of tickets, made a ton of money and saved the studio. Of course, even today Comcast/Universal is milking those early-1930s monster movies for more content for their movies, television shows and theme parks.

So if you’re Universal head of production Carl Laemmle Jr., the lesson you’ve learned is to make more horror movies. And the only thing better than a horror film starring either Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi is a horror film starring both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi! And that’s what we have in The Black Cat. They even cast David Manners as the top supporting player in the film—Manners played Jonathan Harker opposite Lugosi in Dracula and Frank Wemple opposite Karloff in The Mummy.

The Black Cat says that it is a story “suggested” by a story by Edgar Allan Poe, and by “suggested” they mean that they took the title of a Poe short story, wrote a screenplay that bears absolutely no resemblance to Poe’s work and then slapped Poe’s name on to the movie posters for publicity. Make no mistake about it. Other than the title and the fact that there is a black cat in both tales, the film The Black Cat has nothing in common with Poe’s short story.

Lugosi plays Dr. Vitus Werdegast, a Hungarian psychiatrist and World War I veteran who accidentally gets put in the same compartment of a train with newlyweds Peter (Manners) and Joan Alison (Jacqueline Wells), who are traveling to a resort area in eastern Hungary for their honeymoon. Werdegast tells the young couple that he’s traveling to the house of an old friend, Poelzig (Karloff). Werdegast says Poelzig knows the location of his wife and daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since the war because he spent 15 years in a Russian prison camp after he was taken as a POW.

For some reason, and I don’t know why, Peter and Joan get off the train with Werdegast and are greeted by the doctor’s servant. They all get in his car, but they crash in a horrible thunderstorm. Werdegast and Peter are OK after the crash, but the servant is killed and Joan is badly hurt. Werdegast explains that there is no choice but to seek shelter in the house of Poelzig, which, in one of those fortunate coincidences that we find only in movies, is within walking distance. It’s also an old Austrian-Hungarian military fortress that has been converted into a really cool art deco house.

Once they get there and Werdegast treats Joan’s injuries, he leaves to confront Poelzig. Werdegast says he is here for revenge against Poelzig, knowing that he betrayed the fort to the Russians during the war, which resulted in Werdegast’s capture. He also knows that Poelzig has taken Werdegast’s wife and daughter from him, whom he had always coveted.

Without going too far down the plot—and frankly, it’s not really worth it—Poelzig is the head of some sort of creepy Satanic cult and plans a human sacrifice of Joan for whatever reason Satanic cults sacrifice women. Poelzig also has Werdegast’s wife—long dead—preserved in his dungeon. And Werdegast’s daughter Karen (Lucille Lund) is still alive and is married to Poelzig, despite Poelzig’s claims to the contrary,

The biggest reason to watch The Black Cat is to see the two masters of pre-code horror, Lugosi and Karloff, face off against each other. Bereft of all the makeup appliances that he wore in earlier pictures, Karloff is still sinister and creepy throughout the picture. He’s also able to use his face much more effectively to portray emotion and basically menace the rest of the cast every moment he’s on screen.

Lugosi is Lugosi, of course, and they made his character a native Hungarian so we don’t need to question his accent. Lugosi would be menacing and scary if he were reading the phone book and while he certainly doesn’t come close to his portrait of the Count in this movie, he and the film does a really good job keeping us guessing whose side he is on. Will he protect Peter and Joan from Poelzig’s murderous intentions or will he sacrifice them in his quest for revenge? (There’s a chess game between the two that plays a metaphor here.) Or was he on Poelzig’s side all along?

Also, Poelzig has a black cat and Werdegast has a pathological phobia of cats. This plays a minor role in the plot, but mostly the cat is just there so that they can justify using the title The Black Cat.

I’ve got half a dozen things written in my notes that didn’t work or didn’t make sense for me in The Black Cat. But looking them over, I feel like I’m nitpicking. What we want, and what audiences of 1934 wanted, was a faceoff between Karloff and Lugosi. We get that in this film and it is a good showdown. No, it’s not Dracula Meets Frankenstein, but the charisma of both actors shine through here.

Here’s the scene where Poelzig shows Werdegast his wife’s body.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

Tonight I’m going to ask you if you are a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty type of person. What the Cubs 2023 season a success or a failure?

Before the season started, I predicted that the Cubs would win 80-82 games. By late May, that was looking like a wildly optimistic prediction. By early September, that seemed like a horrible disappointment. But the fact that they finished with 83 wins when I had predicted 81 would seem to indicate that the season was a mild success. But it sure doesn’t feel that way after they missed the playoffs despite having an over 90 percent chance to make the playoffs according to Fangraphs in early September.

So you can look at the way this team exceeded pre-season expectations and call the season a success. Or you can look at the way they battled from ten games under .500 to ten games over .500 and say this team was a success. You can point to the way Justin Steele and Adbert Alzolay developed into two of the most important parts of the pitching staff and call the season a success.

Or you can look at the way the team collapsed in late-September and missed the playoffs and call the season a failure. But were you really expecting a playoff spot in April? Yes, Mr. Yellon. We know you were. You can put your hand down. But I’d say most of us weren’t.

Now yes, the easy answer is that the Cubs’ 2023 season was a little bit of both. But I’m trying to generate some discussion here and I want people to take a stand. If you want to qualify your vote in the comments, be my guest. But for the poll, you have to vote “success” or “disappointment.”

You can also interpret “success” as “pleasant surprise” if you want to argue about the meaning of the word “success.” This question is more about your feelings than any objective truth.


At the end of the day, the Cubs’ 2023 season was more of a . . .

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    (189 votes)
  • 24%
    (62 votes)
251 votes total Vote Now

Thank you to everyone who stopped by this week and especially thanks to everyone who commented. If you checked anything, let us get that for you now. Please get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.