It’s another week here at BCB After Dark: the coolest club for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It may be cold out there, but the companionship is warm in here, so come on in. There’s no cover charge. If you want to check your coat, we can do that now. There are still a few tables available. 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.
Last week, I asked you about a potential Cubs trade for Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette. Among the choices I gave, 37 percent of you thought that Bichette wouldn’t be worth the price. Another 35 percent thought a trade would be a good idea, as long as it didn’t include any of the Cubs top three prospects. Another 24 percent would take Bichette if the Blue Jays were willing to give him away cheap—which is not really going to happen, at least in my mind.
So here’s the part where I put the music and the movies. Those of you who skip that can do so now. You wont hurt my feelings.
I have to admit I have no idea who Kristen Lee Sergeant is, but I stumbled across this video from 2015 with her doing a fairly interesting jazz version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” The Tears for Fears song has become a jazz standard at this point. So I pass it along to you. The credits say David Budway is on piano, Chris Berger on bass and Vince Ector on drums.
We are into the second week of our BCB Winter Western Classic and to no one’s surprise, number-six seed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid romped over the #27 seed, Forty Guns. I’d hoped that Forty Guns would put up a better fight, but we are at the stage of the tournament where Duke is facing off against Colgate.
Tonight we have two great movies by director John Ford and starring John Wayne. Both are also filmed in Ford’s beloved Monument Valley in Arizona. But also, for the first time, we’re going to have to deal with the problematic way that classic Westerns dealt with the Native American peoples.
In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner unveiled the “Frontier Thesis” of American history, in which he postulated what made America different than other industrialized nations was the existence of the frontier. To oversimplify things, Turner argued that a large quantity of empty land gave the American people greater individualism and social mobility. This thesis was widely accepted and taught in American schools for around 75 years. And this had an impact on the way the “West” was portrayed in the movies.
There are many problems with the “Frontier Thesis,” but the one we’re concerned with today is the idea that there was empty land there for the taking. There was un-farmed land, but people were already living on it and had been for thousands of years. But the American concept of the West argued otherwise. The Indians were treated, not as people, but as an obstacle to be tamed, like a mountain, a river or the weather. And unfortunately, even in a lot of great movies, the Indians are treated as unthinking savages who attack for no reason and are put down with nary a thought to the morality of such actions. Even in films that made the Native tribes out to be more human or acknowledged that they might have a reason to be upset, these films still took the position that the Indians were standing in the way of the natural course of progress and, well, sucks to be them.
Despite that historical blind spot, these films, both directed by John Ford, manage to be great anyway. But we should keep that blind spot in mind. (Ford’s final Western, 1964’s Cheyenne Autumn, was an attempt to rectify the cinematic wrongs he had committed throughout his career towards the Native Americans. Too bad it’s not a better picture.)
But our first movie tonight is 1939’s Stagecoach, which stars Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Andy Devine. It’s the movie that made Wayne a superstar and it’s the final film in which he didn’t get top billing. The second one is 1948’s Fort Apache, which stars Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple. Both films have Ford’s legendary economy and simplicity, as well as light moments of comic relief that lighten up what could be grim stories.
Stagecoach (#7 seed)
I feel like I have Stagecoach is seeded too low here, because I think it’s close to a perfect movie. It may seem somewhat cliché at times, but that’s only because so many films made since have copied its setup.
There were a ton of Westerns made before Stagecoach, but by the 1930s, they were all cheap B-movies made mostly for Saturday afternoon matinees for children with a dime to spend. John Wayne starred in a lot of them. Ford wanted to make a Western with a big budget that adults could enjoy, like he had done in the silent era. He also insisted upon casting Wayne, whom he thought had star potential. The studios wanted a bigger name (Gary Cooper was suggested), but Ford said it was Wayne or no one. Eventually producer Walter Wanger relented, but the better-known Claire Trevor had to get top billing and a much bigger salary.
The success of Stagecoach (and a few other films) kicked off a Western craze in the US that would last until the early-seventies.
Stagecoach is an “Ark Film,” which is a term that means you take a bunch of random people with little in common and throw them together in a situation where they are stuck with each other. You’ve seen other films or TV shows that have used this concept. Stagecoach, naturally enough, is about the dangerous passage of a stagecoach through hostile Apache territory, with Geronimo on the warpath. There are nine people on the stagecoach, and they all have their own story.
Buck (Devine) is the good-hearted but somewhat bumbling stage driver. When the town gets the message that the Ringo Kid (Wayne) has escaped from prison, Marshal Curley (George Bancroft) decides to ride shotgun—both to protect the stage from the Apache and to bring Ringo, for whom he has a soft spot, back to prison alive.
The passengers are diverse as well. Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), is a pregnant and aristocratic Southern lady who is determined to be with her cavalry officer husband when she gives birth. A shifty gambler of poor reputation named Hatfield (John Carradine), recognizes Lucy as the daughter of the man he served under in the Confederate army. He decides to go on the stage to protect her.
Two people have no choice but to get on the stage as they are being kicked out of town. Dallas (Trevor) is the stereotypical “hooker with a heart of gold” who has been run out of town by the local Decency League, as has Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell). While Doc Boone is an actual doctor, his alcoholism has turned him into an undesirable as the town drunk.
Gatewood (Burton Churchill) is the local banker who gets on the stagecoach because he’s been embezzling funds and is trying to get out of town before the law catches up to him. Finally, there is Peacock (The aptly-named Donald Meek), a timid whiskey salesman from Kansas City, Kansas. Doc Boone naturally wants to sit next to him.
Shortly after the stage leaves, the group runs into the Ringo Kid in one of the greatest entrances in the history of film. (Video) Wayne flags down the stage and twirls his rifle with Monument Valley serving as the backdrop; the camera moving in for a closeup.
Curley arrests Ringo but he knows that they’ll need another gun to get through Apache territory and Ringo gives him his word that he’ll surrender when this is all over. But Ringo is also heading to their final destination, Lordsburg, to have a final showdown with the three Plummer brothers who killed his kid brother. Ringo is not expecting to survive long enough to go to prison. Ringo is an outlaw and a killer, but a good-natured one that we’re supposed to root for. That seems old hat today, but it was revolutionary in 1939.
Everyone in the stage has their own agenda and point of view. Ringo and Doc Boone are the only ones to treat Dallas with any respect at first, but she earns the respect and friendship of the very proper Lucy along the way. Lucy gives birth along the route, and Doc Boone has to sober up enough to deliver the baby.
Of course, Dallas and Ringo fall in love. Dallas, as a “fallen woman,” doesn’t feel worthy of Ringo’s love. Ringo says he knows all he needs to know about Dallas and the rest doesn’t matter. Dallas begs Ringo to run—away from certain death at the hands of the Plummer brothers and away from Curley taking him back to prison.
The best scene in the film is also the most problematic—an incredibly thrilling Apache attack upon the stagecoach. (Video) It’s basically Mad Max: Fury Road 75 years earlier. Yes, the Apache are unthinking and bloodthirsty savages, but the attack is so well-filmed that you don’t really think about that stuff. And we have to give a special credit to someone who wasn’t credited in the film, legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt. The stunts in Stagecoach are thrilling and have been imitated, but never topped, in many films over the years since.
One of the reasons the stunts are so terrific is that it’s amazing what you can do if you really don’t care if horses or stuntmen live or die. But Canutt was a master at planning a stunt and even though they were very dangerous, if everything went right, he’d get out of it alive. Ford had to get it all in one take because Canutt wasn’t doing it again. Almost thirty years later, Canutt got an honorary Academy Award, the only stuntman to ever get an Oscar.
Here’s a trailer for Stagecoach. It doesn’t do the movie justice.
Fort Apache (#26 seed)
Early in Fort Apache, the fort’s new commander, Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda), declares to his officers that he is not a martinet. He then spends the rest of the film proving that he is, in fact, a martinet.
Thursday was a Civil War hero whose heroism, the film makes clear, was more the result of a luck than his intelligence, although he is rather intelligent. But after the war, the Army demoted him back down to Lt. Colonel and sent him out to a backwater fort where his inflexibility and inability to recognize that he was capable of a mistake could do less harm. But Thursday is determined to prove to the Army that they made an error sending him to Fort Apache and is won’t listen to anyone who might help him do his job.
Thursday was promoted over Captain Kirby York (Wayne), who is an experienced frontier officer who expected to get command of the fort. But York is a professional, and takes getting passed over with dignity.
If there is a redeeming quality to Thursday, it’s his love for his sixteen-year-old daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple), whom he has brought along to the fort. But when Philadelphia falls in love with a young, handsome and talented officer, Second Lieutenant Mickey O’Rourke (John Agar—Temple’s husband at the time), Thursday forbids the relationship. Even though he considers O’Rourke to be a fine young officer, Thursday considers him beneath his daughter because Mickey’s father Michael O’Rourke (Ward Bond), is a sergeant and doesn’t come from a class worthy of his daughter. Even though Sgt. O’Rourke won the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War. I suspect O’Rourke being Irish Catholic plays a role here, although the film never explicitly says that.
The Apache tribes are getting restless because the Indian agent assigned to them is a crook and is treating them unfairly. York suggests talking with Cochise and getting rid of the Indian agent, but Thursday starts to quote regulations at York and that they must force the Apache back onto the reservation. Thursday also, unlike York, has a very low opinion of the Apache, despite never having met one.
York is able to negotiate a deal with Cochise, which Thursday foolishly rejects. Thursday is a fool, but in a foreshadowing of the difference between myth and reality in 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he will go down in history as a brilliant and courageous hero.
Both Stagecoach and Fort Apache were shot in John Ford’s favorite location, Monument Valley in Arizona. Both films are in black-and-white, but in Fort Apache, Ford has more freedom to highlight the beauty of the location. It’s also the first film in Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy.” While the three films are not direct sequels, they all feature Wayne and are thematically connected. We’ll get to “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” part two of the trilogy, soon enough.
It’s neat to see Fonda playing the rigid conservative and Wayne play the liberal with the more enlightened view of the Apache. Obviously there is going to be a showdown between the two men (although not one with guns) and obviously Wayne is going to be proved correct. It’s also always a bit jarring to see Shirley Temple playing an “adult” (19 playing 16) role. Temple is actually quite good here, playing a intelligent young woman but one who blindly idolizes her father (but still defies him). She also gets some of the comic relief when she explains why she’s named “Philadelphia” despite being from Connecticut. There are lots of little humorous beats like that throughout what otherwise could have been a grim movie. There’s also a big ballroom dance scene.
The New York Times critic A.O. Scott sings the praises of Fort Apache here. (Video) This review is 15 years old, so Scott makes connections of the events of Fort Apache to the Iraq War.
Here’s the trailer for Fort Apache.
Stagecoach or Fort Apache?
This poll is closed
You have until Wednesday to vote. On Wednesday, director Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West (1968) will take on director Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man. (1970) I think this is going to be a great battle. Both films are available for streaming to Amazon Prime subscribers. Once Upon A Time in the West is available on Amazon Prime but also on Paramount+, MGM+ and Fubo TV subscribers, at least according to the sources I’ve consulted. Of course, they can both be rented from all the usual suspects.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the movies.
Tonight we’re going to play a philosophical game. I don’t think this is an actual debate that they are having in the Cubs’ front office, but I suspect that they are having similar debates internally.
I’m going to give you the choice of two packages this winter that I think will cost about the same. In package one, the Cubs sign the best player on the planet, Shohei Ohtani. He’s a 29-year-old two-way superstar, although he won’t be pitching in 2024 after elbow surgery that may or may not have been his second Tommy John surgery. Ohtani and his people have dodged the question of what exactly he had done to his elbow this winter, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever he had, it will have the same recovery time as Tommy John surgery.
Ohtani will be able to DH all of next year, however.
In package number two, the Cubs sign the best pitcher on the market, three-time Sawamura Award winner Yoshinobu Yamamoto AND they re-sign Cody Bellinger. Yamamoto is just 25 years old and is a better pitching prospect than Ohtani was when he came over from NPB. But he doesn’t hit.
Al wrote up a piece on Yamamoto earlier this winter. Will Sammon in The Athletic has another piece on Yamamoto and what he can be expected to do in MLB. (sub. req.) He’s considered to be the best Japanese pitcher of all-time (better than Ohtani!) and draws comparisons to Hall-of-Famer Mike Mussina.
I don’t think I have to tell you much about Cody Bellinger. He’s 28 years old and is Comeback Player of the Year after three poor, injury-filled seasons with the Dodgers. Bellinger is not close to the hitter that Ohtani is, but he can play all three outfield positions and first base. He’s pretty good at it too. (Maybe not center field anymore.) Ohtani is pretty much a DH-only when he’s not pitching.
I’m figuring that the two packages will come out to roughly the same. I admit that I might be underestimating what Ohtani will get, but with the elbow issues, I’m seeing a lot of predictions for his final contract between $450 and $500 million. It’s still a ton of money over a decade or more, but it’s a lot less than the $600 million or more that some were predicting before he got hurt.
So the Cubs get what you hope to be a number-one pitcher and a quality hitter from both packages. But the Ohtani package only takes up one roster spot. Still, the Cubs would probably need to use that other roster spot for an extra fielder to make up for the fact that Ohtani only serves as a designated hitter.
Yamamoto will probably get a seven- or eight-year deal between $250 to $275 million. I’d bet closer to the latter than the former. Add in the posting fee, and it’s a $300 million contract. Give Bellinger seven years and $175 million, and we’re looking at about what I’m projecting Ohtani to get.
And don’t go saying that you want Ohtani and Bellinger. For the purposes of tonight, that’s not allowed.
So which package do you want? Ohtani or Yamamoto and Bellinger?
Which do you prefer: Ohtani or Yamamoto/Bellinger?
This poll is closed
Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Cody Bellinger
Thank you so much for stopping by this evening. I hope you were able to get warm and have a good time. If you checked anything, hand us your ticket and we’ll get it for you. Please get home safely. Recycle any cans or bottles you may have brought. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.