It’s another Wednesday evening here at BCB After Dark: the grooviest gathering of night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in out of the cold. If you want to check your coat, let us do that for you now. There’s no cover charge. We’ve still got a table or two available, or just sit with someone else. The show will start shortly. Bring your own beverage. No corkage fees.
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 night, I asked you about your interest in the Cubs signing free agent reliever Robert Stephenson. Most of the votes were either “Yay!” (45 percent) or “Meh,” 37 percent.
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.
Tonight I’ve got a television performance from the great saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and his Sextet on the BBC from 1964.
Adderley is on tenor sax, his kid brother Nat Adderley on cornet, Sam Jones on bass, Charles Lloyd on alto sax and flute, future Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul on piano and Louis Hayes on drums.
This is a colorized video.
Earlier this week, we had two John Ford/John Wayne movies up against each other in the BCB Winter Western Classic: Stagecoach (1939) and Fort Apache (1948). Unsurprisingly, the higher-seed Stagecoach moved on by a vote of 71 percent to 29 percent.
Tonight we’ve two late-period Westerns that embody the spirit of the “New Hollywood” of the late-sixties, although one of them was only partially a Hollywood film at all. We have our first “Spaghetti Western” in director Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in The West (1968) and our the closest thing we have to a comedy, Little Big Man (1970), directed by Arthur Penn.
Once Upon A Time in The West (#8 seed)
After directing the “Dollars Trilogy,” also known as the “Man With No Name Trilogy” with Clint Eastwood, Italian director Sergio Leone had no interest in doing any more Westerns. The movie he wanted to make next was what eventually became Once Upon A Time in America in 1984. But the “Dollars Trilogy” was a huge hit and Hollywood was calling. They wanted him to do another Western and were offering him a lot of money. They also made promises that he could make in America next. So Leone relented and enlisted Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci to come up with a story that was a meditation about the relationship of the Western to the actual Old West, Once Upon A Time in the West.
Once Upon a Time in the West stars Claudia Cardinale as Jill McBain, a former New Orleans prostitute who is now the new bride of a widower with a small piece of land in the Arizona desert. But before she can get reach the ranch, the man and his three kids are all ruthlessly murdered by Frank (Henry Fonda) and his men. Frank takes care after the murder to plant evidence that ties to the killings to a rival outlaw gang led by Cheyenne (Jason Robards).
Before any of this happens in the film, three of Frank’s men meet a mysterious harmonica-playing stranger (Charles Bronson) at the train station. They have the following exchange:
Harmonica: Did you bring a horse for me?
Snaky: Well. . .Looks like we’re . . .looks like we’re shy one horse.
Harmonica: You brought two too many.
At which point all four men draw. All four men are shot, but only Harmonica comes out of the duel alive.
Unlike “The Man With No Name Trilogy,” where Clint Eastwood’s characters actually have names in all three movies, Bronson’s character in Once Upon A Time in the West is never given a name. He’s referred to as “Harmonica” in the script, but when he’s asked his name, he gives the names of men previously murdered by Frank. We don’t discover Harmonica’s motivations—or even whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy—until late in the movie.
The big question in Once Upon a Time in the West is why would Frank (or anyone, for that matter) murder this small family living in the middle of nowhere? In the case of Frank, Leone worked against type to cast the traditional “good guy” Henry Fonda as a cold, psychopathic killer. Fonda had to be convinced by his good friend Eli Wallach, from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, to take the part. Even then, he went out and got brown contact lenses so he could better play the villain. Leone told him to take them out. He wanted the audience to stare into Fonda’s deep blue eyes before Frank gunned down a child.
That’s a common theme in Leone films: contrast. The contrast when an extreme wide shot that then gets replaced with an extreme close-up. Or the contrast between quiet and loud. Or what we’re expecting out of a Western and what he’s putting on the screen. Leone did this in the “Dollars Trilogy,” but he takes it to another level in Once Upon a Time. At one point, the entire screen gets taken up by nothing but a closeup of Charles Bronson’s eyes.
Once Upon a Time in the West plays with our expectations of a Western. A scene at a train station echoes a similar one in High Noon, but whereas the station in High Noon is a clean wooden building with decorative trim, the one in Once Upon a Time in the West has clearly been slapped together with old wood that was found lying around. (Literally true. They used old wood that Orson Welles had recently used in filming Chimes at Midnight.) In fact, the whole town looks incomplete and like it could fall apart at any moment.
The film is full of little twisted homages to classic Westerns. (Johnny Guitar is a big one as well—but with a harmonica instead of a guitar.) But Leone played one homage straight. While most of the film was shot in Italy and Spain, like his previous films, Leone couldn’t resist having Claudia Cardinale’s trip to the ranch go along the same route in Arizona’s Monument Valley that John Ford used in Stagecoach. It’s a beautiful scene.
Once Upon a Time in the West is a symphony of violence. There are lots of slow, quiet moments where not much happens. The only sound you hear is the creaking of doors or footsteps. But then it will explode into a loud, graphic violence. Some people have criticized the film for this and Paramount cut about 20 minutes of it from the original American release. But those slow periods are part of the fabric of the story. As proof, the film was a box office bomb in the US and a big hit with the full version in Europe.
As far as the symphony goes, you can’t mention Once Upon a Time in the West without mentioning the Ennio Morricone musical score. The score that Morricone did for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly gets all the attention, but his score for Once Upon a Time is just as great. The major characters all get their own leitmotif, announcing their presence.
The trailer for Once Upon a Time in the West.
Little Big Man (#25 seed)
If you’re director Arthur Penn and you just kicked off a revolution in American filmmaking with Bonnie and Clyde, what do you do next? Well, you make a film version of the Arlo Guthrie song Alice’s Restaurant. But after that, you return to your Western roots with a revisionist take on the West: Little Big Man.
Penn’s first film, The Left Handed Gun, was a retelling of the Billy the Kid story and starred Paul Newman. It was also very ahead of its time in 1956 with its psychological take on the legendary outlaw. (The Left Handed Gun was one of the final cuts from this tournament.) Penn returned to that same criminal psychodrama in Bonnie and Clyde.
Little Big Man, on the other hand, is the story of Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), the oldest person in the world at 121. A man comes to interview him about his life and Crabb proceeds to tell the kind of tale that old men tell—where we are never really sure what is true and what is fiction. Crabb reveals that he was only white survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn and explains how that came to be.
As a young child, Crabb survived an Indian massacre that left only he and his sister alive. He came to be adopted by the Cheyenne where he eventually earns the name “Little Big Man.”
Once adulthood comes, Crabb/Little Big Man spends his time bouncing back and forth between the white world and the world of the Cheyenne. (Who call themselves the “Human Beings,” and that’s what Crabb calls them. The double-meaning is intentional.) He’s kidnapped by white society and survives by telling them he’s a white man named Jack Crabb. When he’s kidnapped back by the Human Beings, he reveals he’s actually Little Big Man.
And along the way, Hoffman’s character engages in pretty much every convention of the Western genre there is. But whereas Leone takes these tricks of the genre and lovingly twists them into something that upsets our expectations, Penn just out and out lampoons them. When Crabb becomes a gunfighter, his sobriquet is “The Soda Pop Kid.” On the Human Being side, Little Big Man marries, but his wife complains that his sisters have no man to keep them company. Little Big Man is expected to also carry out the marital duties to all the three sisters—in one long and exhausting night.
Little Big Man portrays both the white society and the Native society as inherently ridiculous. Little Big Man’s Human Being grandfather, Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George) has a “death” scene where. . . well, I won’t spoil it. But it’s silly. Also, on white society: as Old Lodge Skins says “Yes, the black white man . . .not as ugly as the white man true, but they are just as crazy.”
But of the two worlds, only the white community is shown as cruel. This is certainly a revisionist history in the way it treats the Native peoples as being the “good guys.” It does satirize some “noble savages” concepts that have been used in the past to make the Indians more sympathetic. Some have praised the movie for that, while others have criticized it for that same reason.
Of course, no essay on Little Big Man would be complete without a mention of Richard Mulligan’s portrayal of General George Armstrong Custer. Custer is shown to be vain, egotistical, stupid and borderline insane. (At least until the Battle of Little Bighorn, where he’s full-blown insane.) Custer is also the worst type of stupid—the stupid man who thinks he’s brilliant so he never questions his own stupid decisions. This was considered satire in 1970, but it was the start of a re-evaluation of the life of Custer. The portrait of Custer in Little Big Man is probably closer to the truth than the hagiographic portrayals that Hollywood produced in earlier pictures.
Cripes. I didn’t even mention Faye Dunaway. There’s a lot in this movie.
Here’s a theatrical trailer for Little Big Man. It’s pretty long for a trailer—over four minutes. But it gives you a good sense of the film.
Both films are available in the US on Amazon Prime. Maybe elsewhere, I don’t know. Once Upon a Time in the West is on Paramount+ as well.
Once Upon A Time in the West or Little Big Man?
This poll is closed
Once Upon a Time in the West
Little Big Man
You have until Monday to vote.
Also on Monday, our next contest is between director Anthony Mann’s Winchester ‘73 (1950), starring James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea and Stephen McNally. It takes on our second “Spaghetti Western,” and the only one in our tournament not directed by Leone. It’s Django (1966), directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero.
Django is available on Peacock, as well as free, ad-supported services like Tubi and Pluto. Unfortunately, I’m only finding Winchester ‘73 available for rent on the streaming services. However, I did find a copy of it on a video hosting site that isn’t YouTube. You can probably find it too if you look.
Welcome back everyone who skips the music and movies.
Tonight we’re going to play a game of “Would you rather?” based on this report for Jon Paul Morosi.
Both Bieber and Glasnow are rentals, as both are free agents after this upcoming season. Glasnow is going to earn $25 million this season, which is why the Rays are willing to trade him. Bieber is arbitration-eligible, but he projects out to earn about half of that at $12.2 million. The Guardians are looking to part with him because they don’t plan on competing in 2024 and would rather get something for him now that watch him leave in free agency next season.
Al has already done a piece on Glasnow yesterday, so I’m not going to repeat what he wrote. You can and should check it out yourself.
Like Glasnow, Bieber had some injury issues last year, missing about two months with elbow inflammation. He returned in late-September and made two starts. He got hammered in his first one—five runs, four earned, in five innings against Baltimore. He was much better in his second and final start, holding the Reds to one run over six innings. He struck out seven and walked no one in that start against the Reds.
Glasnow struck out a lot more batters that Bieber did last season. In fact, Bieber’s strikeout numbers have been trending down since his Cy Young season in 2020. But, he also walks fewer hitters and he’s a good ground ball pitcher, which the Cubs have been building around with a middle infield of Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner. And while Bieber had some injury issues in 2023, he’s younger than Glasnow (28 to 30) and has generally been healthier over the course of his career.
Glasnow was the better pitcher in 2023. Bieber has been the better pitcher over the course of his career.
I think the “fake” trade proposal for Glasnow that Al included in his article is laughably light. But with one year of control and a salary of $25 million on the books, Glasnow won’t cost a lot. The Rays would probably want one top-ten prospect from the Cubs farm system, but not any of the big three—Pete Crow-Armstrong, Cade Horton or Matt Shaw. Likely not a Top-5. The Rays would probably want one lesser prospect as well, or I can see Keegan Thompson being someone the Rays could be interested in.
I think Bieber would command about the same, although the Guardians would have a different list of players they would ask for. But the value would be about the same. Although Bieber has had some troubling trends in 2023, he is younger, has a better health history and would earn about half as much in salary this year. Unlike Glasnow, Bieber’s never had Tommy John surgery.
So if the cost in prospects is roughly the same, which pitcher would you rather the Cubs trade for? Tyler Glasnow or Shane Bieber?
A trade for Tyler Glasnow or Shane Bieber?
This poll is closed
Neither one is worth the money and prospects
Thank you ever so much for stopping by. We really appreciate those of you who offer comments and vote in our polls. We have a special extra thank you to those of you following along with the Westerns. Please get home safely. Stay warm. Recycle any cans or bottles . Tip the waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.