It’s another Wednesday evening here at BCB After Dark: the swinging-est nightclub for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’ve made it through another week and we couldn’t have done it without you. Please come in and get out of the cold. We can check your coat for you. There are still a couple of tables available. The show will start shortly. 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 evening, we discussed the Cubs signing free agent left-hander Jordan Montgomery. Most of you, and 64 percent qualifies as “most,” thought it would be a great idea, even if the Cubs would have to overpay. Only 16 percent were against it and the rest were in the “meh” category.
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 we’ve got a brand new video that is less than two weeks old. It’s Norah Jones playing piano and singing along with Icelandic bassist Laufey. They’re singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” which, if I’m honest, is not my favorite Christmas song. But darn it if those two don’t do a terrific job on it. If everyone sang it like this, I’d be a big fan.
We had a lot of votes and a lot of opinions about our BCB Winter Western Classic matchup between The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Rio Bravo. In the end, we had a nail-biter with our second-straight upset as Rio Bravo came out on top, 53 percent to 47 percent. I liked what reader amb14 wrote: “Liberty is the better movie but I enjoy Rio more.” It was a hard call. Sorry about that.
Tonight, we’ve got a matchup of two darker Westerns. The first one is one of the classics of the “New Hollywood” movement of 1967 to 1980, The Wild Bunch (1969) by director Sam Peckinpah. The other was made under the old studio system, but director Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur (1953) certainly pushed the boundaries of what was allowed in that time. Both films tonight got Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay. The Wild Bunch also got a Best Musical Score nomination for Jerry Fielding.
The Wild Bunch (1969). #11 seed. Directed by Sam Peckinpah. Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan.
This is the film that earned Peckinpah the nickname “Bloody Sam.” The Wild Bunch is a revisionist Western that, rather than showing the beauty of the frontier and the gallantry of the men and women who lived there, shows the West to be dirty, ugly and filled with flawed and unlikeable people. He intended for people to be revulsed by the raw, graphic violence of The Wild Bunch and honestly, by extension, the raw and graphic violence that was being beamed into homes on the nightly news reports from Vietnam. It wasn’t until later that Peckinpah realized that many people were actually attracted to that violence. Oops.
The Wild Bunch takes place in 1913 on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border. Like Peckinpah’s earlier film Ride the High Country (and don’t worry, we’re getting to that one), he’s interested in showing the end of the West and the coming of a new order. But unlike John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance from just seven years earlier, Peckinpah doesn’t see the new “civilization” to be an improvement. The new generation is even more violent and even more criminal. He illustrates this at the very beginning of the film by a scene where children are delighted by watching a horde of ants devour a scorpion. That’s a theme to the film, in case you weren’t paying attention.
William Holden plays Pike, an aging outlaw who wants to pull off one last job before retiring. Ernest Borgnine plays Dutch, his loyal, but more cynical, second-in-command and best friend. The gang is being chased by a posse, hired by the railroad. The posse is led by Thornton, played by Robert Ryan. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Thornton had previously been a member of Pike’s gang, but a series of mishaps and betrayals led to Thornton having been captured, imprisoned and tortured. He’s been let out of prison only on the condition he hunts down his former gang—dead or alive.
Pike’s gang robs a bank in South Texas. That turns out to be a trap set up by Thornton. A bloody shootout ensues, where about half of Pike’s gang and dozens of innocent civilians get killed. That sends what’s left of Pike’s gang down to Mexico to flee Thornton and hopefully find one last score.
In Mexico, they find themselves smack dab in the middle of the Mexican Revolution. The gang encounter the thoroughly-rotten Federales General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), who hires the gang to rob a US Army supply train. He wants the job done to supply his troops with the weapons and ammunition to put down Pancho Villa and the rest of the Mexican revolutionaries. Pike accepts the job out of desperation, but Thornton is still hot on his trail.
Also Angel (Jaime Sánchez), one of Pike’s surviving men, is a Mexican sympathetic to the revolutionaries’ cause. He wants to give at least some of the guns to the rebels.
The movie is about the code of honor that these old outlaws—Pike and Thornton—still live by and how men like Mapache and the railroad baron who hires Thornton care nothing about. But Peckinpah even portrays that old nobility as flawed. Pike and Thornton’s code certainly allows for robbing and killing when the circumstances justify them. Even the murder of innocent civilians is OK as long as it couldn’t be avoided.
The old order is doomed, of course. Without revealing too much, Pike, Dutch and their gang are riding a sinking ship. They think that they can make it to shore before drowning, but any outside observer, including the audience, knows that isn’t going to happen.
What stood out to audiences at the time (and even to audiences today) is the violence. The film was highly controversial when it came out. Roger Ebert tells of watching the movie at a film festival before it was released to the general public. One critic asked Peckinpah and Holden at a press conference why the film was ever made. Ebert stood up and called it a masterpiece. But Ebert wasn’t even sure that Holden agreed.
In oh so many Westerns that we have looked at this winter, when a man gets shot, he falls to the floor. There’s no blood or anything. Not so in The Wild Bunch. When someone gets shot in this picture, blood flies everywhere. It sticks to their clothing and their faces. It’s ugly, and it’s meant to be.
Not only is it ugly, it’s often in slow-motion. The editing of the battle scenes in The Wild Bunch was revolutionary at the time. There are lots of quick cuts from all kinds of angles, with guns firing everywhere and the audience is lost in the chaos. That is, until, someone takes a bullet. Then the film slows down to slow motion as we watch the blood spurt out of their chest or wherever. It’s a ballet of violence.
Here’s the trailer for The Wild Bunch. As you see here, being set in 1913 means it may be the only Western in the tournament with an automobile in it.
The Naked Spur (1953) #21 seed. Directed by Anthony Mann. Starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker and Millard Mitchell.
Anthony Mann and James Stewart made eight movies together and five of them were Westerns. The first was Winchester ‘73, and we’ve already seen that tale of revenge and obsession show up in the competition. The Naked Spur was the third Western, and it’s even darker than Winchester ‘73.
I listed five actors up top because those are the only five actors with speaking parts in The Naked Spur. It’s an intimate movie in that sense, but it’s also shot in Technicolor in the wide-open and majestic Sierra Mountains around Lone Pine, California. The rugged terrain should be familiar to anyone who has seen the great Humphrey Bogart/Ida Lupino noir High Sierra.
California is standing in for 1868 Colorado in this picture, however. Stewart plays Howard Kemp, who has tracked a wanted man from Kansas to the Colorado Rockies. He runs into Jesse Tate (Mitchell), a prospector and offers him $20 to help him track down the fugitive Ben Vandergroat (Ryan). The noise they make trying to catch Ben attracts the attention of Roy Anderson (Meeker), a recently-discharged army lieutenant. Kemp asks to see Anderson’s discharge papers, which reveal that he has been dishonorably discharged for being “morally unstable.” However, Kemp doesn’t seem to have much choice but to let Anderson help apprehend Ben.
Anderson sneaks up behind Ben, but he is, in turn, ambushed by Lina Patch (Leigh), who is the daughter of Ben’s former, now deceased, outlaw partner. But Kemp and Tate eventually arrive, subdue Ben and tie him up. It’s then that Ben reveals that Kemp is not a lawman. He’s just some guy trying to collect the $5000 reward on his head. And that he’s only offering $20 a piece to Tate and Anderson to help him collect the reward.
The five of them start to head out of the mountains back to Abilene, Kansas, where they can turn Ben in to be hanged and collect the money. Tate and Anderson are insisting upon an equal three-way split, but Kemp is noncommittal about that. But he doesn’t really have any choice.
The rest of the way is Ben playing mind games, trying to turn the three men against each other. Kemp, meanwhile, becomes increasingly obsessive about getting the entire $5000 reward. So much so, that we start to wonder what he’s willing to do to get it. Meanwhile, Lina continues to argue for Ben’s innocence and the audience is left wondering who exactly is the good guy and the bad guy in this film.
We eventually discover why Kemp is so obsessed with getting the full $5000, and we learn that Ben knows the reason and is using it to play his three captors against each other.
Oh, there’s also a subplot where the party is chased by a group of Blackfeet Natives. Kemp argues that the Blackfeet have no quarrel with them and they can just ignore them. Except Anderson reveals that they are after him, and it has something to do with why he was discharged for being “morally unstable.”
Of course, there’s a romance starting between Janet Leigh’s Lina and James Stewart’s Kemp. Ben uses this to manipulate Kemp, and Lina to a lesser extent.
The Naked Spur is a tale of obsession and how it can drive a good man like Kemp into possibly becoming a bad man. Stewart plays that obsession more menacingly than he did in WInchester ‘73. What is Kemp willing to do to get the money?
Ryan, on the other hand, plays a mostly charming villain, to the point of the audience wondering if maybe Ben has been the good guy all along. Certainly Lina argues that he is. But is she correct, or is Ben just a psychopath who can hide his true motivations? That he’s a master manipulator is unquestioned. But did he really kill that man he’s accused of killing?
The Naked Spur is also a terrific to look at. Unlike The Wild Bunch that wants to make the Old West look ugly, The Naked Spur looks good.
Here’s the trailer for The Naked Spur.
So now it’s time to vote. Which Robert Ryan as a supporting character film do you prefer?
The Wild Bunch or The Naked Spur?
This poll is closed
The Wild Bunch
The Naked Spur
You have until Monday to vote. Both films are available to rent from all the usual suspects. I’m not finding either of them on any streaming service, but I did find a copy of The Naked Spur uploaded online to a non-YouTube service. You can probably find it too if you look for it.
Up next is director Henry Hathaway’s True Grit (1969), the film that finally won John Wayne an Oscar. It faces off against John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946), which stars Henry Fonda and is, in my opinion, the best of the many film versions of the Gunfight at O.K. Corral. True Grit is streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as to rent from you know where. My Darling Clementine is available on the Criterion Channel through the end of the month. It will also air this Friday morning, December 15, on FX Movies at 10 am Eastern, if you get that channel. You could just record it. You may be able to just stream it as well if you get FXM. I know you can on DirecTV. Of course, it can be rented as well.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
The Cubs front office has, through their strategic patience (I’m going to go with that until further notice) run me fresh out of free agents or trade targets for me to ask you about. So tonight we’re going to talk about a rookie pitcher who made quite an impression at the end of last season.
Jordan Wicks made his Cubs and major league debut on August 26 and stayed in the rotation the rest of the way. He made seven starts and finished with a record of 4-1 with an ERA of 4.41. This, however, is a rare case where the record is more telling than the ERA is. Wicks had an ERA of 3.00 with three “quality starts” out of six before his final start in the final weekend against the Brewers where he was hammered for six runs over 1⅔ innings.
I’m going to assume that you are pretty familiar with the Cubs’ rookie left-hander after the stretch run. (And yes, he still has rookie eligibility.) He throws a low-90s fastball with a very good change up. He has a curve and a slider and a cutter, but most of the time, he throws either the fastball or the change. Wicks doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but he keeps the ball on the ground and induces weak contact.
Tonight’s question is: How many starts for the Chicago Cubs will Jordan Wicks get this year? No one on the Cubs last year made more than 30 starts. So I’m going to ask you will Jordan Wicks make 15 starts? That means that he will spend about half the season in the starting rotation. He will have to be in the majors, not get traded and stay healthy for him to do that. He’ll also have to pitch well enough that the Cubs don’t send him to the bullpen or Iowa.
So will Jordan Wicks make 15 or more starts for the Cubs in 2024?
Will Jordan Wicks make 15 or more starts for the Cubs this year?
This poll is closed
Thank you so much for stopping by. I big thank you to everyone who commented this week, either on the baseball, the music or the Westerns. Please get home safely and stay warm. Don’t nap in the snow. Please recycle any cans and bottles. Tip the waitstaff. Tell your friends. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.