‘Twas the last open night before Christmas at BCB After Dark: the merriest meetup for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. And all through the club, every creature was swinging. Come on in out of the cold and join us. There are still a few tables available. Bring your own eggnog—or whatever beverage of your choice.
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 where free agent Cody Bellinger was going to sign. A bare majority of 51 percent of you think he’s coming back to Wrigley Field. Another 36 percent think he’s making a run for the border and signing with Toronto. Ten percent said the Giants and the rest went to the Mariners or “other.”
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’re going to celebrate the holiday with Louis Armstrong’s classic holiday tune “‘Zat you, Santa Claus?”
You voted in the BCB Winter Western Classic and John Wayne and True Grit came out on top of Henry Fonda and My Darling Clementine by a margin of 64 to 36 percent.
Up tonight are the #14 seed, The Magnificent Seven (1960) by director John Sturges, taking on the #19 seed, director Delmer Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma (1957). The choices are getting harder and harder if you ask me.
The Magnificent Seven (1960) #14 seed. Directed by John Sturges. Starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn and introducing Horst Buchholz. (whew.)
The scene that introduces our heroes near the beginning of The Magnificent Seven is one of my all-time favorites. If the film comes on television, I’ll watch the movie at least until the scene is over every time. An undertaker (Whit Bissell) is refusing to bury a man in boot hill because a “local element” objects to an Indian being buried next to the white outlaws, gamblers and drunks there. Bystanders Chris (Brynner) and Vin (McQueen) agree to drive the hearse to bury the man. There they are, in a hearse, driving through the main drag of an Old West town while under enemy fire. They eventually have a showdown with the racist group at the cemetery, whom they disarm with some well-placed shots to their arms and wrists. It’s a real crowd-pleaser of a scene. What makes it even better is that Brynner and McQueen are just so freaking cool during the entire scene.
The Magnificent Seven was a remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic, Seven Samurai. Kurosawa, a keen student of world cinema, noticed that the gunfighting heroes of the American Western had a lot in common with the tales of the Japanese ronin, or masterless samurai. He adapted the Westerns to a Japanese setting. Hollywood then took Kurosawa’s ronin pictures and turned them back into Westerns.
Seven Samurai has been considered one of the greatest movies ever made and ranked 20th in the BFI Sight and Sound latest poll of the Greatest Films of All Time. So saying that The Magnificent Seven is not as good as Seven Samurai shouldn’t be considered an insult, just as it’s no insult to say that Billy Williams wasn’t as good as Willie Mays. The Magnificent Seven is still plenty good.
The plot of The Magnificent Seven mostly follows the plot of Seven Samurai, with some alterations to align it better with American values, as well as making the characters better fit into relatable Western archetypes. A small farming village in Mexico has been preyed upon by an outlaw gang led by Calavera (Wallach) for years. Finally, some of the men head north to buy guns with what little money they have left to protect themselves. The farmers are as impressed with Chris’s hearse driving as I was and ask him for help. Chris explains that gunfighters are cheaper than guns and that they should put together a posse to protect themselves instead.
The first part of the film is the best, where Chris puts together the “magnificent seven” to head down to Mexico. That’s a common trope in films these days, the “let’s get the gang together” part, but Seven Samurai is generally credited as having invented it. All six men have different reasons for joining. Chris originally excludes the young, pretty boy Chico (Buchholz) as being not skilled or experienced enough for the job, but he tags along anyway (as Toshiro Mifune’s character did in Seven Samurai) and the posse eventually comes around to accepting him.
There are two things that The Magnificent Seven does better than Seven Samurai. The first is the character of Calavera, the bandit leader menacing the town. Seven Samurai doesn’t spend much time developing the bandits and their motivations, but Wallach does a terrific job making Calavera a memorable and believable villain. He’s not a cruel man if he doesn’t have to be. His feeling is that he leads a gang and they’ve got to eat. They’re wolves and the farmers are sheep. What’s wrong with a wolf feeding on sheep?
The other thing that stands out as better in The Magnificent Seven is the fantastic Elmer Bernstein score. It’s loud and bombastic, but it’s also stirring and catchy. It’s one of Hollywood’s greatest scores of all time.
The Magnificent Seven has a reputation as a “guy’s movie.” There is exactly one speaking female part, Petra (Rosenda Monteros), who serves as a love interest for Chico. Otherwise, there’s a lot of male camaraderie and action. But it’s so well done and full of good-looking and cool men that anyone should be able to enjoy it also long as they just go along for the ride. My wife enjoys it.
It really is a crowd-pleasing movie. Brynner and McQueen were two of the “coolest” men of the era and the rest of the gunfighters weren’t far behind them in that category. Buchholz was marketed as the “German James Dean” around this time. These gunfighters may not be deep or complex, but they’re cool, they’re quick with a clever quip and they’re the kind of people you enjoy spending two hours with. You can ask for more from a movie, but you certainly don’t need any more than that.
Here’s a trailer for The Magnificent Seven. Please note that the singing to the score in this trailer does not appear in the film—it’s just for the trailer.
3:10 to Yuma. (1957). #19 seed. Directed by Delmer Daves. Starring Glenn Ford, Van Heflin and Felicia Farr.
There have been a lot of great films and television shows adapted from the works of Elmore Leonard, but 3:10 to Yuma was the first big one (and second overall by a couple of months). A simple plot based on a Leonard short story, 3:10 to Yuma is the story of a duel between two men that is fought more with words than with guns.
3:10 to Yuma borrows from two earlier Westerns—High Noon and Shane—adds to them and turns out something entirely different. Van Heflin plays Dan Evans, a character similar to the one he played in Shane. He’s a poor rancher with a wife and two young boys. His ranch is struggling because of three years of drought. He feels emasculated in front of his boys.
Unlike Shane, where Heflin’s Western family have an unexpected visitor who turns out to be a hero, in 3:10 to Yuma, Dan’s visitor is malevolent. Charming certainly, but a stone-cold killer.
While rounding up his wayward cattle, Dan witnesses Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) and his gang robbing the stagecoach. His boys are with him and the kids ask Dan what he’s going to do about the robbery. Dan just says “nothing” He’s completely outnumbered and isn’t about to get his two boys killed in a shootout anyway.
Wise move by Dan. When the stagecoach driver decides to be a hero and takes one of Ben’s men hostage. Ben coldly shoots both his own man and the stagecoach driver dead. He then finishes his robbery of the stagecoach.
Ben spots Dan and his kids seeing all this and rides out to where they are watching. He takes their horses (so they don’t run to the marshal), but he tells them that he’ll drop them off in town where they can pick them up. Dan is completely humiliated walking back to his ranch, but he has no choice but to take it.
The Wade Gang go into town for a drink before heading to Mexico. They politely tell Emmy (Farr), the bartender, that there had been a stage robbery and murder and to tell the marshal. They leave out the part that they were the ones who robbed it.
The Wade gang heads out before the marshal discovers that they were the ones behind the robbery, but Ben stays behind. You see, he figures out that Emmy is a girl he knew long ago in a different town and he wants to spend more time with her. Meanwhile, the stagecoach owner and marshal come up with a plan to capture Ben. It’s dangerous, but the job pays $200. Dan is broke and desperately needs the money, so he agrees.
The plan works and Ben is captured. Then the problem becomes how to sneak him out of town to the federal authorities who can try him. The plan requires Dan to take Ben back to his ranch for a while until they can sneak him on to the 3:10 train to Yuma.
The movie really starts when Ben is captured. While staying at Dan’s ranch, Ben is nothing but polite and personable. He charms Dan’s wife Alice (Leora Dana) by complimenting her food and being an all-around great guest, albeit in handcuffs. This outrages Dan even more, but he keeps it to himself as much as he can.
After dinner, Dan takes Ben to the town hotel where they wait for the 3:10 train to arrive. There, Ben and Dan play a game of cat-and-mouse. Ben tries to get into Dan’s head in a form of cruel psychological warfare. Ben tries to bribe Dan to let him go. He tries to trick him into turning his back. He points out that his gang is going to discover where he is and will kill Dan unless Dan lets him go before then. It’s a kind of primitive version of the battle between Clarice and Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs. This warfare is accentuated by a trick stolen from High Noon—repeated shots of a ticking clock counting down the minutes to 3:10. All the while, Dan is clearly going through doubts. He has trouble figuring out why he’s doing any of this except that he gave his word.
3:10 to Yuma steals another trick from High Noon. When the time comes to take Ben to the train station, the local townsfolk abandon him in the face of the threat from Ben’s gang. Dan has to get Ben to the station by himself.
Ford and Heflin are truly excellent in this film that is basically a two-hander. Ford’s Ben is clearly the flashy part. He’s charming, polite and witty. But it’s all a plot to weaken your defenses and get into your head. Ben would kill you without thinking twice if he thought he needed to. As Michael Corleone would later say, it’s business. The typically-heroic Ford is playing against type as the villain here and he gives a spin to the bad guy role that is quite different that what audiences in 1957 were used to.
But Heflin is deceptively great as Dan as well. This is clearly a man who has been beaten down by life and Ben has offered him a lifeline in exchange for his freedom. But Dan already feels like a failure in the eyes of his sons after failing to do anything about the stage robbery. Letting Ben go would mean abandoning any pretence (in his own eyes) that he’s a man. Whereas Ben is silver-tongued and sure of himself, Dan is tongue-tied and uncertain. It’s a great pairing.
My one complaint about 3:10 to Yuma is the musical score, which mostly consists of just playing an instrumental version of the theme song over and over again through the first half hour of the movie. It’s maddening. It gets much better when we get to the better part of the film—they don’t play it when Ben and Dan are having their verbal war, for example—but the theme song does pop back up later in the movie. I get that this wasn’t a big budget production, but you’ve got two pretty big stars in Ford and Heflin here. The producers could have afforded a less repetitive score.
Here’s the trailer for 3:10 to Yuma.
The Magnificent Seven can be found on YouTube, Amazon Prime and several other streaming services. If you can’t find it, you aren’t looking hard enough. 3:10 to Yuma is available for rent, but it can also be found in the Internet Archive.
The Magnificent Seven or 3:10 to Yuma?
This poll is closed
The Magnificent Seven
3:10 to Yuma
You have a week to vote in this poll. Monday is Christmas Day and I’m not going to have the next contest start on Christmas. It’s not fair to the films, it’s not fair to you and it is not fair to me to expect me to write 2500 words on two films over my holiday. So the next contest, McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964) will start a week from today. After that, Ride the High Country (1962) and Johnny Guitar (1954) close out our first round. So if you’re looking for something good to watch over the holiday, those are some suggestions.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
Christopher Morel has been a fan favorite ever since he arrived at Wrigley Field in 2022. He has electric power, hitting 26 home runs and slugging .508 over just 107 games last year. Yes, he strikes out too much and his batting average is low, but he does walk a fair amount and has a career OBP of .311, which is fine for someone with that kind of pop.
The problem has been where to play him. Last season, he played 61 of his 107 games as the DH. He also played second base—which seems to be his best position but Nico Hoerner is there—and the outfield, where his defense impressed nobody.
Manager Craig Counsell said that Morel needs to be in the lineup. The question is “where?”
The Cubs have open spots at both corner infield positions and the Cubs said he was going to work on playing first base over the winter. But the obvious hole in the Cubs infield is third base. When I first saw Morel play, he was a third baseman for Boise and South Bend in 2018 and 2019. His arm from third base stood out as plus—he could rocket throws to first base across the diamond. With the glove Morel seemed rough, but no more rough than a lot of third basemen are in the low minor leagues.
However, the Cubs mostly moved Morel off of third base after the lost 2020 minor league season. The Cubs tried to make a center fielder out of him in 2021 to very limited success. The most success they’ve had with him is at second base, but as I noted above, Nico Hoerner is there and first-round pick Matt Shaw may have to play second in the majors as well. But the Cubs have been reluctant to move Morel back to third so far.
The reason why is obvious. Morel has not looked good there in his limited time in the majors at third base. But the need is also clear and the fit is clear. If the Cubs can move Morel back to third base, it would be a big boost to the lineup. This article from Bleacher Nation points out that Morel played third base in the Winter Leagues and turned in some spectacular looking plays there. But as Brett Taylor notes, turning the spectacular play wasn’t Morel’s problem. It was developing the consistency to make the routine ones every time.
So tonight’s question is “Will Christopher Morel play 80 games at third base for the Cubs in 2024?” That’s half a season and would probably make Morel the “regular” Cubs third baseman this year, even if he’s not an “everyday” third baseman.
Will Christopher Morel play 80 or more games at third base in 2024?
This poll is closed
Thank you to everyone who stopped in. We’ve enjoyed having you. A special thank you to everyone who voted or commented over the past week. Please get your hat and coat if you checked them. Stay warm out there. Get home safely. Tip the waitstaff. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays to all of you out there. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.