We’re finishing up another week here at BCB After Dark: the hippest hangout for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in and join us. It’s too cold to stand outside. Let us check your coat for you. Grab any table that still left, or join someone who is already here. 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 night, I asked you who your prediction was for 2024 Cubs’ Rookie of the Year. The vote was pretty close, but Pete Crow-Armstrong finished first with 29 percent of the vote. Jordan Wicks was right behind him with 28 percent. Alexander Canario came up third with 23 percent. Everyone got at least two votes, however.
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 the Louis Armstrong classic “Wonderful World” being played by Roy Hargrove in 1999. What I like about this one is that Hargrove is playing the flugelhorn, which is an impressive instrument to look at and not one you hear a lot. (Although Hargrove did switch off of the trumpet and played it many times.)
Mulgrew Miller is on piano, Pierre Boussaguet plays bass and Alvin Queen is behind the drums.
You voted in the BCB Winter Wester Classic and it was no surprise that The Magnificent Seven (1960) came out on top of 3:10 to Yuma (1957) with 78 percent of the vote.
We have two more contests in the first round and they are both really tough calls in my mind. There are no easy choices from now on.
Tonight we have our #15 seed, director Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) taking on the film that started the “Spaghetti Western” craze, director Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. (1964)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971). #15 seed. Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.
With all due respect to The Wild Bunch and Little Big Man, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is, in my mind, the definitive “New Hollywood” Western. Roger Ebert called the film “perfect” and “one of the saddest films I have ever seen.” It’s also a gorgeously-shot film starring two actors at the top of their game. It emphasizes character development and setting over plot, but there’s enough plot there to keep you wondering what is going to happen to the two titular characters. Except you know that a film like this one isn’t going to have a happy ending.
Beatty plays John McCabe, a gambler of some reputation who rides into the fictional mining boomtown of Presbyterian Church, Washington in 1902. What exactly is that reputation is unclear, not only to the audience but the other characters. Some think he’s actually a gunfighter with a celebrated kill to his name and McCabe is more than willing to trade on this rumor, whether it is true or not.
McCabe’s plan is to open a saloon and a brothel in this boomtown, figuring there is money to be made from the local mining community. He hires three prostitutes, none of which could really be described as “attractive.” But they are the only women in town for these miners.
(Spoilers to follow) This all goes well enough for McCabe until Constance Miller (Christie), a high-class English prostitute arrives in town. At least she claims and appears to be high-class to these grungy miners. Mrs. Miller (correctly) points out to McCabe that he has absolutely no idea how to run a brothel and she does. If they were to become partners, she could turn the place into something really profitable. At least profitable enough for her to set herself up as a madam for a high-class joint in San Francisco.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller then start a relationship that is somewhat more than business partners and something less than lovers. They have sex, but McCabe still has to pay for it. They’re confidants, but they also don’t really trust each other.
Meanwhile, McCabe’s saloon, Mrs. Miller’s brothel and the local zinc mines start to make a lot of money. This attracts the attention of a large mining concern that makes McCabe an offer to take over everything. Thinking this is a negotiation, McCabe responds with an outrageous counter-offer, thinking that they’ll meet somewhere reasonable in the middle. But the offer wasn’t a negotiation and Mrs. Miller knows it. Since McCabe rejected their offer, now the mining company plans to just take the town by force. (End Spoilers)
Like many Robert Altman films, the script in McCabe & Mrs. Miller is more of a suggestion than anything else. The characters talk over each other and extras are having conversations in the background. While tha sometimes makes it difficult to make out what people are saying, Altman wants this verisimilitude to his dialog.
Obviously if you’re going to do that much improv and difficult dialog, you’re going to need strong actors. Beatty and Christie were obviously up to the task, but Altman regulars René Auberjonois and Shelley Duvall are also strong in supporting roles. William Devane, John Schuck and others round out an outstanding cast.
That attention to detail extends to the set, the town of Presbyterian Church. Altman put his construction crew in period costumes and had them build the town on camera as filming went on. It’s supposed to be a boomtown where buildings are getting thrown up quickly and in a hurry, so he incorporated that into the movie.
Weather and climate also plays a huge role in this film. I wish we had more “Winter Westerns” in this competition because those are often some of the prettiest, but McCabe & Mrs. Miller is definitely a Winter Western. There’s mist and pouring rain. The streets in the town are mud, which the characters trudge through and get all over their pants and boots. The final climax takes place in a blinding snowstorm while a raging fire destroys part of the town. Few films have a better sense of place than McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
Altman also forgoes the use of any conventional musical score in favor of playing tunes from Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. If you’re going for a sense of melancholy, you can’t do better than Leonard Cohen. And surprisingly enough, it works.
Here’s a trailer for McCabe & Mrs. Miller. You may note that it’s not like the other trailers you may have watched. It’s just various scenes from the film while Leonard Cohen music plays. I suppose that might be the best way to get a sense of the film.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964) #18 seed. Directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch and Gian Maria Volonté.
A Fistful of Dollars is a punk Western. It’s cheap, stripped down to the bare necessities and not particularly interested in following the rules. It’s the first film in “The Man with No Name” trilogy (more on that later) and the film that made Clint Eastwood a star. It’s the type of film with a kind of brilliance that only people who didn’t know what they doing could achieve.
An unauthorized remake of director Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and yes, Leone got sued, A Fistful of Dollars is the story of a mysterious gunman who rides into the tiny Mexican town of San Miguel and decides to put a stop to a feud between two rival criminal factions.
What is his motivation to do this? Unclear! Where is this man from? The United States, but beyond that, who knows? What’s his name? They call him “Joe,” but we don’t know if that’s actually his name or just a generic nickname for any Yankee. How did he get so good with the gun? Again, who cares?
In fact, we’re not supposed to care about any of these normal details of storytelling. A Fistful of Dollars is a violent video game, untethered to any connection to reality. It has a hero and two sets of villains, with Ramón Rojo (Volonté) as the final boss to be defeated. Joe uses his wits to overcome impossible odds. as much as his guns and his bravery. In many ways, Leone started the archetype of the modern hero who has been played by Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, etc. “Joe” is a man of action and few words. He gets beat up badly and that is not something that you really ever saw happen to heroes in Westerns in 1964. But he gets back up and keeps on fighting.
There are dozens of people killed in A Fistful of Dollars and Joe kills about a dozen of them himself. The film makes no attempt to justify the killings. Standard practice for a Hollywood Western of the time was that if the hero was going to kill someone, he pretty much had to have no other choice and the person who was getting shot deserved it. A Fistful of Dollars makes no attempt to justify all the killing and shooting to kill (or blowing stuff up) is Joe’s first resort, not his last. It really was the first modern action movie in that sense.
This is also the first film of the “Dollars” trilogy, along with A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. (We’ll get to that second one later.) The series is also called, “The Man With No Name” trilogy, which was a marketing term created by the US distributor. It’s also confusing because the character that Clint Eastwood plays in each of the three movies has a name (or at least a nickname) and it’s not supposed to be the same character in three films. The confusion comes from these films being so low-budget that Eastwood had to supply his own wardrobe and he wasn’t shelling out for a different outfit for each film. He even brought his guns and boots from Rawhide, the TV show he was starring in at the time. But the poncho that Eastwood picked out to wear, as well as brown hat with the wide brim, have become iconic.
Still, the character might as well have had no name. “Joe” has no past and no future. He exists only as far as the confines of the plot of the movie.
As was the custom for Italian films at the time, all of the dialog was dubbed in later in post-production. (From what I understand, the part of Spain they shot the outdoors scenes in was near an airport and was pretty noisy anyway to record sound on-site.) This meant that Leone took his international cast and just had them speak in their native language, which allowed them to be more comfortable with their parts. So Eastwood speaks English, Koch spoke German and Volonté spoke Italian and the film just got dubbed into whatever the language of the country it was playing in. The dubbing is not particularly carefully done, which either adds to the films charm or detracts from it, depending on your point of view.
As with all the Leone-directed films, A Fistful of Dollars has a musical score from Ennio Morricone. The score may not be quite as good as Morricone’s later efforts in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, but it’s still plenty excellent. Leone didn’t have enough money to hire an orchestra, so Morricone had to make do with electric guitars and trumpets, and creatively filled in the gaps with sound effects like a cracking whip, gunshots, whistling, handclaps and the like. The music is as much a character in this movie as the actors, punctuating the scenes in a manner similar to the way that the 1966 Batman TV series would use the “Pow!” and “Bam!” word bubbles.
Here’s the original US trailer for A Fistful of Dollars. It calls the film “The first of its kind” and that “It won’t be the last.” I assume they’re referring to A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which were already completed and shown in Italy before A Fistful of Dollars made it to America. But as I said, it could have been referring to an entire style of action films that continues to today.
So now it’s time to vote.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller or A Fistful of Dollars?
This poll is closed
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
A Fistful of Dollars
You have until Monday to vote. McCabe & Mrs. Miller is available to rent, or there’s a copy on YouTube at least until someone pulls it down. It’s not a great transfer, but if you don’t want to pay $4 to watch it, you can check it out there, at least until someone pulls it down. But it’s been up for three years.
A Fistful of Dollars is on Cinemax, which I know is not the most popular stream out there anymore. But you may be find it on the internet and you can always rent it. Or you can come over to my house and watch my Blu-Ray. Oh, no you can’t. Sorry.
Up next is the final matchup in our first round, Johnny Guitar and Ride the High Country. Johnny Guitar is on the Criterion Channel through the end of the month, so act fast if you have that. Or it can be rented. Ride the High Country can be rented as well. It used to be on Max, but it went away so they can give us more episodes of Dr. Pimple Popper. (Yes, I’m not happy about this.)
Also, a reminder. Our top seed in the tournament, The Searchers, is playing on TCM this coming Saturday at 8:45 Central. We’re going to get to that film next week, so now is the time o set your DVR if you still subscribe to cable or satellite. Otherwise you’ll have to rent it.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
Seriously, the drought of Cubs news is killing me. Probably you too. I’m close to the point where I throw an open floor for people to just make up Cubs rumors.
I’m going to ask you a question from Sahadev Sharma’s column today (The Athletic sub. req. and if I’m desperate for news, I wonder how bad it is for him.) where he makes some predictions about the upcoming Cubs season. The first one is about Seiya Suzuki where he predicts that Suzuki’s 2024 season will be good enough to earn “down ballot MVP votes.”
Now Sharma is not arguing that Suzuki is going to win the MVP Award. In fact, he specifically says that Suzuki’s upcoming campaign “may not be enough to win an MVP Award.” But he does predict that his season will be good enough for MVP voters to include Suzuki in their ten-player ballot.
So tonight’s question is, do you believe him? Specifically, do you think Seiya Suzuki will finish in the Top 10 of National League Most Valuable Player votes? As Sharma notes, after Suzuki returned to the lineup after his benching for a “reset” to the end of the season, Suzuki hit .356/.414/.672. Obviously if he hit that well over the course of the entire 2024 season, he’d be a serious candidate to win the MVP Award. But Suzuki hasn’t really demonstrated that he can do that over the course of a season. But if he could do that over two months again and then be just “good” for the other four months, he certainly would likely finish among the top ten in MVP voting.
So do you think Seiya Suzuki will finish in the top 10 of MVP voting?
Will Seiya Suzuki finish in the Top 10 in MVP voting in 2024?
This poll is closed
Thanks for stopping in this evening. A special thank you to everyone who comments and votes. Please stay warm out there. Get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.