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BCB After Dark: A blast from the past?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if the Cubs should sign free agent reliever Aroldis Chapman

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It’s the end of another week here at BCB After Dark: the hippest hangout for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. I hope you’ve been able to stay warm this week and if you haven’t, you can come on in and warm yourself here. It’s a private party tonight, but your name is on the guest list. Let us take anything that you’d like to check. There are still a table or two 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.

Yesterday I asked you if you thought the Cubs would get a trade with the Rays done for right-hander Tyler Glasnow. A majority of 56 percent of you said that no, the Cubs wouldn’t get a deal done. That surprises me a little because I’d put the chances of the Cubs making a trade at around 65 percent. I don’t know whether the vote is because people are hoping the Cubs don’t get Glasnow or because people don’t think this front office can get the job done. Maybe a bit of both, with some voters holding both positions.

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.

OK. Tonight we’re into the hard-core Christmas jazz. It’s saxophonist Dexter Gordon playing “The Christmas Song” in 1970. Tommy Flanagan is on piano, Larry Ridley is on bass and Alan Dawson is on drums.

You voted in the BCB Winter Western Classic and you went with fan-favorite James Stewart and his classic first film with director Anthony Mann, Winchester ‘73 (1950). I thought the stylish, low-budget and ultra-violent Django (1966) would put up a better fight, but Winchester ‘73 won by a margin of 70 to 30 percent. Never bet against Jimmy Stewart around Christmas.

Up next are two films that couldn’t be more different. One is black and white. One is in glorious Technicolor. One was shot mainly in a studio. The other was shot in the gorgeous Monument Valley of Arizona. One is dark and disturbing. The other is bright and upbeat. One stars Henry Fonda and the other one stars John Wayne. You couldn’t get a better contrast that this.

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943). (#10 seed) Directed by William A. Wellman. Starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews and Harry Morgan.

There are a lot of Westerns that have a point to make, but few make it as loudly and clearly as The Ox-Bow Incident. At a time when extra-legal lynching was still a thing in America (although it was far less common than it had been twenty years previous), The Ox-Bow Incident is a searing indictment of the mob mentality, vigilantism and lynching.

Henry Fonda stars Gil Carter, a rancher in 1885 who has been away from the town of Wells, Nevada, for quite a while on the range. He and his buddy Art Croft (Harry Morgan—Col. Potter from M*A*S*H) ride into town, only to discover that there had been an outbreak of cattle rustling in the area and the two of them are immediate suspects. Then news comes that a beloved local rancher has been shot dead and his cattle stolen. The sheriff is out of town and law enforcement is in the hands of the self-important and not-too-bright deputy. With the approval of the “acting sheriff,” the townspeople decide to form a posse to go after killers before they get away. Gil and Art join the posse because, as Gil notes, they would look guilty if they didn’t.

As the posse heads out of town, they get word of the sighting of some of the dead rancher’s cattle. In Ox-Bow Canyon, they find three sleeping men—a new rancher Donald (Dana Andrews, his Mexican ranch hand Juan (Anthony Quinn) and Alva (Francis Ford), a clearly mentally-disabled old man that Donald keeps on the payroll out of charity.

At first, Donald doesn’t understand why everyone is questioning him. The cattle are his, he admits, but says he bought them from the rancher, who was very much alive the last time he saw him. He doesn’t have a bill of sale, however, because the rancher didn’t have one on him and had promised that he’d mail it to him.

Nearly everyone concludes this Donald, whom no one knows and who says he’s new in the area, is the rustler and murderer that they’re looking for. Donald pleads his innocence for a while, but eventually decides it is no use and refuses to participate in the charade any more. Some in the party, including Gil and Art, want to bring the three men back into town and let the justice system deal with them, but they are outvoted by mob. The circumstantial evidence against the three is strong, but Gil, Art and a few others still have some doubt.

The Ox-Bow Incident has a clear anti-lynching message. And while Dana Andrews, the actor playing the rancher at the center of the accusations, is white, there is also a clear anti-racism message in the film as well. A black preacher (Leigh Whipper) tags along with the posse to take a final confession from the rustlers, if necessary. While the mob decides their fate, Gil asks the preacher if he’d ever seen a man lynched. “My brother,” he responded. Hammering that home, the posse includes Major Tetley (Frank Conroy), who rides around in a Confederate uniform and acting like he is in charge. (Although Gil claims Tetley is a phony who didn’t move to Virginia until after the Civil War.)

The Ox-Bow Incident was personal for Henry Fonda and one of his favorites. When he was 14, he personally witnessed the lynching of Will Brown in Omaha. He later called it horrendous and the most sickening thing he had ever seen. I don’t think Fonda needed that personal connection to put in a top performance, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

The acting performances are strong throughout. Fonda and Morgan play the ambivalence they feel about the whole thing well. Their moral courage is certainly limited. Andrews is at the start of his career, and many critics think he gave his best performance as the doomed Donald in this picture. Jane Darwell, who won an Oscar opposite Fonda playing the kindly and wise Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, plays a heartless rancher who whips up anger in the mob here.

One thing you don’t get with The Ox-Bow Incident is stunning vistas of the American West. The film was shot under wartime restrictions, so going out to Monument Valley was out of the question. While there were a few scenes shot in the mountains outside of Los Angeles, almost all of the film was shot in studio backlots or on sets. Most of the film is centered on the debate as to whether to hang the three men and it comes across very much like a stage play. On the positive side, the film checks in at a brisk 75 minutes, although that is padded by an unnecessary incident between Gil and his ex-girlfriend, Rose (Mary Beth Hughes), who had promised to wait for Gil and didn’t.

The trailer for The Ox-Bow Incident is a bit different. It’s Henry Fonda making a plea to you to watch this movie. You may not be able to tell a lot about the movie from the trailer, but you certainly can tell how personal this movie was to Fonda.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru and John Agar.

John Ford made a lot of great-looking movies in his career, but none is more gorgeous than She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. This film looks terrific. Working in Technicolor, Ford captures the beauty of his beloved Monument Valley like he never had before. The mountains are beautiful. The mesas are beautiful. The desert is beautiful. The horses are beautiful. The sets are beautiful. The costumes are beautiful. And Joanne Dru is especially beautiful, never more so than when she’s riding sidesaddle wearing a cavalry cap and jacket with a yellow ribbon in her hair.

Cinematographer Winton C. Hoch deserves a lot of the credit for the look of the film, which he based on the art of the Old West by Frederic Remington. It’s ironic that Hoch and Ford reportedly didn’t get along during the shoot, with Ford’s rumored insistence that Hoch keep shooting as a thunderstorm rolled in a big point of contention. But I’ve got to say, that scene with the thunderstorm looked great too. And Hoch deservedly won an Oscar for Cinematography for his efforts.

(John Ford is the director who got shot by a Japanese fighter plane at the Battle of Midway. When his cameraman went to offer assistance, Ford screamed at him to get back to shooting. He was not one to let potentially-lethal danger get in the way of a good scene.)

Ford was not planning on casting Wayne in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, since the part of Captain Nathan Brittles was a man approaching retirement and Wayne was only 42 at the time. But Ford was so impressed with Wayne’s acting in director Howard Hawks’ Red River that he decided to give Wayne the part. And certainly, Wayne is never more appealing that he is in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Brittles is second-in-command at Fort Starke. He’s absolutely beloved by his men for his good nature and the way he cares about them. Captain Brittles is smart, tough-but-fair, charming and gregarious and so is Wayne’s performance. He mourns his beloved wife at a small gravesite by the fort and talks to her regularly. But Brittles never takes that sadness with him to the job. He prefers to negotiate with the Indians than shoot at them. His one negative character trait is that whenever someone apologizes for anything, Brittles is quick to say “Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.”

It’s hard to summarize the plot of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon since it doesn’t really have one. It’s basically an episodic look at the final week of Captain Brittles’ career in the Army before retirement. There’s an overarching plot of the Cheyenne and Arapaho going on the warpath and the cavalry having to get them back on the reservation. Brittles makes it his mission to do so without bloodshed, but his commanding officer doesn’t think he can do it before his scheduled retirement in a week. But that’s mostly an excuse to have some amazing shots of both the cavalry and the Native Americans riding horses along the gorgeous desert.

Other things going on in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is Brittle’s commander, Major Allshard, has his wife Abby (the always great Mildred Natwick) and his niece Olivia Dandridge (Dru) with him and he wants to get them back east where they’ll be safe if the Indians attack the fort. So Brittles has to take them along on a scouting party so they can drop them off at the stagecoach. On top of that, two of Brittle’s subordinate officers, First Lieutenant Cohill (John Agar) and Second Lieutenant Pennell (Harry Carey Jr.), are fighting for the affection of the beautiful young Miss Dandridge. Oh, and then there’s Victor McLaglen as Quincannon, the comic, hard-drinking Irish sergeant, who is also retiring. Sgt. Quincannon is Brittle’s best friend, and Brittles wants to make sure that his final weeks in the Army are safe and enjoyable.

So there’s a lot going on in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and none of it, other than the potential Indian War, is important. And even that is handled with as little violence as possible. The most famous quote from the film is Wayne going “Picnicking? Picnicking Miss Dandridge?” (Admittedly, a lot of that is because of Wayne’s delivery.) Critic Dave Kehr famously called it “perhaps the only avant-garde film ever made about the importance of tradition.” I wouldn’t go that far to call She Wore a Yellow Ribbon avant-garde, but it is certainly a departure from the plot-heavy Westerns of the era.

I do have to give the movie some demerits for the way it portrays the young Natives as violent and savage, but the one person that they really brutally kill on-screen is a slimy Indian trader who clearly deserved it. And the film has Chief Big John Tree as an elder Cheyenne who considers Brittles a friend and wants to talk peace as well.

There is one Cubs connection in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Joanne Dru’s real name was Joan LaCock, and she was the older sister of longtime Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall (né Pierre LaCock). That means Dru was the aunt of seventies-era Cubs first baseman Pete LaCock. This will come up again later when Dru stars in Red River as well.

Here’s the trailer for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. You can see how gorgeous the film is just from this.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is as fun and bright a movie as The Ox-Bow Incident is dark and poignant. It’s up to you to decide which style you prefer.

Both films can be rented from all the usual sources, but there’s an online copy of The Ox-Bow Incident here and one of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon here.


The Ox-Bow Incident or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    The Ox-Bow Incident
    (39 votes)
  • 59%
    She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
    (57 votes)
96 votes total Vote Now

You have until Monday to vote. Coming up on Monday, we have our number 11 seed, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) taking on the number 22 seed, Rio Bravo (1959). So it’s either John Wayne and James Stewart directed by John Ford or John Wayne and Dean Martin directed by Howard Hawks. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is available for streaming on Amazon Prime, Paramount+ and MGM+, as well as renting from all the usual suspects. Rio Bravo is a rental only, as far as I can tell right now.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and the Westerns.

This weekend, I figured that by today I’d have a lot of news from the Winter Meetings to discuss and I wouldn’t be searching for a topic. Then the baseball gods said “ha!” So unless you want to discuss Juan Soto going to the Yankees, I don’t have a lot of Winter Meetings stuff to deal with tonight.

So tonight I’ll just go back to asking about free agents. The Cubs could use some help in the bullpen and there is someone the organization is already familiar with: left-hander Aroldis Chapman is a free agent. I don’t need to tell you that the Cubs probably don’t win the World Series in 2016 without Chapman. He was electric in the back-up-against-wall Game 5. He wasn’t as good in Game 6, but the Cubs had a big lead and he probably should not have pitched. Chapman was clearly gassed in Game 7, but he gutted out one of the best pitching performances in Cubs history with subpar stuff. It was the stuff of legends.

The Cubs let Chapman leave as a free agent after the season and he’s had his ups and downs since then. At the end of the 2022 season, the Yankees were happy to see him leave as a free agent and his career appeared to be close to done. His velocity was down and his stuff wasn’t as sharp as it had been. Chapman took a one-year free agent deal with the Royals and it was probably the only offer he had.

But Chapman rejuvenated his career in KC, who then traded him to Texas where he was an important part of the Rangers bullpen on their way to their first World Series title. Chapman’s velocity, while not quite where it was in his Cincinnati days, was up sharply in 2023 as compared to 2022. He was a valuable reliever last season.

Just check out this chart from Baseball Savant.

So that’s a lot. Clearly he walks way too many batters, but most of the rest of his numbers are outstanding. The chase rate and barrel rates are troubling, however, His pitches don’t have as much movement on it as they used to in his prime, but if you’re throwing 99 to 101 mph, then you can still get outs with reduced movement. Chapman is not the best reliever in the game anymore, but he would still help the Cubs as a set up man or even possibly a closer.

Of course, there are other issues when you’re discussing Aroldis Chapman. There’s the domestic violence suspension from way back that made a lot of Cubs fans oppose acquiring him in the first place in 2016. That hasn’t been repeated, thank goodness, but there were reports of uncooperative behavior when he was with the Yankees. The Cubs front office should be familiar with Chapman from his time here, but sometimes a guy who can be a gentleman when he’s on top of the world isn’t quite so great a teammate when he’s just another setup man. Still, there weren’t any reports of Chapman being a problem in Kansas City or Texas. But it’s something that the Cubs’ front office would have to consider before offering to bring Chapman back.

Chapman made $3.7 million last year, but he’s probably looking at at least a $12 million deal this year. But he might be had on a one-year deal at that price, or perhaps a one-year deal with an option year and a buyout. At 36, he’s probably on one-year deals for the rest of his career.

So do you think the Cubs should make a play for free agent reliever Aroldis Chapman?


Aroldis Chapman?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    (62 votes)
  • 56%
    (180 votes)
  • 23%
    (75 votes)
317 votes total Vote Now

That’s it for another week here at BCB After Dark. I hope you enjoyed the music, movies and baseball talk. A special thanks to everyone who comments and votes. Or who watch the movies. Please get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.