It’s another Wednesday night here at BCB After Dark: the coolest stop for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It’s our final performance before we go dark for the weekend. So come on in for a late-winter party with the best Cubs fans around. There’s no cover charge. There’s still one good table available. Bring your own beverage. We’ve got a free coat check service—although the girl wants me to remind you that she takes tips.
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 about whether the Cubs could make an “adequate” third baseman out of Nick Madrigal and boy, did you have opinions about that one. There were a lot of good points made on all sides of that issue. But the general consensus was against the idea as 61 percent of you said “No” to the possibility that Madrigal could become a third baseman in 2023, at least.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
It’s the final night on Burt Bacharach week as we pay tribute the great songwriter, who passed away last week at the age of 94.
I don’t know what the most popular Bacharach song is nor do I know which one has been recorded the most. But if you asked me to guess, I’d say “Walk On By,” which was first a big hit for Dionne Warwick in 1964. Since then, it’s been recorded many times in a wide variety of styles. Isaac Hayes had a funk hit with it. Gloria Gaynor did a disco version. Heck, The Stranglers had a punk hit with it in the UK back in 1978.
Here’s one of those many different versions of “Walk On By.” It’s Diana Krall performing the song in Rio de Janeiro in 2008.
You voted in the BCB Winter Noir Classic matchup between The Night of the Hunter (1955) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and The Postman Always Rings Twice came out on top with 65 percent of the vote. Personally, I thought this vote would be a lot closer and I can’t say which one I would have voted for. But the clear majority of you prefer the steamy Postman over the Depression-era parable of Hunter. Or maybe you just really love John Garfield and Lana Turner. The great Audrey Totter even has a small part in one of her early on-screen appearances. If that’s the case, I can’t say I blame you one bit.
With Postman advancing, two of the final four films in our contest are based on novels written by James M. Cain—Double Indemnity being the other one. Maybe I should have stuck the movie based on Cain’s novel Mildred Pierce in the competition, although I consider that more of a melodrama than a noir. Still, it’s a fine line.
Double Indemnity was also directed by the great Billy Wilder and we now have a chance to advance a second Wilder film to the final four as his Sunset Boulevard (1950) faces off against director Fritz Lang and The Big Heat (1953). Two directors both born in the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire and who both got their starts in the German film industry. Both also fled Germany for Hollywood after the Nazis came to power.
Here’s what I wrote about Sunset Boulevard previously:
There is nothing that Hollywood loves more than a good movie about Hollywood. They prefer movies about the uplifting power of the cinema, but they like a dark tale too. In Sunset Boulevard, director Billy Wilder (who also co-wrote the script with Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr.) created one of the blackest visions of Hollywood ever made.
Sunset Boulevard is a picture that could have gone wrong in so many places. Instead, in the talented hands of silent film star Gloria Swanson, Norma Desmond became one of the most memorable characters in the history of film.
Norma Desmond is a 50-year-old forgotten has-been silent film star who lives in a old, dusty mansion on Sunset Boulevard that was purchased when she was still young and famous. William Holden is Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who’s in the process of having his car repossessed and being evicted from his apartment for non-payment of rent. While fleeing the repo men, Joe ends up driving into what he thinks is an abandoned mansion but is, in fact, Norma’s place. Norma soon sees the young, attractive Joe as her ticket back to stardom, as well as a potential lover. Joe is both repulsed and fascinated by the faded screen queen. He tries to push her away, but he also realizes her money could make his problems go away. Joe’s desire to stay in Hollywood outweighs his moral objections to taking advantage of this older, half-crazy woman.
Norma Desmond became the archetype of the star who is disposed of when she is no longer young and useful to the movie moguls. Stardom was a drug to Norma and she’s still willing to do anything to get her next fix. Swanson carefully plays Norma on the very edge of sanity throughout the film, always performing for the cameras even though they are no longer there. At least until the end, when her character goes full-bore crazy. But Norma has enough lucid moments that, like Joe, we feel sympathy and an attraction to her. Any aging actress, heck, any aging person, can relate to Norma’s desire to still be seen as beautiful and desirable. But Norma is also manipulative and delusional enough that we know that we should stay away from her, even if Joe can’t.
Did I mention that Joe is dead at the start of Sunset Boulevard and that he’s narrating the story from beyond the grave? Yeah, this film could have gone so wrong and didn’t.
As you might imagine, Wilder had trouble casting Norma as no actress wanted to be associated with a character who was an older, delusional has-been. Finally Wilder asked director George Cukor for advice and he recommended Swanson, who hadn’t been in a picture for about a decade at that point. Swanson didn’t want to do it either, but Cukor told her that this would be the picture she’d be forever remembered for. He wasn’t lying.
The one person who doesn’t stay away from Norma is her personal valet Max von Mayerling, played by director Erich von Stroheim as a thinly-veiled version of himself, had his career gone in a different direction. Max’s loyalty to Norma is touching and is a sign that there once had to be something truly good about her. He also has some secrets that makes his own (and Norma’s) story even more poignant. Roger Ebert wrote that the real love story in this film is between Norma and Max.
(At one point in Sunset Boulevard, Norma watches a film, starring a younger Swanson, that was directed by Stroheim but he never finished it because Swanson was unhappy and had Stroheim fired. Like Max, Stroheim still stands here with his temperamental star.)
Wilder could have shot the film in color, but instead chose black-and-white to give it more of a noir feel. He also gave cinematographer John F. Seitz free rein to shoot Norma’s mansion as dusty and gloomy as possible. They may call California a land of sunshine, but in Sunset Boulevard, it’s nothing but clouds and shadows.
Of course, Sunset Boulevard is also famous for its screenplay. There are several memorable quotes—almost all coming out of the mouth of Norma—but there are two that are so famous that even people who have never seen the movie know them. The first is at the beginning of the film—“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” And the other one is at the end when Norma says “All right, Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my close-up.”
To add to that, Wilder, who started as a screenwriter and as a director, always put the script first. He’d written (or co-wrote) the script he was directing anyway. As such, he always relied on his collaborators to do their own thing. One thing I wanted to mention last time is that in Norma’s first scene, Joe interrupts the funeral she’s having for her chimpanzee. When cinematographer John F. Seitz asked Wilder how he wanted the scene shot, Wilder replied “You know, the usual monkey-funeral sequence.” Hilarious, but indicative of how Wilder trusted his collaborators.
Here’s the scene where Joe meets Norma and the beginning of the monkey funeral.
Here’s what I wrote the last two times that The Big Heat came up for a vote.
The Big Heat: Directed by Fritz Lang. Starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Jocelyn Brando. (Yes, Marlon’s sister.) There are two classic scenes in Hollywood history of angry men throwing food in the face of poor women. There’s James Cagney pushing a grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s face in The Public Enemy and Lee Marvin throwing a pot of hot coffee in the face of Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat.
The Big Heat is the story about the suicide of a corrupt cop and the one honest cop’s (Ford’s Dave Bannion) effort to uncover the truth and break the corrupt hold that the mob has on his small town. When the late officer’s mistress tells Bannion that the cop had no reason to kill himself, she turns up dead not much later. Not the last woman who is going to end up dead in this movie. I don’t want to spoil things, but this film has a high body count.
The police commissioner is on the mob’s payroll and orders Bannion to stop his investigation. If you want to know where the cliché of a cop being told to “turn in your gun and badge” and then he goes rogue and continues to work the case against orders, here’s where to look. There’s a great shoot-out at the end of the film as well. I think The Big Heat is one of the handful of American movies directed by Lang that are on par with the ones that he directed in Germany.
The Big Heat is a great example of the lone-wolf honest cop fighting against a sea of corruption. You’ve seen that story before, but all those later films owe the concept at least in part to The Big Heat.
Ford’s Bannion is also a man who is prone to losing his cool and he takes way too many chances, which leads to a lot of women ending up dead. Even though Bannion was trying to rescue them, it is his recklessness that puts all of them in harm’s way. Bannion is really a contradiction—a completely honest cop who is as much a part of the problem as he is part of the solution.
Grahame plays the girlfriend to Lee Marvin’s vicious mobster. She’s a party girl who just wants to have fun and understands that the fun comes with a price. There’s also a famous scene with Grahame and a pot of coffee.
I really can’t emphasize enough how much Detective Bannion is partly responsible for the death of all those women in this film with his reckless behavior. Certainly Lang emphasized it in the film.
Honestly, there are a lot of great scenes in The Big Heat but the one I’m featuring here is so famous that everyone who writes about the film has to mention it. It’s the one where Gloria Grahame gets hot coffee thrown in her face by Lee Marvin.
Sunset Boulevard or The Big Heat?
This poll is closed
The Big Heat
You have until Monday evening to vote. Next week, we’ll start the semifinals with a matchup between The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).
Welcome back to those who skip the jazz and the noir.
At the risk of sounding like Lucy offering a football for Charlie Brown to kick, the Cubs are talking about signing beloved veteran players to contract extensions. Specifically, team president Jed Hoyer was asked about the possibility of signing outfielder Ian Happ and infielder Nico Hoerner to contract extensions this spring.
Hoyer said all the right things, saying that the team had “good dialogue” with both camps on a possible extension. While he had previously said that he didn’t like negotiating once Spring Training gets into full swing, earlier today he said that that wasn’t a “hardline thing” and that there are no firm deadlines.
Happ and Hoerner are in quite different positions going into this season. Happ can be a free agent after the 2023 season and is looking at being one of the more attractive players in what is looking like a weak free-agent class next winter. He’s also coming off the best full season of his career, hitting .271 with a .342 on-base percentage and 17 home runs in 158 games. Happ also made huge strides on defense last year, winning his first Gold Glove. Happ is also an acknowledged team leader, serving as the team union representative and having just been elected to the MLBPA executive player subcommittee. Happ has also made it clear that he’d like to stick around.
But beyond the size of the contract, both in dollars and years, that Happ will likely require to sign an extension, the Cubs have a different issue with Happ. The Cubs have three Top 100 prospects down in the minor leagues and all three of them are outfielders. One of them is Pete Crow-Armstrong and he’s expected to take over center field, where Cody Bellinger is not expected to stick around after this season. But while both Brennen Davis and Kevin Alcántara could play center field, both are expected to move to a corner outfield spot eventually.
Of course, prospects are no sure thing and it would be a problem if the Cubs let Happ walk in free agency and then only one of the three prospects pans out. (Although there are other outfield prospects in the Cubs system, those three are the ones with the highest expectations.) The Cubs went through a lot of growing pains with Happ and now they pretty much know what they’re going to get out of him. Last year, Happ was second on the Cubs with a 4.4 bWAR. That’s not the kind of production that teams normally let leave for prospects.
The player who led the Cubs in bWAR with 4.5 last year, Nico Hoerner, is in a different situation. For one, Hoerner can’t become a free agent until after the 2025 season, so the Cubs own his rights for three more years. So there’s no real rush on signing Hoerner this spring.
On the other hand, the earlier the Cubs sign Hoerner to an extension, the cheaper the deal will likely be. If Hoerner puts up two or three more seasons of the kind of production he had last year, he could be looking at a nine-figure contract as he approaches free agency.
And unlike Happ, for whom the Cubs might have an able replacement in the minors, there’s no one on the horizon who looks like he could replace Hoerner. In fact, when the Cubs signed shortstop Dansby Swanson, they seemed to be making a big statement that Swanson and Hoerner would be their double-play combination for years to come.
So will Jed Hoyer get deals done with either player this spring? Or will Cubs fans be subjected to yet another round of saying goodbye to beloved homegrown players like we have over the past few seasons?
Will the Cubs sign Ian Happ or Nico Hoerner to a contract extension this spring?
This poll is closed
Yes to Happ, no to Hoerner
Yes to Hoerner, no to Happ
Neither will sign an extension
Thank you to everyone who stopped by and commented this week. We hope we made your week a little better. Please dress warmly. Get home safely. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.