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BCB After Dark: The art of the steal

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks who is going to lead the team in steals in 2023.

NLCS: LA Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

It’s another Wednesday evening on BCB After Dark: the swinging spot for night owl, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in out of the cold. Let us take your coat for you. There are still a couple of good tables available. It’s warm in here and the beverages are flowing freely—that you brought yourself.

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 you thought would lead the Cubs in WAR in 2023. It’s an interesting question to me because the Cubs, as currently constituted, are filled with lots of good players and no superstars. In other words, the talent is pretty spread out. That was reflected in your voting as you picked new shortstop Dansby Swanson as the WAR leader with 31 percent of the vote. Close behind in second place was Seiya Suzuki with 28 percent. Both Nico Hoerner and Cody Bellinger got 12 percent, although Hoerner got one more vote than Bellinger.

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.

Tonight I have a performance from two of the hottest new artists in jazz, pianist Emmet Cohen and vocalist Samara Joy. OK, I’m not sure Cohen is still a “new” artist since he released his first record in 2011, but this is jazz were talking about. Ron Carter is still going strong at 85.

This is “Fine and Mellow.” If you like your jazz with a big side of the blues, this is the tune for you. Russell Hall is on bass and Kyle Poole is on drums.

You voted in the BCB Winter Noir Classic and it was another razor thin one. By one vote again, The Night of the Hunter (1955) emerged over The Third Man (1949). Once again I narrowly escaped having to cast the tie-breaking vote. Had I voted, I would have voted for The Third Man, so every vote really did count. I’m not torn up about The Night of the Hunter winning, however. Both films are deserving. Certainly the BFI voters agreed with you as they put The Night of the Hunter a few places higher than The Third Man.

Tonight we have the final matchup of the second round and the final film enters the tournament for the first time. The Killing (1956), emerged past Night and the City in the first round. Now it has to take on one of the most iconic films in cinema history, Sunset Boulevard (1950).

Sunset Boulevard. Directed by Billy Wilder. Starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim and Nancy Olson.

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 was never finished because Swanson was unhappy with it 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.”

Here’s the trailer for Sunset Boulevard. As you can tell from the shot of the gutter filled with cigarette butts, this isn’t a tale of the glitz and glamor of Hollywood.

The Killing. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray and Vince Edwards.

Here’s what I wrote last time about The Killing.

Everyone has to start somewhere and The Killing was Kubrick’s first studio picture. It’s a heist film in the best sense of the word. Sterling Hayden (who would go on to be so masterful in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove) stars as a Johnny Clay, a career low-level criminal who comes up with a plan to pull off one big heist that will allow him to retire and marry his girlfriend Fay (Gray). He puts together a motley group of criminals, each with a different specialty, to rob a race track of $2 million. One of the criminals is a professional wrestler, so that’s something that both these movies have in common.

Although the plot doesn’t go off without a hitch, the gang does manage to successfully pull off the heist. But problems start to arise when the gang tries to divy up the loot. And the cops are still after them as well.

Kubrick hadn’t quite developed his over-the-top excessive style yet (no alien space-babies here!) and keeps this movie moving along at a brisk pace. He managed to pack a lot of action and plot twists and the 85 minutes of the film seem to fly by. The heist is the kind of elaborate plot that you’d see in an Ocean’s 11 film later on, but without the glitz and glamor of those movies. This is a much more tense and gritty film that those slick productions. Also a lot more violent.

Since then, I’ve re-watched The Killing. It’s interesting the way that Kubrick uses time in this film. As I wrote, the 85 minutes does seem to fly by and partly that’s because he’s always setting the time in relationship to the heist. And little things that throw the plan off by a few minutes end up leading to disaster.

Elisha Cook Jr. has a big role in this film as well and he was one of the great character actors of the era. His role was pretty crucial. Also, sometimes it seems like Coleen Gray played a “good girl” in every noir that had one.

Also, a horse gets shot. That’s worth mentioning.

Here’s the trailer for The Killing.


Sunset Boulevard or The Killing?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    Sunset Boulevard
    (47 votes)
  • 30%
    The Killing
    (21 votes)
68 votes total Vote Now

Both films are available to stream for free on Kanopy for anyone with a library card.

You have until Monday evening to vote. Next week we’ll start Round 3! After this weekend, only eight films will remain.

Welcome back to those of you who skip the music and movies.

One of the big unknowns of the 2023 season is what impact the new rules will have on the game. In an attempt to increase the pace of the game, MLB instituted a pitch clock. But because a throw over to first base resets the pitch clock, MLB also made a rule that pitchers can only throw to a base twice in an at-bat. If they throw over a third time and the runner is safe, a balk is called.

MLB also hopes, along with larger bases, that this new rule will increase the number of steals. You may not know this, but the Cubs were second in the National League last year with 111. Only the Marlins had more in the National League with 122. The Cubs finished fourth in all of MLB in steals.

Despite that, the Cubs did not have any big base stealers. The Cubs’ leading base stealer last year was Nico Hoerner with 20. That was good for a tie for ninth place in the NL and a tie for 20th in all of MLB.

In second-place on the Cubs last year was Rafael Ortega with 12 but he’s no longer with the team. Instead, the Cubs added Dansby Swanson, who stole 18 for the Braves and Cody Bellinger who stole 14 for the Dodgers.

Christopher Morel stole 10 bases last year. Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki both had nine. Patrick Wisdom had eight and Zach McKinstry had seven in just 47 games—and he wasn’t caught even once.

So tonight we’re going to ask “Who will lead the Cubs in steals in 2023?” And in the comments, it would be great to discuss just how many you think that will be. Do you think the new rules will lead to a big increase in steals this year? The experience in the minors is that the rule does increase steals, but it’s not going to bring a return to the insane steals totals of the 1970s and 1980s. At least it probably won’t.

So who will lead the Cubs in steals this year? And tell us how many and your thoughts on how the new rules will affect stealing in the comments.


Who will lead the Cubs in steals in 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Cody Bellinger
    (21 votes)
  • 1%
    Ian Happ
    (3 votes)
  • 54%
    Nico Hoerner
    (93 votes)
  • 2%
    Zach McKinstry
    (4 votes)
  • 7%
    Christopher Morel
    (13 votes)
  • 2%
    Seiya Suzuki
    (5 votes)
  • 15%
    Dansby Swanson
    (27 votes)
  • 1%
    Patrick Wisdom
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Someone else (leave in comments)
    (2 votes)
171 votes total Vote Now

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this another great week at BCB After Dark. I hope we lightened up your week as well. Please get home safely. Check around your table to make sure you didn’t forget anything. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.