It’s the end of another week here at BCB After Dark: the swingin’ spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Glad you could stop in this evening. You’re just in time for the show. There’s no cover charge and the dress code is casual. There are still a few tables left. Let us know if we can do anything for you. 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.
Back to plain old Spring Training, I guess.
Last night, I asked you which pitcher you thought would lead the Cubs in strikeouts. The new guy, Jameson Taillon, won the vote with 48 percent. The rookie, Hayden Wesneski, was in second with 30 percent.
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.
The great guitarist George Benson turned 80 today—or maybe yesterday depending on where you live and when you are reading this.
Benson was probably the first jazz musician I was really familiar with because the man had actual hits that they played on the radio when I was growing up. Stuff that actually made the pop charts. Sure, most of those hits tended to go into R&B territory than straight jazz, but we’re not going to play genre cop tonight.
There’s no question, however, that “Breezin’” is an all-time classic of smooth jazz.
I’m a very big fan of Benson’s hit version of “On Broadway,” but I’ve featured that in this space before. So here’s another one of those hit songs that were on the radio when I was a kid. Here’s George Benson closing out a show in 2013 with “Give Me the Night.”
It’s hard to believe he was 70 in that performance.
Happy Birthday, George. May you have many more.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Lew Ayres and Louis Wolheim, is a pre-code war epic war movie that is still powerful almost 100 years later. Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet is the story of what war does to the young men who answer the call to serve their country in time of war.
Ayres stars as Paul Bäumer, a young and idealistic German who, both in the novel and here, serves as the alter ego of Remarque himself. He’s an intelligent and sensitive student who knows a lot about philosophy and very little about the real world. He gets caught up in patriotic fervor when his professor whips the class into a frenzy with jingoistic talk about the Fatherland and the phrase “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” that has been used to get young men to fight wars since Roman times. Paul and his friends all enlist together to go to the Western Front and fight the French.
Paul and his friends quickly learn that the reality of war is nothing like what they’ve been told. They aren’t given the equipment they need, nor are they given enough food or drink. The veterans who greet them treat them as nothing more than fresh cannon fodder. (Which to be fair, that’s what they are.) Paul and his friends eventually meet veteran Corporal Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Wolheim), who gets food for the company by robbing local farms and then trades it for cigarettes or whatever.
The rest of the film is a series of episodes where Paul’s schoolmates get killed one by one, or if they’re lucky, just get their legs blown off. But Paul also develops a deep friendship with his mentor Kat as he finds that the war has changed him from that naïve schoolboy into something more like the hardened and cynical older Kat.
The 1930 version of All Quiet sticks reasonably close to the novel. Remarque had always said that his intention was never to write an anti-war novel but to realistically show what happens to young men who get set off to fight. In other words, it was meant to be a character study. But it’s hard to draw anything but a strong anti-war message from what this war does to Paul, Kat and the others.
In that vein, this version of All Quiet keeps its focus on the men. The battles and events of the war are kept anonymous. We never find out what battles are fought or where Paul is other than just “France.” It no longer matters to Paul and it shouldn’t matter to you. It’s all the same. This is a conscious effort to make this a more universal story. Yes, Paul and his mates are German, but they could just as easily be French, English or American.
While the battle scenes are epic, the more revealing scenes are the ones where the soldiers are at rest and just trying to live their lives. In one scene of dark humor, the men get in a fight with the cook over their demands for double rations. After all, the cook made enough food for the whole company and now half the company is dead, so those that are still alive should get to eat twice.
The most powerful sequence of the movie comes after Paul is injured and is sent to a hospital to recover. (This happened to Remarque as well.) After Paul recovers, he is given leave and he goes back home. There he discovers that he no longer fits in with civilian society. He sees the old professor who convinced him to go to war in the first place and he asks Paul to tell the new kids about the glories of war so that they’ll sign up too. But Paul can only tell the truth about what he’s experienced, which the students receive with cries of “coward!” Paul ends his leave early because he realizes that his home is now the trench and his family is now Kat.
This movie was a passion project for Universal Pictures head Carl Laemmle and he spared no expense to see that it lived up to the book. Laemmle was born and grew up in the Jewish section of Laupheim in Germany and he still held a great deal of fondness for his hometown. While he was a patriotic American during the First World War, he also looked upon the conflict between his original home and his adopted home as a tragedy. He intended this film to not just be an anti-war epic, but to also to engender sympathy for the common German who didn’t ask to be in that war—or at least didn’t understand what they were getting into.
As such, All Quiet looks great for a film from 1930. There are thousands of extras—many of whom were German World War I veterans who had emigrated to America after the war—which gives the thing a kind of look that today’s CGI films can’t really recreate. That’s not to put down CGI efforts. It’s just different when you have a few thousand extras and can actually blow up a Hollywood backlot with explosives.
This sound era of movies was only two years old when All Quiet came out, and some of the conventions of cinema hadn’t really been created yet. There is an older acting style that some of you may find off-putting. The actors often deliver their lines as if they’re trying to fill up a large auditorium, not yet realizing the intimacy that can be achieved with sound film. The movements are still big and bold as they were in a lot of silent pictures. I found that to be rather disorienting, but that also meant that I could relate more to the disorientation that Paul is going through the entire picture.
(There was a silent version of the film shot at the same time, so that they would recreate the conventions of silent moviemaking isn’t a surprise. A lot of theaters, especially in rural areas, weren’t yet wired for sound in 1930 and Laemmle wanted everyone to have the chance to see this movie.)
The sound of All Quiet deserves some special mention. There’s no music soundtrack—those things didn’t exist for sound pictures yet. But the sound that Milestone got was pretty darn good. If you’ve got a good sound system at home, you will feel the explosions in the battle scenes. They will rattle your windows. And you can start to feel just a little of the madness that the soldiers complain about in the film during the constant barrage of shelling.
Ultimately, you can’t talk about the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front without talking about its role in history. The film was a huge hit in America and it won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1930. Milestone came home with the Best Director Oscar. Audiences and critics alike were receptive to its pacifist message at the time and they thrilled to the incredibly well-done battle scenes.
However, its reception was very different in Germany. Even though Laemmle meant this film to be a love letter to the common German, the rising Nazi movement saw it very differently. They used it as a recruiting tool and denounced it as anti-German propaganda. Worse, they actively disrupted showing of the films by throwing stink bombs in the theaters and interrupting the movie by standing up and shouting “Jewish Lies!” Fights broke out in the streets around the theaters. Eventually, the Weimar government banned the movie as a matter of public safety. The Nazis had won. Not only had they gotten the film banned, they were able to swell their ranks with people who were whipped into a frenzy by what they were told was an insult to the honor of Germany—even though all those new members had never seen the film. The ban on All Quiet in Germany remained in place until 1952. And honestly, if you can’t see some parallels between those events and some of the contemporary culture wars, you aren’t looking hard enough.
I should mention Germany was not the only country to ban the film.
There is a 2022 version of All Quiet on the Western Front that’s available on Netflix and that just won four Academy Awards—Best International Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design and Best Original Score. I’ll have more to say about that film next week.
Here is one of the tremendous battle scenes in All Quiet on the Western Front. This is an impressive feat of filmmaking. You could never do this today except through CGI. Turn your best speakers up to 11 for this clip.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies
OK, it’s one last World Baseball Classic question before we move on to the regular season.
The WBC just finished its fifth tournament and it hit new highs in attendance, viewing and just overall drama. Yes, if MLB could have scripted the entire tournament, they couldn’t have done better than a clutch grand slam for Trea Turner, a walk-off double that sent Japan to the finals and Shohei Othani striking out Mike Trout to end the tournament. If this was a movie, you would have said “A little too much.”
Before the tournament, I asked you what you thought of it. Now I’m going to ask you if any of you changed your minds.
So what do you think of the WBC now? It’s hard for me to see how anyone could not like it after what we just saw, but I suppose the injuries to Edwin Díaz and Jose Altuve could sour things. But I’ll just let you have your say instead.
What do you think of the WBC after this tourney?
This poll is closed
I always liked it, I still like it
I liked it before, but now I like it even more
I liked it before, but now I like it less or dislike it
I didn’t like it before, but now I like it
I didn’t like it before, but now I like it even less
My level of dislike remains unchanged
Thank you so very much for stopping by this evening. It’s been a great week to have you around. I hope you join us again next week and tell your friends. Get home safely. Stay dry and warm. Be sure to tip the waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.