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BCB After Dark: Time for a change?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if it’s time for a new manager.

Seattle Mariners v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the jazzy joint for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in and join us this evening. Don’t mind the mess the last guests left. We’ll clean that up in no time. There’s no cover charge tonight. Grab a seat. Bring your own beverage. There are no corkage fees.

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.

The Cubs today lost to the Rays, 4-3 in yet another game that the Cubs should have won. I’m not going to blame Mark Leiter Jr. because he’s been so good all season, but pitching on back-to-back days was not good—especially when David Ross sent him out to start the eighth after he gave up a two-run home run in the seventh. On the other hand, the bullpen has been such a mess that it’s hard to know what Ross should have done. Then there was the whole Justin Steele forearm tightness thing, which we’re all just holding our breath on. Except me. I’m just pretending it didn’t happen.

Last night, I asked you which one of the four free agent shortstops from last winter do you want now that you’ve seen Dansby Swanson for two months. Well, Dansby Swanson has won you over because he got 86 percent of the vote. But the question that interested me more was the second one, where I asked you if you had changed your mind from last winter. In that question, 62 percent of you said “No.” Honestly, I don’t believe that because when I asked the same question in October before free agency had started, only 14 percent of you said Dansby Swanson was your first choice among the four shortstops. Now, maybe we just had different people voting last night. I don’t know. But it seems suspicious.

Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Sometimes the jazz is the first thing I work on in After Dark. Sometimes it’s the last. Today it’s the last and I’m running behind. So what is the first video I can find on Youtube. . . .let’s see . . .hey. we’re in luck. It’s bassist Christian McBride along with pianist Peter Martin in studio in 2012. Can’t go wrong with Christian McBride. I was listening to his radio show just last evening.

Director Jean Renoir’s 1937 anti-war classic La grande illusion is a rarity among war films in that there are no battle scenes and there is very little action. Instead, it’s a film about a group of prisoners-of-war and their German captors. It’s the story of the individual relationships between people of different social classes and different nationalities. It is also about how the war has abolished many of the “illusions” that were dearly held about war, class and civilization. But above all, it’s a warning to the world as the drums of war were beating a second time in Europe. A warning that went unheeded, of course.

Jean Gabin stars as Lieutenant Maréchal, a working-class Parisian who has been roped into the French air force in World War I. He’s not a particularly eager soldier, but he does his job without much complaint. He is also convinced that the war will be over in no time, so there isn’t much point in putting a lot of effort into it.

His commanding officer, Captain de Boëldieu (Pierre Fresnay), comes from a noble family and is full of ideas of duty and sacrifice. He grabs a reluctant Maréchal for a reconnaissance mission, but the two are shot down and captured by the Germans.

Captain von Rauffenstein (played by the great director Erich von Stroheim) is in command of the German air unit that captured Boëldieu and Maréchal. He immediately invites to the two Frenchmen to a friendly meal before they taken off to a POW camp. Rauffenstein immediately bonds with Boëldieu, as they both come from an aristocratic background. For Rauffenstein, this whole war is nothing personal nor is it barbaric. Rather, it’s a civilized activity that is both chivalrous and honorable. Or at least it will be if he behaves that way.

The POW camps in which the two French officers are taken is full of Frenchmen from all walks of life, as well as Russians and a few Englishmen. The men all bond together, but the most popular one is Lieutenant Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio). Rosenthal comes from a family of rich Jewish bankers and he gets large packages of supplies from home. He shares the food he gets with all the POWs and as a result, the prisoners eat better than the guards do. Later on, Renoir uses Rosenthal to take a shot at the rising tide of anti-semitism in Europe by having Rosenthal point out “People say we’re stingy. We’re actually very generous.”

The lower-class Maréchal and the nouveau-riche Rosenthal particularly become close.

Spoilers for a 86-year-old movie to follow:

Maréchal is told that the prisoners are building a tunnel and it’s nearing completion. They ask Maréchal if they can trust the aristocratic Boëldieu with this information, but Maréchal assures them that Boëldieu is a decent guy who can be trusted.

Several of the tunnel-building scenes strongly influenced scenes in the 1963 film, The Great Escape.

There are several slice-of-life scenes in the POW camp that illustrate different points. For example, the Russian POWs get a huge delivery from the Czarina, which sends the camp into a frenzy. The Russians offer to share the bounty from the “generous” Czarina with everyone in the camp. But when they finally get the huge box open, it’s filled with nothing but old Russian books—and mostly textbooks at that. That leads to a riot, which gives Boëldieu the idea of how to distract the guards when the tunnel is finished.

Just as the tunnel is finished and the escape is planned, all the prisoners are transferred to a new, more-secure prison located in an old castle. Maréchal tries to tell the incoming English prisoners about the tunnel, but his lack of English and their lack of French prevents the message from being received.

The new prison is operated by the now Captain von Rauffenstein, who is relegated to administrative duties after a plane crash that left him burned and in a back brace. Rauffenstein renews his friendship with Boëldieu, and asks him on his honor to not try and escape. Boëldieu tells his friend what he wants to hear, but in truth, he’s helping Maréchal and Rosenthal with their escape plans. As Maréchal says, “A tennis court is for playing tennis. A prison camp is for escaping.” What else is he going to do?

Rosenthal and Maréchal’s plan for escaping involves a rope made of rags that they can climb out of a window in a tower. But Boëldieu realizes that the plan won’t work without a distraction, so he sacrifices himself to create that distraction. Rauffenstein himself is forced to shoot Boëldieu, and the deathbed scene between the two friends on opposite sides of the war is perhaps the most touching in the film. Rauffenstein and Boëldieu both blame themselves for the Boëldieu’s impending death. But Rauffenstein, aware that the war is erasing all the ideas he had about honor, tells Boëldieu that “For a commoner, dying in a war is a tragedy. But for you and I, it’s a good way out.”

Maréchal and Rosenthal’s escape was successful, but they were still 200 miles from the Swiss border and freedom. Rosenthal was injured in the escape, and the trauma of the journey on foot to Switzerland wears on both men. Eventually, Maréchal leaves Rosenthal behind in a fit of anger, but he calms down later and comes back for him.

Seeking shelter and a place to rest Rosenthal’s injured leg, the two men stumble into the barn of Elsa, a German war widow. She discovers the two Frenchmen and rather than turn them in, she invites them into her home with her young daughter. Elsa explains that her husband and three brothers were all killed in the war—all in German victories, she points out. She’s become very lonely for any company other than her daughter.

The four of them build a family in Elsa’s farmhouse as Rosenthal’s leg heals. Elsa and Maréchal begin a romance, but both know that when Rosenthal is able, the two Frenchmen have to continue on to Switzerland and then back to the war. Rosenthal swears that if he survives the war, he’ll come back for Elsa. Is that just another grand illusion? We never find out.

The last scene of the film is a German patrol shooting at Maréchal and Rosenthal as they climb down into a snowy valley. Finally, one of the Germans says “Stop shooting. They’ve crossed into Switzerland.”

End Spoilers

Jean Gabin was truly one of the greatest actors of the 1930s. He isn’t well-known by American filmgoers as the three films he made for Hollywood were not successful and he returned to France after the war. (Although I would recommend Moontide, the film Gabin made for 20th Century Fox with Ida Lupino in 1942.) But Gabin had a rough, James Dean-type charisma on the screen. He generally played working-class men who were rough-around-the-edges and a little dangerous, but ultimately good souls. He does that here in La grande illusion. Maréchal may be a soldier and put on a good act, but he also gives off the impression that he’d never hurt a fly. Unless he was ordered to. He’s a man who tries to do what’s expected of him.

There’s a scene in the first prison camp where the men put on a cabaret/drag show with costumes sent by Rosenthal’s family. In the middle, Maréchal gets news of a great French victory on the front and breaks out into singing La Marseillaise. The other Frenchmen join him, which caused the guards break everything up and toss Maréchal into the cooler. This scene was famously repeated in Casablanca five years later.

Stroheim is better known as a director and as Max Meyerling in Sunset Boulevard, but this is probably his greatest acting role. Rauffenstein clings to the “illusion” of the film tighter than anyone else. When his hands are badly burned after surviving his plane crash, he wears white gloves all the time to preserve the illusions that he’s still whole. As I noted in the spoiler section, the final scene between Rauffenstein and Boëldieu is the best in the film.

Although Stroheim (he added the “von” in Hollywood) was born and raised in Vienna, Renoir claimed in his memoirs that he had forgotten most of his German by 1937 and had to learn the lines phonetically. Whether that’s true or not, it is true that German audiences are often thrown by this supposedly-aristocratic Prussian who speaks German with a thick American accent. You, however, will not notice that.

A lot of critics have compared Jean Renoir’s direction—both in this film and in his other works—to the paintings of his famous impressionist father Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The film certainly makes some grand images at times. I’m not enough of an art historian to really make that connection myself, but I do know that Jean Renoir paints a big canvas in La grande illusion with the First World War. But ultimately, the film is really about the small moments and the human connections between the different groups. It’s a plea for peace, but it’s not a naïve one. Renoir (who was wounded in the war himself) knows that peace is hard work. A lot harder than war.

If you want a better argument for watching La grande illusion, here’s NY Times critic A.O. Scott making the case.

La grande illusion was banned in Nazi Germany and the original negative was seized after the fall of France and sent back to Berlin to be destroyed. But some heroic German archivist refused to carry out the order. The original negative was seized by the Soviets, who then sent it back to the USSR. It sat there untouched until the 1960s, when it was returned to France in a trade. But since everyone in France thought the original had been destroyed in 1940, the original sat unnoticed in France for thirty years. We now have a complete restoration of the print after fifty years of poor copies.

Welcome back to everyone who skips that other stuff I do.

I was planning on asking this question in Monday, but it seemed like the wrong time after Marcus Stroman’s one-hitter. Then I was going to ask it last night, but a gem of a victory on Tuesday also seemed like the wrong time. But now after the Cubs lost another winnable game, the question arises:

Is it time fo fire manager David Ross?

I’m not one to fire a manager on a whim. I generally think it’s better to stay on course, unless the manager has completely lost the clubhouse or there is a visible lack of effort on the field. I don’t think that’s the case with Ross and the Cubs at all.

But I also think the Cubs are losing an inordinate amount of winnable games. Some of that is because of a bullpen that is in shambles, which is probably not Ross’s fault. But if the Cubs are to turn around their season, they aren’t going to be able to fire the entire bullpen. The only thing that they can do now, other than crossing their fingers, is firing the manager.

The issue with firing Ross mid-season, however, is who would replace him? This is why the Cubs really haven’t fired a manager mid-season since Don Baylor got canned in 2002. (Lou Piniella quit in 2010.) Certainly Andy Green or Willie Harris could take over for Ross, but how would giving the job to one of Ross’ lieutenants shake things up? I know that the Cubs think of Tennessee Smokies manager Michael Ryan as having potential, but does he have enough experience yet? (Yeah, I know. He has more experience than Ross had. It’s the biggest reason I argued against hiring Ross in the first place.)

The Cubs won’t be able to hire a coach from any other team mid-season. There is Joe Girardi sitting in the broadcast booth and he’s familiar with the team, but his last stint with the Phillies doesn’t instill me with confidence. I suppose Raul Ibañez is in the commissioner’s office and has often been spoken of as a future manager. MLB would no doubt let him leave for the Cubs job if there was interest.

Then there is Mark DeRosa, whose managerial experience consists of finishing second with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. But he does have that Cubs connection.

So, tonight’s question is “Is it time to fire David Ross?” By this I mean right now—or in the next week or so. If you think Ross should get canned at the end of the season, then vote no.


Should David Ross get fired now?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    (174 votes)
  • 62%
    (286 votes)
460 votes total Vote Now

And of course, no one is going to read my La grande illusion essay because I threw this firecracker into the laundry bin.

So thank you to everyone who stopped by this evening. We’ve enjoyed having you here. We hope you come again—the door is always open. Please get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.