Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the swingin’ spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cub fans abroad. You’ve caught the last show before we go dark for the Cubs’ trip to London. Come on in and celebrate with us and send off the team. There’s no cover charge. There are still tables available. Have a pint. 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.
Wednesday afternoon, the Cubs finished off the sweep of the Pirates, 8-3. The North Siders have now won nine out of eleven. The team is now just two games under .500 as they head to the UK for a two-game series with the Cardinals. I don’t think on Memorial Day that most of us thought the Cubs would be in this position by the time of the London Series. Unfortunately the Reds won their 11th game in a row, but eventually they’re going to lose and eventually they’re going to play someone other than the Rockies, Royals and Cardinals, right? (OK, they did sweep the Astros in that streak, so it wasn’t all cupcakes. But the Astros aren’t the same team as last year either.)
I think sweeping the Pirates, moving into third place and winning 9 of 11 is worthy of Judy, don’t you?
Last night, I asked you how many games you thought Marcus Stroman would win this year. With the caveat that some of you claimed that Stroman would win some of those games for another team (spoilsports!), 48 percent of you think that Stroman will win 15 to 17 games. Another 36 think he’ll win 18 or 19 and 12 percent of you think he’ll be the Cubs’ first 20 game winner since Jake Arrieta in 2015.
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.
Ronnie Scott was a very famous English saxophonist, but he was even more famous as the owner of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, which hosted many of the greatest acts in jazz throughout history.
Scott left us back in 1996, but the club is still there. Here’s the house band, Ronnie Scott’s All-Stars, in a live-stream from 2020 when live music returned to the club.
The Strange One is a 1957 film noir adaptation of the novel and play End as a Man, by author Calder Willingham. It’s the story of a southern all-male military academy and a upperclassmen bully, Jocko De Paris, played by Ben Gazzara. As a noir, it’s fine. The story of young men fighting for dominance and turning on each other at an all-male school or military environment is not bad, but it has been done better elsewhere. First-time director Jack Garfein had directed the play, and the film has quite a “stagy” look to it. That’s not a terrible thing, but a director more experienced in film could have given the film a “bigger” look. The ending comes together pretty quickly and probably needed a more gradual build up.
But for it’s faults, there are a few things that really stand out about The Strange One. Everyone involved in the film, Garfein included, came from the famous Actors Studio and many of them were making their film debut. Gazzara and George Peppard went on to have big careers. Many of the others had long and successful careers as both character actors and on the stage—Pat Hingle, Mark Richman, Larry Gates and Clifton James, just to name a few. Every actor on the screen is one of the pioneers of method acting and they all do a very good to excellent job.
So the acting in The Strange One is really first-rate and it elevates a B-level script. But no one is better than Gazzara. In the lead role as Jocko, Gazzara plays a cruel bully who manipulates and torments the other students in a quest for revenge. His ultimate goal is to topple Major Avery, the school administrator who demoted him for an earlier rules violation. But while Gazzara plays Jocko as a sociopath, he’s the one that is always in control and never even raises his voice. When confronted with his cruelty, Jocko always has a calm and cool answer that manages to blame the victims for their own bullying. His threats are always indirect and he’s a master at gaslighting and deflecting blame.
But what really stands out about Gazzara’s performance is that despite never raising his voice, he lets the anger seethe out of his eyes and face when he’s delivering his lines. Underneath Jocko’s calm sea, there’s an eruption of rage that he just barely keeps under control.
But what really shocked me about The Strange One is that this film is very, very gay. I don’t know any other way to put it. For a film made under the Production Code in 1957, the homosexual subtext of this film is more of a flashing red light. There is the standard homoerotic stuff like hunky men walking around in tight white t-shirts, a scene in a group shower and snapping towels at other men’s rear ends. You could get away with that in the fifties. But there is also at least one and possibly more characters who code as “gay” under the cinematic language of the time, and it’s not subtle at all.
One character, nicknamed “Cockroach” (Paul E. Richards) admits to Jocko that the other cadets find him to be a “creep,” but that he’s a poet and an artist and would be celebrated in Europe. He also tells Jocko that he’s writing a story about him and that he wants to be his “Boswell.” The story is a thinly-veiled love letter to Gazzara’s character. If you didn’t get the point, Jocko listens to this love letter while pointing a long military sword at Cockroach’s chest. But despite that sword, Jocko never gets angry or repulsed at Cockroach’s professions of admiration. Now yes, Cockroach has the ability to blackmail Jocko and Jocko is certainly trying to stall for time as he figures out an angle, but even after Cockroach leaves, Jocko doesn’t seem all that upset to be the object of Cockroach’s affections.
There’s another character, Cadet Simmons, who is shy and geeky type with buck teeth that Jocko both bullies and bullies him into aiding his other bullying schemes. Simmons is a character who could be described as “queer” and it would definitely have a double-meaning. Jocko decides, as part of his bullying of Simmons, that Simmons is going to lose his virginity to a prostitute that Jocko knows. Simmons responds to this with utter revulsion, begging him not to make him do that. Now the official reason Simmons gives for not wanting to sleep with a prostitute is his strict religious upbringing and his desire to become a minister, but you have to think there might be another reason for Simmons’ revulsion about being with a woman.
Under the rules in force by the Production Code in 1957, not only could an American studio films not have a gay character, you couldn’t even mention the idea. Even saying “I hate homosexuals” was banned. You were supposed to pretend that there was no such thing. Now certainly clever directors and actors were able to get around that through innuendo and code, but the proverbial housewife in Peoria wasn’t supposed to be able to get it. But in The Strange One, you’d really have to be dense not to pick up on the innuendo here. Sure, there’s deniability in that no one actually says anyone is a homosexual, but I’m not sure there is plausible deniability.
There were no equivalents to the Production Code for novels or the New York stage, so the gay element of End as a Man is much more out in the open, so I’m told. The prostitute character (who again, is never called a prostitute because that’s also forbidden by the Production Code) was added to the movie to try to give the film some hint of heterosexuality and some plausible deniability. But as film historian Mark Harris said, driving the gay element of this film into the subtext makes the film even more subversive.
While many of the directors who snuck coded gay content into films made during the Code era were gay themselves, Jack Garfein was not gay, as far as I know. He was married three times and had four kids, so it seems unlikely. But his hatred for bullies and bigotry was no doubt well-earned: Garfein was an Auschwitz survivor. At 13, he ended up at Auschwitz and only survived because his mother stuck him in the “16 and older” line. Then an old man, whom he’d never met and would never see again, claimed that Garfein was his apprentice in mosaic tiling. He was shuffled around to 11 different camps before liberation at the end of the war. Garfein started acting in a refugee camp in Sweden, as it was something to keep the refugees occupied. But when a charity brought him to New York in 1946 at 16, he was determined to become an actor, even though he spoke not a word of English.
By 1950, Garfein fell in with the famous Actors Studio and found himself working with Gazzara, Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Tony Curtis and others. He also found himself moving towards directing rather than acting. He came upon Willingham’s novel (who would later co-write the screenplays for Paths of Glory, The Graduate and Little Big Man, among others) and decided that it would make a great play. It was from there that he would direct the stage production of End as a Man—in which he would give James Dean his first professional acting credit. He was brought over to direct The Strange One when they made the movie with mostly the same cast from the Actors Studio. (Obviously Dean couldn’t make it.)
Garfein only directed one other film—Something Wild in 1961. He said he wouldn’t take crap from Hollywood producers, so they didn’t call him. But he had a long career as stage director and as an acting coach. Garfein passed away at 89 in 2020. And he certainly had one of the most unusual biographies of anyone.
The Strange One was not successful at the box office an as you can probably imagine, it was banned in many places after people saw it. Audiences in 1957 weren’t that oblivious. After that, it was mostly forgotten until a restoration in 2007 for its 50th anniversary. Now it’s appreciated for both some terrific acting (and the screen debuts of several future stars) and for being an extremely subversive film that briefly pierced the homogeneity of Eisenhower’s America. And while there are some problems with the movie, it is worth watching for those reasons.
Here’s Ben Gazzara with Julie Wilson as he gets Peonie (the prostitute) ready for her date with Simmons. It’s not the most telling scene, but there were only two scenes on YouTube and one was too late in the movie to share. However, the entire film is there to watch.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
The Cubs are off to the UK to play the London Series with the Cardinals. This is going to be a big deal and the Cubs are going to be in the spotlight all weekend. There are going to be a lot of stories about Cubs (and Cardinals) players meeting Premier League stars and probably meeting with some local fans. Then there are the fans, like our own Al Yellon, who are over there to see the Cubs play in London. You’ll certainly hear about this place, probably very shortly if you haven’t already.
But tonight’s question is: How excited are you about the London Series? On the plus side, it’s something different and exciting and the Cubs are going to be in the national and international spotlight all weekend. On the other hand, they Cubs are red-hot at the moment and they’re going to have to take two days off to fly over there, get accustomed to the time zone differences, and then fly back. A month ago, that probably wouldn’t matter. But the Cubs playoff odds are up to 17.9 percent on Fangraphs. They’re going to need every advantage they can get to push their way into the postseason. Maybe flying six time zones away for a two-game series with the Cardinals isn’t the best idea at the moment.
On top of that, when the Red Sox and Yankees played there back in 2019, London Stadium played like a pinball machine. MLB has claimed that they’ve made some adjustments to cut back on the offense, but we will have to see. Two games in London might not be great for the Cubs pitching staff.
So on a scale of 1 to 5, how excited are you about this weekend? Five is “I love it! Don’t be a worrywart!” and one is “Urgh. Why can’t they play at Wrigley?” You can probably figure out what four, three and two are.
How excited are you for Cubs in the London Series?
This poll is closed
5 (Love it!)
4 (Like it.)
3 (It’s OK or mixed feelings)
2 (Eh. I wish it weren’t happening but OK.)
1 (Hate it.)
Thanks to everyone for stopping by this evening. For those of you heading off to the London Stadium, have a great time. Get there safely. We’re not going to provide a ride there, so you’re on your own. But please tip the waitstaff before you depart. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.