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BCB After Dark: National League surprise

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks which surprise NL team is most likely to make the playoffs.

Atlanta Braves v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Bruce Yeung/Getty Images

It’s another Wednesday night here at BCB After Dark: the swinging spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come join us. There’s no cover charge. I hope we can all put the events of the past two nights out of our minds and have a good evening anyway. There are still a few good tables available. 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.

The Cubs lost to the Angels 6-2 tonight. I suppose if you’re looking for good news, Jameson Taillon pitched well, even if his final line (4 runs over 5.1 innings) doesn’t reflect that. Otherwise, I want to forget this one.

Last night, I asked you which first- or second-year player will end up playing the most games in a Cub uniform. You seem to be sold on the Cubs newest catcher, with 52 percent of you voting for Miguel Amaya. Christopher Morel finished second with 26 percent.

Here’s the part where I play some jazz and watch some movies. I promised to talk about The Thing From Another World tonight, so I’ll do that. But you can skip all that if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings.

We have one more night of honoring the great vocalist Astrud Gilberto, who passed away this week at 83. After the success of The Girl from Ipañema, there was obviously a demand for more songs by the Brazilian. That led to her first solo album, The Astrud Gilberto Album (creative title) in 1965. This song, “Agua de Beber (Water to Drink)” came of that album. It was a bossa nova standard that had been recorded several times before and would be recorded several times again by many different artists. But of course, no one could sing it like Astrud Gilberto could.

This is one of those videos that they made decades later to try to gin up some interest in older songs.

The 1951 picture The Thing From Another World is more studied than loved. Historically, it’s an important film in that it, along with The Day the Earth Stood Still from the same year, are credited with kickstarting the science fiction craze of the 1950s. The general setup of the film would go on to be imitated in much more critically-loved movies. From a technical standpoint, It is also believed to be the first time a film ever set a stuntman on fire. On top of that, there is the question of “authorship,” or who actually directed the movie, which has been a major point of contention among film scholars an science fiction buffs alike.

But the film itself sometimes gets lost in these larger points. And that’s too bad because while The Thing From Another World certainly has a lot of problems, overall it’s a fun little monster movie.

The Thing From Another World stars Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey and Robert Cornthwaite and was directed by Christian Nyby. Or not. The film was produced by the great director Howard Hawks and the film has his touches all over it. The dialog is snappy, with actors spitting out their lines at a rapid-fire rate. Sheridan (who gets top billing here because Hawks was trying to break her out as a star, not because her character is the main protagonist) plays the role of the “Hawksian Woman.” That’s the smart, tough-talking and assertive woman that was generally featured in Howard Hawks films, although such women generally don’t challenge stereotypical gender roles. Nikki, Sheridan’s part, is a secretary to the scientists at an Alaskan research station and her goal is life is to marry Captain Patrick Hendry, played by Tobey. So while Nikki is clearly as smart or smarter than everyone else there, she still sees her role in life to be subordinate to the men around her. But at least she gets in a lot of foreplay with her verbal sparring/flirting with Captain Hendry. Bogart and Bacall they’re not, but they at least give it a try.

The elevator pitch for The Thing From Another World is simple: A group of scientists and military officers discover a flying saucer buried in the Arctic ice. Inside is an alien whom they return to their isolated base, accidentally defrost and the alien starts to kill them all one-by-one. The idea of a group of soldiers and scientists trapped in a remote location with a killing monster after them would be used again, most notably in Ridley Scott’s 1979 opus, Alien. Substitute “space ship” for “arctic base” and “H.R. Giger creature” for “alien super-carrot” and there you go. (And yes, they do refer to the alien in The Thing From Another World as a “super-carrot” at one point.)

The plot contrasts the smart and sensible military men with ambitious scientists who place their desire for knowledge ahead of safety and, to be honest, sanity. This is the Frankenstein model adjusted of the atomic age. It’s not hard to see the scientist of Los Alamos in the character of Cornthwaite’s Dr. Arthur Carrington. Many Americans of 1951 thought that the the scientists who made the A-bomb should have just said “no,” and that their arrogance put the whole world in danger. This point is reinforce in the final line of the movie, when reporter Ned “Scotty” Scott (Douglas Spencer) warns the world in his story about the events of the movie: “Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.” This is a clear reference to the Soviet Union and the atomic bomb.

But for all the contrast in this film between the inventive and wise military and the foolish scientist, the military men sure do a bunch of stupid stuff. The scientists who found the saucer buried in ice near the North Pole lead the soldiers there. Trying to figure out how to get at it, the soldiers immediately think “Let’s get this alien spacecraft out of the ice with explosives.” Needless to say, this maneuver destroys the ship. They fly the alien that survived the blast intact back to their base, frozen in a block of ice. The military men have orders to do nothing until they get further instructions, but they fail to guard the block of ice properly. One guard even falls asleep, but not before covering the block of ice with an electric blanket, thawing the alien out.

And boy, is the alien something else. Hawks threw out the “shape-shifter” concept for the monster from the novella the movie was based on because he didn’t think the technology of the time could pull off that special effect. (Director John Carpenter reinstated the shapeshifting in his 1982 remake The Thing.) What we’re left with is a humanoid killing machine that can’t be stopped by any normal means. Played by a pre-Gunsmoke James Arness, Dr. Carrington identifies the creature as a hyper-intelligent creature constructed of vegetable matter. Thus, a “super-carrot.” But Nyby (or Hawks) does a good job of mostly keeping the ridiculous creature in the shadows so we don’t realize it’s just James Arness in a dopey costume. And I have to believe that when they set it on fire, it had a huge impact on audiences. Even though it’s commonplace now, they just didn’t light a man on fire back then.

This was not a low-budget movie. It was a Howard Hawks production and he spent a lot of money creating the base and setting up the special effects, such as they were. The cast and crew also travelled to Glacier National Park to film the scene where they find the saucer, even though location shooting was still mostly discouraged at this time because they took up a lot of money and time. It doesn’t look as good as a modern blockbuster with CGI, but it looks pretty good for 1951.

The cast of the film isn’t great. Arness is the only actor to go on to a significant career and here, he just lumbers around, makes growling sounds and tries to kill people. The dialog is mostly silly and doesn’t really give the actors a lot to work with either. But Nyby (or again, Hawks) keeps the action and the lines coming out quickly so that you don’t really have the time to question the plot or wonder if a better actor could have delivered a line with more impact.

As you may have guessed, you have to check your brain at the door for The Thing From Another World. Dr. Carrington, supposedly a Nobel Prize winner, behaves too stupidly to really be allowed to feed and clothe himself. The soldiers have just discovered the first ever alien, but they treat it like just another day at the office. The men sometimes seem more concerned about whether Captain Hendry and Nikki are going to get married.

But the enjoyment of the film comes from it just being a Howard Hawks monster movie. It’s well-shot and there are campy thrills as the Thing tries to kill the soldiers and scientists. It’s not a film that you’re going to remember for years. The actors aren’t Cary Grant or Rosalind Russell. It’s just a good 1951 popcorn film that you can laugh at and maybe let out a shriek once or twice.

As I’ve noted, guessing who actually directed The Thing From Another World has been a parlor game since it came out. It’s officially credited to Christian Nyby, who had been Howard Hawks’ film editor on To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep and Red River. Nyby wanted to direct and it was his first feature film.

The rumor, however, is that Hawks actually directed The Thing From Another World and just credited Nyby as a favor to him so he could get his Director’s Guild card. The evidence of this is circumstantial. One, Hawks kept about 90 percent of the money that was budgeted for a director. Two, Nyby never directed a film this good again. He was relegated to a few low-budget B-movies that did not have anywhere near the flair of this movie. Although in his defense, he did have a long career as a television director, working on quality TV shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason and others. The third piece of evidence is that as the film’s producer, Hawks was on the set the entire time that filming was going on. The cast and crew would naturally defer to the famous Hawks over some unknown first-time director.

Both Hawks and Nyby denied that Hawks directed the film. As far as the film having a “Hawksian” presentation, Nyby pointed out that Hawks was his mentor and idol. Of course, Nyby explained, he was going to make a film like Howard Hawks would if he got the chance, Especially on his first film. And Nyby would say that it wasn’t uncommon for a director to ask advice of his producer, which in this case was Hawks.

The recollections of the actors differ as to who did the actual directing. It seems clear that both men were on the set and as the producer, Hawks was the one in charge. But there is a difference between a producer supervising a first-time director and actually directing a film and crediting the other guy. We’ll never know the answer to this as everyone involved in the production of The Thing From Another World has been dead for a while. And in the end, it really doesn’t make any difference to us as an audience. It’s only of interest for scholars of Hawks.

Here’s the trailer for The Thing From Another World.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

I really don’t want to talk about the Cubs at the moment. Too depressing. Sports are supposed to be entertainment and the Cubs are not entertaining right now.

So I’m going to ask you about three National League teams that are having surpringly-good seasons: the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Florida Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Diamondbacks are in first place, ahead of pre-season World Series favorites Dodgers and Padres. The Pirates and the Marlins are both in second place and would both claim Wild Card spots if the season ended today.

So tonight I’m going to ask you which one of these three teams is going to make the playoffs in 2023? If you think more than one of them, vote for the one that is most-likely to. You may not think the Pirates are the best team of the three, but maybe you vote for them because they’re in the weakest division and have the best chance (in your mind), of making the playoffs.

So which one of these three teams is going to may the playoffs this year? I’m giving the doubters a chance to vote “None of the above” if they want.


Which of these 3 teams is most-likely to make the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Arizona Diamondbacks
    (59 votes)
  • 18%
    Miami Marlins
    (20 votes)
  • 12%
    Pittsburgh Pirates
    (14 votes)
  • 16%
    None of those teams is likely to make the playoffs
    (18 votes)
111 votes total Vote Now

Thanks to everyone who stopped by tonight and throughout the week. Sometimes we can take a sad song and make it better when we get together. Please get home safely. Clean up your table and recycle any cans and bottles. Tell your friends about us. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.