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BCB After Dark: 15 years ago

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks you to reminisce about the 2008 Cubs.

Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

It’s another week here at BCB After Dark: the hippest happening for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. I hope you had a good weekend—or at least a better weekend than the Cubs did. Please get out of the heat and come and join us. There are still a few tables available. The dress code is casual. 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 Nationals tonight 7-5 in a game that sums up my feelings about this year’s team: frustrating. I’m not, and I have never, claimed that this Cubs team is a playoff contender, although I have said that if they got lucky they could sneak into a playoff spot. But I do think this Cubs team is better than what they’re showing on the field lately. I guess the only good thing I can say about them at the moment is that I don’t think they ever quit. But they sure do seem to find a way to lose games that they shouldn’t lose.

Last week I asked you how many games the Cubs needed to win of their first 16 games after the All-Star Break to not be selling at the deadline. There was a rough consensus of 54 percent that they needed to go 10-6 to get back in the race and prevent a sell off. The Cubs have gone 1-3 since then, so they really don’t have any more time to waste.

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.

Television was called “the vast wasteland” by FCC Chair Newton Minow (who just passed away this past May) in 1961. While that comment has been criticized as being elitist, I do have to say that I think most television from the 1960s was pretty bad. Television today is both better and worse. There are a lot of high-quality TV shows today that they never could have dreamed of making 60 years ago. Then there is trashy reality TV crap that never would have been allowed on the air 60 years ago.

(By the way, the S.S. Minnow from Gilligan’s Island was so named as a way of taunting Newton Minow.)

But one way in which TV was a lot better back then was in the theme songs. There were a lot of great jazzy theme songs, many of which were written by Lalo Schifrin, Henry Mancini or Quincy Jones. And so I’m going to give you a bit of nostalgia tonight with Jones’ performance of the theme from Ironside.

Tonight’s film is 1958’s King Creole, starring Elvis Presley, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Dolores Hart, Dean Jagger and Vic Morrow. Directed by Michael Curtiz, one of the greatest directors of the studio system, King Creole is generally considered to be Presley’s best film. Now I haven’t seen every Elvis movie, but from the five or six that I have seen, I’d agree that this one is the best of the bunch.

It seems odd that Curtiz would end up directing an Elvis movie. After all, he won an Oscar for directing Casablanca and received nominations for Angels with Dirty Faces, Four Daughters and Yankee Doodle Dandy. That he didn’t get a nomination for Mildred Pierce or The Adventures of Robin Hood seems like a crime.

Despite Curtiz’s impressive resumé, he’s not well-remembered today. Partly this is because he was publicity-shy and didn’t go out promoting himself like most successful directors did (and still do). Curtiz always felt the work should speak for himself. But another reason is that Curtiz didn’t really have a identifiable style. I understand that there are film scholars who would disagree with me on that and when you get up to their level, they’re probably right. But I’ve seen a lot of movies directed by Michael Curtiz and what stands out to me is that they Curtiz would always put the direction in service to the story. He was a great craftsman who who direct whatever script was put in front of him and use whatever techniques he needed to make that script pop. Curtiz added a lot of noir shading to Casablanca, which is, at heart, not a noir but a romance in a war-time setting. But the noir-like shadows that Curtiz added to Casablanca gave it more-fitting menace.

Curtiz’s ability to adapt to different genres serves him well in King Creole, because it’s about three movies packed into one. Based on an early Harold Robbins story, A Stone for Danny Fisher, the film was intended to be a vehicle for James Dean. But after Dean died, someone came up with the idea to replace Dean with Elvis Presley, change Danny Fisher from a boxer to singer and the location from New York to New Orleans.

Presley plays Danny Fisher, a rough juvenile punk from the wrong side of the tracks. His mom has died, his dad lost his job and he, his dad and his sister were living in poverty in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Fisher is basically a good kid, but he gets into trouble a lot because of a violent temper that gets him into a lot of fights. He gets into a fight before school to protect the honor of Ronnie (Jones), a girl he just met and rescued from an abusive date earlier. Because of this, Danny is denied graduation (he was supposed to graduate from high school later in the week) and is told he would have to repeat the year again if he wanted his diploma. (Yeah, really. You’d think the school would just give him the diploma to be rid of him)

But Danny was already 19, having already been denied graduation the year before. So he drops out and falls in with a gang of delinquents run by a tough named Shark (Morrow). Together, they knock off a drug store. (Or maybe it’s a five-and-dime.) Danny just sings and plays the guitar as he walks through the store, causing everyone’s attention to be diverted while Shark and his gang shoplift the store blind. One girl working there, Nellie (Hart), catches on to the scam, but she’s so charmed by Danny that she agrees to go out with him anyway.

As it turns out, Shark works for Maxie Fields (Matthau), the local crime boss. Maxie also considers Ronnie to be his “girlfriend,” although she’s more of a sex slave than a girlfriend. When it is discovered that Danny is a great singer, Maxie wants to sign him up for his nightclub. But he’s beaten to it the honest Charlie LeGrand (Paul Stewart), who owns the King Creole, a rival nightclub.

So you’ve got the gist of the plot there. There’s the two love interests (Nellie and Ronnie) and the two nightclub owners (Maxie and Charlie) both fighting over control of Danny. (Although to be honest, Nellie is much too good a girl to put up much of a fight.) There’s also a subplot of Danny’s dad (Jagger) trying to get and keep a job in order to bring money home so that Danny doesn’t have to work. But it’s more about him trying to regain his dignity and Danny gets into more trouble when he tries to help his dad.

As an actor, Elvis is . . . well, he’s Elvis. Danny is a quiet, sullen young man with a hair-trigger temper that is quick to get into a fight. Elvis isn’t great, but the part isn’t demanding enough that he’s going to get in trouble here. He’s just has to look angry most of the time and Elvis manages that. There are a few scenes near the end where Elvis has to give off a different look, but there’s not much dialog near the end so he can do it with just a facial expression. Curtiz succeeds here by not asking Elvis to do anything he’s not capable of.

Of course, this task is made a lot easier by the dozen or so songs that Presley sings in this film. And of course, as soon as Danny starts to sing, he becomes a completely different person, oozing all the charisma that Elvis had. You can almost understand why Nellie would want to date him just seconds after he knocked off the dime store she was working at. There are a lot of good musical numbers in here and Presley, as you would expect, knocks every one of them out of the park.

Curtiz also wisely surrounds Elvis with a talented cast. Matthau was just beginning to get famous in 1958, but he clearly knows how to play a slimy crime boss. Jones—whom I will never see as anything other than Morticia Addams—has the tougher job of trying to play love scenes off the (mostly) onenote Elvis. Sometimes she has to carry the dialog for the both of them and I can’t say the chemistry between the two is great. (Not terrible, but not great.) But Jones’s job here was to make Elvis look good and in this, she succeeds.

Elvis has better chemistry with Hart, whom he had previously starred with in Loving You. Hart played good girls all the way down (including later in Where the Boys Are) and that’s all that is asked of her here. If you don’t know, Dolores Hart quit acting in the early-sixties to become a nun and was the subject of the 2011 documentary God is the Bigger Elvis where she talks about her life and two careers.

But while Elvis is the star of King Creole, the hero of the picture was Curtiz. There are three movies in here—a coming-of-age film about a young delinquent from the wrong side of the tracks, a musical and the last half an hour of the film is almost straight noir. And he manages to make all three of these elements come together into one coherent film. (And with Elvis Presley as his lead, no less!) All of the musical numbers are part of the plot—there are no scenes where people just break out into song for no reason. Sure, that means they have to find reasons for Elvis to sing, but considering that his character is a nightclub singer, that’s not hard.

King Creole was Presley’s fourth film and the final film that Elvis made before he went into the army. In fact, his induction was delayed for 60 days so that he could shoot King Creole. That may have contributed to his ability to pull off the “angry young punk” of Danny Fisher.

Here’s the scene where Danny is discovered as a great singer. Be sure you watch it until Elvis sings “Trouble.” If you’re going to watch an Elvis movie, the main point is to hear Elvis sing. And King Creole delivers on that really, really well. There’s no scene here as good the title musical number from Jailhouse Rock (which is still one of the greatest music videos ever made), but the film around King Creole is better than Jailhouse Rock. And as you can see here, there were some great musical numbers in King Creole too.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.

As I said, I’m a little exasperated with this year’s Cubs team. So I’m going to go back exactly 15 years and ask you about the 2008 Cubs.

I think a lot of us thought that the 2008 Cubs would be the team that would break “the curse.” It seemed destined on the 100th anniversary of the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance team’s last title. Of course, they ran into a Dodgers team that had just added Manny Ramire and got swept in three games in the Division Series.

So tell us, who was (or is) your favorite player on the 2008 Cubs team? I’m not going to tell you who mine is. I’ll just tell you that for my first Father’s Day, I got a personalized Derrek Lee jersey. It’s the only personalized jersey I’ve ever had.


Who is your favorite player from the 2008 Cubs?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Ryan Dempster
    (5 votes)
  • 3%
    Mark DeRosa
    (6 votes)
  • 27%
    Derrek Lee
    (42 votes)
  • 0%
    Ted Lilly
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Carlos Mármol
    (2 votes)
  • 19%
    Aramis Ramírez
    (29 votes)
  • 3%
    Alfonso Soriano
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Geovany Soto
    (0 votes)
  • 39%
    Kerry Wood
    (60 votes)
  • 1%
    Someone else (leave in comments)
    (2 votes)
152 votes total Vote Now

Thank you all again for stopping by. Please stay cool out there. Get home safely. Recycle and cans and bottles. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow night for more BCB After Dark.