Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the sweetest night spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in out of the heat. There’s no cover charge this evening. We’re so glad you decided to stop by. I think there’s still a table available in the second row. 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.
Tonight, the Cubs lost a very frustrating game to the Mets, 4-3. If the Cubs had played better in the first half, I would chalk this one up to one of those off-nights where the mojo went against them. But the Cubs dug themselves too big a hole in the first half to have games like this one. And the decision to bunt with Nick Madrigal in the ninth inning is a real head-scratcher. Had a batter who makes a lot of contact like Nico Hoerner or Cody Bellinger been up next, I can see the wisdom of the move. But when the next batter up is Christopher Morel, who has become a real three-true-outcomes hitter this year, it seems like David Ross lost control of his senses. And thus, the Cubs lost this game.
Last night I asked you a simple yes or no question: Should the Cubs re-sign Jeimer Candelario to contract for next season? The overwhelming majority of you voted yes—84 percent of you. Some of you in the comments pointed out that it’s really too early to make that decision and yes, that’s probably correct. But I also need something to ask you every night. But let’s revisit this question in the off-season, shall we?
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.
Robbie Robertson of The Band passed away at the age of 80. In tribute to him and The Band, I present one of the greatest living American singers, Cassandra Wilson, performing The Band’s “The Weight.” One thing I look for in a cover is whether the performer can give the text a different meaning or experience. I’ve never thought it made any sense to just mimic the original version, although that’s often the way to get radio airplay.
I don’t know if you’re going to like Wilson’s version of “The Weight,” but I think you’ll agree that she gives the song a very different twist from the version that you’re probably familiar with. Just having a Black woman sing it gives it a different inflection, and of course her singing style, very different from Levon Helm’s, changes the tenor completely.
It’s a sign of a great songwriter whose works can be interpreted in different ways.
This is from 2002.
I promise I’ll get to Purple Moon and The Talented Mr. Ripley next week.
Tonight, I have the 1933 pre-Code gangster drama Blondie Johnson, starring Joan Blondell and Chester Morris and directed by Ray Enright. Gangster movies (especially by Warner Brothers) were all the rage during the Great Depression, but Blondie Johnson sticks out from the crowd by featuring a woman as the main gangster.
Joan Blondell came to Hollywood with her longtime acting partner James Cagney. While the two of them were never romantically involved (as far as I know), they starred together on Broadway and in Cagney’s breakout role as a gangster in The Public Enemy. (Although Blondell was in a supporting role to Jean Harlow in that film. And Mae Clarke was the one who got the grapefruit in the face.) But with Cagney hitting it big starring in gangster films, it must have seemed logical to try a gangster film with Blondell in the lead.
But how do you make a gangster film starring a woman? Baby Face, which came out a few months after Blondie Johnson, had Barbara Stanwyck using sex to climb her way up the corporate ladder. That wasn’t a gangster film, but it was a similar picture in that it showed the way that a woman could rise to the top. (I wrote about Baby Face back in April.)
Virginia “Blondie” Johnson (Blondell), in contrast, refuses to use her sex appeal to reach her goals. At one point, she tells her partner that they need to keep things professional and that “business comes before pleasure.” Blondie Johnson rises to the top of her gang because of her smarts, not her looks. Although it should be noted that Blondell was one of the leading sex symbols of the Great Depression and frankly, she looks great in this film wearing a bunch of terrific outfits. So she could have used sex if she wanted to, but she seems to understand that’s a dead end. You’ll never sleep your way to the top of a crime family.
The traditional classic gangster films of the era—The Public Enemy, Scarface, Little Caesar—felt little need to show why the men turned to a life of crime. But Blondie Johnson (and Baby Face—again, not a crime film but a similar plot) makes the title character very sympathetic. We first meet her begging for money at the unemployment office, explaining she can’t get work anywhere. She left her last job because the boss kept pawing her. Because of her poverty, she can’t hire a doctor and her mother dies. We find out later that her sister died in a botched illegal abortion. Blondie finally says that there are two ways to get money—the easy way and the hard way. I’m not sure crime is actually the “easy way,” but that’s the way she chooses.
Her first scam (at least that we see) is to start crying uncontrollably at a hotel. When a handsome man comes up to her and asks what’s wrong, she explains that her boyfriend stranded her there when she refused to sleep with him. Now she has to get to work as a nurse across town and she doesn’t have the money for cab fare. Once the man gives her the money out of chivalry (and perhaps the chance to score with her later), she gets into a cab with a driver (Sterling Holloway) who is a confederate who drives her around the block and she pulls the same scam again.
One of the men she pulls this on is Danny (Morris), who is the right-hand man to a crime boss. Danny catches her in the act and gets angry, but Blondie convinces him that a smart girl like her could be a real asset in pulling off scams. Plus, she’s gorgeous and Danny wants to sleep with her. But it’s Danny who Blondie tells “business before pleasure.”
Skipping the details, Danny and Blondie rise up in the crime world with Blondie coming up with all the ideas and Danny getting all the credit. But the gangsters who work for Danny know that Blondie is the real brains behind the outfit and it’s her whom they are loyal to. So once Danny takes over the operation and tries to push Blondie out (plus picks up a girlfriend who Blondie is clearly jealous of), Blondie stages a coup to force Danny out and take over the crime business.
Blondie Johnson is a fun gender twist on the pre-Code gangster film. Blondie and Danny’s rise to power (while always insisting that they are just “partners,” although with less conviction as the film goes on) is well-plotted and the scams they pull are pretty fun. There’s also a reasonably graphic hit job on another gangster. Or at least graphic for the pre-Code era and too graphic for a year later when the Code gets enforced. The film is also short and breezy at 67 minutes long.
There’s also a jarring small part played by the Japanese-American actress Toshia Mori. Mori plays Lulu, the moll of one of the gangsters working for Danny and Blondie. Blondie wins the loyalty of the molls (girlfriends) of the gangsters by including them in on the crimes and presumably, the loot. But the part sticks out because Lulu is clearly the girlfriend of one of the white gangsters. We see them arm-in-arm together. In just over a year, the Production Code is going to come down and ban any hint of interracial romance. Mori got stuck in Charlie Chan films for the rest of her career because of this.
I do have a few complaints that I think keep Blondie Johnson from being an all-time classic. Blondell was such a terrific actress and she’s fabulous here. Blondie is always having to act in order to pull off a scam and Blondell does a great job acting like someone who is acting in those scenes. But Blondell was also known for characters with snappy wit and sharp dialog and frankly, the words spoken by Blondie are a bit flat. You want a gangster film filled with criminal slang and snappy retorts and this film just doesn’t have that. A few, but not many. Still, Blondell is great fun in it. It’s just that she could have been better with better lines.
We also don’t spend enough time with Blondie in command of the gang. The film is mostly about her rise to the top and once that happens, the climax of the film happens pretty quickly. I would have liked to see how Blondie would have run an crime organization for a while before that.
On top of that, they aren’t quite sure what to do at the ending. (Semi-spoiler, although it’s hardly the type of film you watch wondering how it’s going to end.) In a traditional gangster movie, the protagonist either dies in a hail of bullets or gets locked up for the rest of his life. The film doesn’t seem willing to go that far. For one, they spend too much time making Blondie sympathetic for her to experience a graphic and bloody death. But they also can’t leave the audience with the message that you can do a bunch of crimes and then get away with it, either. So they come up with a kind of half-hearted ending where she gets punished a little but ends up back with Danny (romantically, this time) and a promise to go straight. Eventually.
The trailer for Blondie Johnson.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
Frankly, I’d like to ask about whether that bunt in the ninth inning tonight was a good idea just to see if we could get a unanimous vote. But I’m going to guess that at least one random Mets fan will drop in and vote “yes.”
So instead, I’m going to ask a simple question that I’ve asked before, but we have more information now for you to base your answer on. Who is going to lead the Cubs in home runs at the season’s end?
The current leader in home runs is Patrick Wisdom with 19. In second place is Christopher Morel, who hit his 18th home run earlier this evening. But neither Wisdom or Morel plays every day. The next two on the list, Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson, both play every day and are sitting at 17 home runs at the moment. In fifth place is Ian Happ with 13. That seems like a ways behind, but the Cubs have a lot of games left against the Reds and the Pirates and we know that Happ loves to torment those two teams. (Happ is from Pittsburgh and went to the University of Cincinnati.)
So who is ending up as the Cubs’ home run champ at the end of the season?
Who is going to lead the 2023 Cubs in home runs?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave in comments)
It’s been so good to see you this week. We want to thank everyone who stopped by and especially thank all of you who voted and commented. And those who read the movie stuff and listened to the music. Please get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.