clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

BCB After Dark: Can the Cubs’ Clark Kent be a playoff Superman?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if Javier Assad will get a playoff start.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the grooviest get-together for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in and sit with us for a while. There are still a few open tables and your name is on the guest list. If you’ve got an umbrella, let us check that for you. 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 tonight edged the Tigers, 7-6 in one of those wins that will make your hair fall out and lose your lunch. It certainly looked like the Cubs were cruising to an easy win when the broke out to a 4-0 lead and Javier Assad was cruising through five. But with the bullpen short-handed with Julian Merryweather and Adbert Alzolay unavailable, David Ross tried to get another inning out of Assad and he gave up back-to-back home runs to lead off the sixth.

In the eighth, in came Michael Fulmer, who has been so good since Memorial Day. He wasn’t good today, looking like he did in April and May and he coughed up the lead. To be fair, the Tigers got a lot of lucky bounces in that inning, but Fulmer put them in the position to make those lucky bounces pay off. But the Cubs retook the lead, thanks to doubles by Yan Gomes, Nick Madrigal, a single by Mike Tauchman and Ian Happ hustling to first base to avoid a double play. Then Mark Leiter Jr. gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, but the two runs in the top of the inning meant the Cubs still won.

This is the game that reminds you that nothing is going to come easy to this Cubs team. They aren’t going to bludgeon teams like the 2015 to 2017 teams did. Earlier in the season they found ways to lose games like this one. But recently, they’ve been finding ways to win.

Also, the Tigers are a better team than their record shows—at least now. They were a pretty crappy team to start the season, but like last year’s Cubs, they’ve gotten better as the season has gone on. The next two games are likely to be as tight as this one became. At least Merryweather and Alzolay should be available for those games.

Last week, I asked you who was the biggest mid-season acquisition in Cubs (post-1969) history. The vast majority of the votes went to two players, as Rick Sutcliffe won the poll with 53 percent and Aroldis Chapman got 31 percent of the vote. Aramis Ramirez was a distant third with seven percent.

Here’s the part where I feature jazz and movies, and I’ve finally got that big Purple Noon/The Talented Mr. Ripley piece that I’ve been teasing for two weeks. But if you’re not interested, you can skip ahead now. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Tonight we’ve got a celebration of Chicago with the Ramsey Lewis Trio on German television in 1973. They’re playing the song that Lewis is most famous for, his jazz version of the Dobie Gray song “The In-Crowd.” Honestly, I believe the Ramsey Lewis version is far more famous than the original pop hit these days.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, the 1999 film directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, is the second big-screen adaptation of the 1955 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith. The first one, the 1960 French production Purple Noon, was directed by René Clément and starred Alain Delon, Marie Laforêt and Maurice Ronet. I wrote about that film last week.

Minghella insisted that his production was not a remake of Purple Noon but rather a fresh look at the original novel. There’s a bit of to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to going on there, but in this case, I think he’s justified in that belief. Purple Noon made some major changes to the novel that Minghella undid, but then he made some changes of his own to the story. Still, the basic plot of both films is the same. Tom Ripley, a young con man, pretends to be an old friend of Dickie Greenleaf. He’s hired by Dickie’s father, who wants Tom to go to Europe and bring Dickie home from his playboy life to work for the family business in America. Eventually, Tom kills Dickie and takes his place.

(Dickie is re-named Philippe in Purple Noon, presumably because French audiences couldn’t handle a grown man named Dickie without bursting out with a bad case of the giggles. But Highsmith’s character and Law’s part are named “Dickie” and from now on, if I’m referring to the character in general, he will be called “Dickie.” If I’m specifically referring to the part played by Maurice Ronet in Purple Noon, I’ll call him “Philippe.”)

Both films are worth watching and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Comparing the two films gives some interesting insight in the difference in film between 1960 and 1999.

Purple Noon was a big budget film for a European film in 1960. In fact, it was a co-production between French and Italian film studios. It was designed as a star vehicle for Delon and in that sense, it wildly succeeded. There are lots of scenes with a shirtless Delon riding on a yacht with the beautiful southern Italian coastline in the background. This film started Delon’s 25-year (at least) reign as one of the top male sex symbols of Europe.

But The Talented Mr. Ripley is a really big budget film for a psychological thriller. Not only does Ripley have all those gorgeous shots of southern Italy, it also heads to Venice for more scenery and spends more time in Rome than Purple Noon does. On top of that, Minghella added a minor character, Meredith (Cate Blanchett) that isn’t found in either Purple Noon or Highsmith’s novel. As far as I can tell, he added the part so that he could work with Cate Blanchett. Does he do some interesting things with Meredith? Yeah, kind of. And of course Blanchett is strong in a small part. However, Minghella could have just had Marge (Paltrow) do double duty and give all of Meredith’s plot points to Marge—which is basically what they did in Purple Noon. Or the novel.

There’s also a lot more music in The Talented Mr. Ripley, both diegetic and non-diegetic. Part of the “romance” between Dickie and Tom is Dickie bringing Tom to cool jazz clubs in Rome. Meredith takes Tom to the ballet. Tom himself is a master pianist. Even the non-diegetic music is more intrusive in Mr. Ripley, as Purple Noon applies the mood music with a lighter hand.

Purple Noon was set contemporaneously to when it was shot, that is, 1960, The Talented Mr. Ripley was set in 1955, when the novel was published. It wouldn’t make sense to set it at the turn of the century because the schemes that Tom pulls just wouldn’t work in that era. It already strains credibility (in both films, honestly) what Tom is able to get away with, but it would really would strain things when people could check Tom’s stories and background on the internet—even in the primitive by our standards 1999 internet.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is longer than Purple Noon by about 25 minutes and a lot of that is setting up some background on Tom Ripley. Purple Noon starts with Tom and Philippe chatting in a Roman café about old times whereas The Talented Mr. Ripley starts in New York with Tom meeting Dickie’s father. We also see what Tom’s life was before he met the Greenleaf family. Basically, he was a sociopathic Will Hunting, which must have been both confusing and comforting to audiences dealing with Matt Damon in 1999.

That gets to the basic issue that both filmmakers had to confront: the protagonist in Highsmith’s novels is a con man, a psychopath and a serial killer. A charming one, to be sure, but a really bad guy nonetheless. So any filmmaker has got to try to find some way to build up at least some sympathy for Tom Ripley if we as an audience are going to be invested in his fate.

Purple Noon builds up that sympathy by making Philippe a fairly cruel bully—both to Tom and his girlfriend Marge. It’s an old trick—make the villain more sympathetic by giving him an adversary who might be even worse. Of course, the other way that Purple Noon gets us on Tom’s side is by featuring Delon’s natural boyish charm and stunning good looks. Sometimes we just want to cheer for the beautiful person.

Damon was five years older than Delon was when he played Tom Ripley, so that innocent “who, me?” charm on Tom isn’t there with Damon. But Dickie is also not so much cruel in The Talented Mr. Ripley as he is thoughtless and a self-centered hedonist. So The Talented Mr. Ripley creates sympathy by giving Tom more of a motive for his actions. If we understand why Tom is that way, we can empathize. Delon’s Tom, in contrast to Damon’s awkward nerd approach, is just ruthless and emotionless. He wants something and he does what he thinks is necessary to achieve it—even murder.

The Talented Mr. Ripley also gives Tom something that Purple Noon never does—a conscience. Damon’s Tom feels bad about his crimes, whereas Delon’s could not care less. Damon goes for a more tortured soul for Tom Ripley. Delon’s steely blue eyes hide an debonair psychopath.

There’s a homosexual subtext between Tom and Philippe in Purple Noon, but in keeping with 1960 mores (even in France), it’s kept as subtext. Part of Tom wanting to take over Philippe’s life is taking over his definitely-straight relationship with Marge.

That homosexual subtext becomes just text in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Tom’s interest in Marge and Meredith is purely to manipulate them, even if they might think it might be something else. There’s a scene in Mr. Ripley where Dickie takes a bath while he plays chess with Tom. This, if you ask me, is a little over-the-top with the symbolism, but it is what it is. Tom is clearly gay in Mr. Ripley, which also plays a role in his motivation—as well as partially explaining his ability to pretend to be someone he’s not.

There are several scenes that are identical in both versions. Dickie catches Tom trying on his clothes and imitating him. The scenes with Dickie’s (real) old friend Freddy (Billy Kearns in Purple Noon, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mr. Ripley) play almost identically, although Hoffman’s Freddy is much more of a snooty jerk.

There are some other big differences, but they are going to have to be covered by SPOILERS.

In both versions, Tom claims to be an old friend of Dickie when they run into each other in Europe. In truth, they’ve never met him before. In Purple Noon, Philippe decides just to play along to figure out what Tom’s game is. In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Dickie just isn’t sure he’s never met Tom. His Dickie is so self-centered that he thinks “Well, maybe I knew him at Princeton and just forgot.”

One of the more puzzling aspects of Purple Noon is what leads up to Tom killing Philippe. Philippe figures out that Tom intends to kill him and take his place, but rather than calling the police or just getting the hell out of there, Philippe continues to try to figure him out, as if he doesn’t believe Tom can or will actually carry his murder plot out. This leads Tom to killing Philippe on his yacht in cold blood.

In The Talented Mr. Ripley, the murder of Tom is more of a case of self-defense or a fight that got out of hand. Again, the film is trying to keep us sympathetic with Tom up until the very end—although it does reveal at the very end of the film that any sympathy we might have felt was misguided.

The Talented Mr. Ripley also spends a lot more time building up the relationship between Tom and Dickie, which gives us less time for us to spend on the really fun part of the film—Tom’s schemes to keep the murders hidden and the cons undetected. That’s a point in Purple Noon’s favor, although it comes at the expense of the believability of an already incredulous plot.

The biggest difference between the two films, however, is the ending. Highsmith wrote five Ripley novels and The Talented Mr. Ripley was the first one. As you might guess, Tom gets away with everything in the novel. He also gets away with everything in The Talented Mr. Ripley—although there is a still price to be paid, it’s not a legal one. However, Purple Noon reveals one mistake made by Tom in his crimes which allows the cops to catch him. It’s a good ending and a good twist, but it’s not the one that Highsmith wanted. (Highsmith died in 1995, so she did see Purple Noon but not Mr. Ripley.)

Spoilers over:

So which one should you watch? Ideally, both of them, but I think which one you’ll prefer is more a matter of personal preferences. I prefer Delon and Laforêt’s performances over Damon and Paltrow, although I’d admit that both American actors put in good performances and that Paltrow’s role of Marge gets diluted slightly by the addition of the Meredith character. As far as the lesser roles go, Law and Hoffman shine over Ronet and Kearns. So if you’re a fan of any of the actors in one version, watch that one.

Purple Noon is also a much more old-fashioned film, in particular in the ending and the way it handles Tom’s sexuality. If you want something a little edgier, go with Mr. Ripley—although that film shies away from the ultimate amorality of Tom until the very end. And of course, if French or subtitles bother you, go with the American production. Purple Noon is also shorter and keeps the action moving along better, at the cost of less character and poorer plot development. Those plot shortcuts in Purple Noon make an already implausible plot a bit more implausible. But it’s so much fun you probably won’t mind.

Here’s a trailer for the restoration of Purple Noon. There are some light spoilers in this clip, although if you’re familiar with the plot, it’s nothing that would bother you. Still, this clip looks great, with lots of closeups of Alain Delon and Marie Laforêt.

And the trailer for The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

Tonight’s starter, Javier Assad, has been a godsend over the past few weeks. He may look like the Mexican Clark Kent, but he’s been a little bit of Superman this month.

He established himself as a solid middle reliever earlier this year—both with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic and with the Cubs. But when Drew Smyly was taken out of the rotation for ineffectiveness and then Marcus Stroman went down with an injury, Assad got pushed into the starting rotation at the beginning of the month. It was more out of desperation than a promotion.

But Assad has given the Cubs four good starts. He did allow two runs in 3.2 innings in his first start this month, but 1) it was his first start 2) it was against the powerful Braves and 3) the Cubs had scored five runs in the first inning, giving him a bit of a cushion to work with.

But in his three starts since then, Assad kept the strong hitting Blue Jays to just one run over seven, the White Sox to three runs (but only two earned) over six innings and tonight’s two runs in five and a third. Any team in the majors would take that out of their fifth starter.

So tonight’s question is “Will Javier Assad get a start in the playoffs?”

There are a few parts to this question before you can answer “yes.” The first is that the Cubs have to actually make the playoffs. With the win today, Fangraphs has their odds at 60 percent to make the postseason, but the Diamondbacks game is still going on as I write this. So assume there’s a better than even chance that the Cubs do make the playoffs, but it’s no sure thing.

Next, if the Cubs make the playoffs, they are almost certainly going to have to play in the best-of-three Wild Card round. Fangraphs also gives the Cubs a 0.0 percent chance of catching the Braves or the Dodgers for a bye. So the first series is going to be best-of-three.

Justin Steele has established himself as the Cubs’ ace, so unless he has to pitch a critical game in the final series with the Brewers, he’s going to pitch the first game of the postseason. Marcus Stroman would likely pitch the second game if he returns healthy and effective before the end of the year, but there’s no guarantee that happens. Kyle Hendricks and Jameson Taillon would be candidates for the second game or the third game if Stroman is healthy.

And it’s absolutely true that the Cubs’ playoff experience could end this year after two games like it did in 2020. So if that happens, Assad is unlikely to get a start. But if the Cubs do advance to the best-of-five Division Series, most teams go to four-man rotations in the playoffs. Even if Stroman is available, Assad would be in the mix along with Taillon, Drew Smyly and maybe Hayden Wesneski for a spot in the rotation. (Let’s assume a healthy Kyle Hendricks is getting a start.) Maybe even Jordan Wicks would be in the mix, for whom I’ve been advocating a September call-up. If Stroman isn’t available, then there are two open spots, although I’d guess Taillon would get one of them.

There’s one other thing that might argue against Assad getting a postseason start. Assad has had recent success out of the bullpen, something that most of those other pitchers don’t. So manager David Ross may want to keep him in reserve for bullpen nights like tonight.

On the other hand, if the Cubs’ playoff experience goes more than two games, wouldn’t the Cubs want their four-best available starters out there? And isn’t Javier Assad pitching like one of the Cubs’ four-best starters?


Does Javier Assad get a postseason start this year?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    (111 votes)
  • 52%
    (123 votes)
234 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so much for stopping in this evening. I hope we’ve kept the party going for you just a bit tonight. If you checked anything, let us get that for you know. Please recycle any cans and bottles. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.