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BCB After Dark: Who goes next?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks what other free agents will the Cubs sign this winter.

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Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the hippest hole-in-the-wall for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re so glad that you braved the weather to make it here. Come on in out of the cold. We can check your coat for you. There’s no cover charge this evening. 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.

Last night I asked you if you thought newest Cub Shōta Imanaga would be an improvement over Marcus Stroman. With 57 percent of the vote, you thought that Imanaga would be better than what Stroman has been. Another 37 percent thought they’d be about the same. The rest of you are pessimists. You may be correct, but you’re pessimists.

So here’s the part where I put the music and the movies. Those of you who skip that can do so now. You wont hurt my feelings.


We wrap up our week of tributes to the late Les McCann, who left us on December 29, with another selection from his famous appearance with saxophonist Eddie Harris at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969. This is “Kaftan.”


You voted in the BCB Winter Western Classic and 64 percent of you picked High Noon over A Fistful of Dollars. As some of you mentioned in the comments, these choices are getting tough. Yes, and if you think it is hard to pick between movies in the second round, wait until we get to the third and fourth rounds. Both High Noon and A Fistful of Dollars are deservedly considered classics.

Tonight we have our #3 seed entering the competition, director Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We’ll see if Leone can bounce back from his first defeat out the tournament with the film that is widely considered his masterpiece. (Although were Leone still alive, I think he’d call Once Upon A Time in America his masterpiece. But that’s a gangster film.)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly takes on The Magnificent Seven (1960), which advanced out of the first round with a win over 3:10 to Yuma (1957).

First, I have a confession to make. The ringtone on my phone is the theme song to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That’s how much I love the Ennio Morricone score. But Elmer Bernstein’s score to The Magnificent Seven is also one of the greatest film scores of all time. They invoke a different mood, but they’re both brilliant. So you’re going to have a tough time making a choice if you base it on the score.

The other thing I noticed about this matchup is that no matter which film wins, Eli Wallach is making it to the third round. And deservedly so.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. (1966) #3 seed. Directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach.

Take the famous first shot of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We start out with one of Leone’s famous long shots of a desolated, empty Spanish desert, here standing in for New Mexico. Except the desert isn’t empty. A face pops into the screen from the left. Leone goes from his famous long shots to his famous extreme close-ups without even a cut. The face was always there in the scene, we just didn’t notice it until it appeared on camera.

Who is this man? He certainly has an interesting face. It’s dirty and wrinkled. The gunfighter has obviously been in the desert sun too long. Where has he been? Where is he going? It doesn’t matter. This guy isn’t going to live long enough for us to find out.

After the success of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, United Artists wanted another Western out of Leone. And this time, Leone was going to get a big budget, or at least a huge budget compared to what he had been working on. So he decided to make a sprawling epic about three men searching for a fortune in Confederate gold during the New Mexico campaign of 1862.

The three men are Blondie, or “The Good” (Eastwood), Angel Eyes, or “The Bad” (Van Cleef) and Tuco, or “The Ugly” (Wallach). The story is about the three men trying to outmaneuver each other to discover the buried gold before the other two. All three men would have no issue killing the other two, but all three men have just one part of the puzzle as to where the gold is buried. Angel Eyes knows the name of the man who knows where it’s buried. Tuco knows the name of the cemetery, but not the grave. Blondie knows the name on the grave, but not the cemetery. The three men ally with and betray each other throughout the three-hour film until there is a famous showdown at the end.

This plot is in no way detailed enough to fill up three hours. So Leone takes his time getting to the final showdown with side stories. Tuco, a wanted bandit with a price on his head, gets forced into a scheme by Blondie where Blondie brings him in for the reward money, only to shoot the rope at the last second before Tuco hangs. Then they split the money and pull the scam all over again. Except Tuco, naturally, doesn’t like this scheme much since Blondie could end it at any time by simply letting him hang.

Angel Eyes is a hired killer who finds out about the gold from a man he was paid to murder. Through a series of events, he discovers where the gold is buried by capturing and torturing Tuco. Angel Eyes then teams up with Blondie to retrieve the gold and Tuco is sent off to hang for his crimes. Except Tuco escapes and re-teams up with Blondie to wipe out Angel Eyes’ gang, but not Angel Eyes himself.

There is also a big piece in the middle of the film where Leone attacks the folly of war by recreating a big Civil War battle. Is this digression necessary to the plot? Absolutely not. But it looks and sounds great and it gives The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that epic feel that Leone was aiming for.

Eastwood’s Blondie is a pretty similar character to the two he played in the first two films of the “Man with No Name” trilogy. The are both highly-intelligent and creative men of few words and are quick to resort to violence. Eastwood even wears the same poncho he wore in the first two films for the big finale. You can see why the US publicists would pretend they were the same character in all three films.

But despite being nicknamed “The Good,” Blondie is a darker character than what he played in the first two films of the trilogy. Early on, he leaves Tuco in the desert to die. (Although Tuco is like a cockroach in how difficult it is to kill him. Many, many people try and fail in this film.) Blondie does show some moments of real kindness and empathy in the film, especially towards people who are dying, but mostly he’s motivated by the same desire for gold that Tuco is.

Like his characters in the first two films, Blondie has no past and no indications of what he intends to do in the future. But Eastwood had grown as an actor and he gives Blondie a bit more complexity this time. He’s a survivor in a world gone mad with warfare. He has no problems killing evil men in cold blood or leaving Tuco to die. But he does seem to have a soft heart for those who haven’t been able to escape the madness of the surrounding world.

Of course, Eastwood has that “cool” factor that actors like Steve McQueen, Paul Newman or even James Garner had in those days. They made everything look easy.

Angel Eyes is just a pure psychopathic killer. While “The Good” may be a relative term for Blondie, Angel Eyes earns “The Bad” at every turn. He kills without mercy or empathy for the victims. When he manages to worm his way into a Union outfit, he spends his time torturing Confederate prisoners who may or may not have information on the gold. And he seemingly enjoys it.

But as many people have noted, this is Tuco’s film. While Angel Eyes is a man of few words and Blondie is a man of even fewer, Tuco never shuts up. Whereas Blondie and Angel Eyes have no backstory, Tuco is given one, complete with a family. He has a showdown with his brother, a priest, over Tuco’s life as a bandit. But Tuco defends himself by saying a poor Mexican kid has only two choices to get out of poverty: join the church or become a bandit. His brother made one choice and he just made the other.

And Wallach is just magnificent in this movie. He practically steals every scene he’s in, except for a few where Eastwood seemingly says “Nah, this is my scene.” Wallach is playing an archetype that we’ve seen before—the little man with a big mouth who is motivated by nothing but money. He’s willing to say or do anything to both save his hide and/or steal some money. But as base and craven as Tuco is, you can’t help but like him. He’s just too charming and honest in his greed. (Or “Ugly.” Leone always maintained that the “Ugly” referred to Tuco’s soul and not Wallach’s face.)

There are lots of scenes in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that are shot masterfully, but I wanted to highlight two. There are some Spoilers to follow.

The scene where Tuco is running through the graveyard is fantastic. Wallach sprints through the graves with a look of absolute joy on his face. It’s a scene that could have been a man running to his lost lover at an airport in a romance picture. But the “lover” at the end that Tuco is running towards is actually a grave full of Confederate gold. It’s really the only thing Tuco could love. The Morricone music playing over the scene is just fantastic. I love it.

There’s also the final three-way showdown between the three leads. They famously stand in a circle that Leone frames with one of his signature long shot. Then come the close ups of the three actors. One after another. The face, the gun, the hands, the eyes. This goes on for quite a while. It’s as if Leone is asking “How many close ups can I get away with before I have to show the shootout?” Turns out, the answer is “a lot.” Spoilers over.

I can’t give the Morricone score enough credit. Whereas Elmer Bernstein’s score in The Magnificent Seven is a rousing ode to heroes, the music in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly takes you to a different world. It’s vaguely Mexican (or maybe Spanish) but mostly it’s just alienating and mysterious. You know the people riding into Bernstein’s score (which is fantastic, to be clear) are the heroes. The people announced by Morricone’s score are much more ambiguous.

Here’s the original trailer for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Please note that whomever made this trailer misnamed Van Cleef as “the Ugly” and Wallach as “the Bad.” I probably know how that happened, but it’s not important.

The Magnificent Seven (1960) #14 seed. Directed by John Sturges. Starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn and introducing Horst Buchholz. (whew.)

As I’ve written before, I’m not going to write up a new essay for each film as they advance to the next round. So here’s what I wrote for The Magnificent Seven.

The scene that introduces our heroes near the beginning of The Magnificent Seven is one of my all-time favorites. If the film comes on television, I’ll watch the movie at least until the scene is over every time. An undertaker (Whit Bissell) is refusing to bury a man in boot hill because a “local element” objects to an Indian being buried next to the white outlaws, gamblers and drunks there. Bystanders Chris (Brynner) and Vin (McQueen) agree to drive the hearse to bury the man. There they are, in a hearse, driving through the main drag of an Old West town while under enemy fire. They eventually have a showdown with the racist group at the cemetery, whom they disarm with some well-placed shots to their arms and wrists. It’s a real crowd-pleaser of a scene. What makes it even better is that Brynner and McQueen are just so freaking cool during the entire scene.

The Magnificent Seven was a remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic, Seven Samurai. Kurosawa, a keen student of world cinema, noticed that the gunfighting heroes of the American Western had a lot in common with the tales of the Japanese ronin, or masterless samurai. He adapted the Westerns to a Japanese setting. Hollywood then took Kurosawa’s ronin pictures and turned them back into Westerns.

Seven Samurai has been considered one of the greatest movies ever made and ranked 20th in the BFI Sight and Sound latest poll of the Greatest Films of All Time. So saying that The Magnificent Seven is not as good as Seven Samurai shouldn’t be considered an insult, just as it’s no insult to say that Billy Williams wasn’t as good as Willie Mays. The Magnificent Seven is still plenty good.

The plot of The Magnificent Seven mostly follows the plot of Seven Samurai, with some alterations to align it better with American values, as well as making the characters better fit into relatable Western archetypes. A small farming village in Mexico has been preyed upon by an outlaw gang led by Calavera (Wallach) for years. Finally, some of the men head north to buy guns with what little money they have left to protect themselves. The farmers are as impressed with Chris’s hearse driving as I was and ask him for help. Chris explains that gunfighters are cheaper than guns and that they should put together a posse to protect themselves instead.

The first part of the film is the best, where Chris puts together the “magnificent seven” to head down to Mexico. That’s a common trope in films these days, the “let’s get the gang together” part, but Seven Samurai is generally credited as having invented it. All six men have different reasons for joining. Chris originally excludes the young, pretty boy Chico (Buchholz) as being not skilled or experienced enough for the job, but he tags along anyway (as Toshiro Mifune’s character did in Seven Samurai) and the posse eventually comes around to accepting him.

There are two things that The Magnificent Seven does better than Seven Samurai. The first is the character of Calavera, the bandit leader menacing the town. Seven Samurai doesn’t spend much time developing the bandits and their motivations, but Wallach does a terrific job making Calavera a memorable and believable villain. He’s not a cruel man if he doesn’t have to be. His feeling is that he leads a gang and they’ve got to eat. They’re wolves and the farmers are sheep. What’s wrong with a wolf feeding on sheep?

The other thing that stands out as better in The Magnificent Seven is the fantastic Elmer Bernstein score. It’s loud and bombastic, but it’s also stirring and catchy. It’s one of Hollywood’s greatest scores of all time.

The Magnificent Seven has a reputation as a “guy’s movie.” There is exactly one speaking female part, Petra (Rosenda Monteros), who serves as a love interest for Chico. Otherwise, there’s a lot of male camaraderie and action. But it’s so well done and full of good-looking and cool men that anyone should be able to enjoy it also long as they just go along for the ride. My wife enjoys it.

It really is a crowd-pleasing movie. Brynner and McQueen were two of the “coolest” men of the era and the rest of the gunfighters weren’t far behind them in that category. Buchholz was marketed as the “German James Dean” around this time. These gunfighters may not be deep or complex, but they’re cool, they’re quick with a clever quip and they’re the kind of people you enjoy spending two hours with. You can ask for more from a movie, but you certainly don’t need any more than that.

I did find an alternate trailer for the film than the one that I posted last time. So here’s a different look at The Magnificent Seven. And a different look at Eli Wallach.

So now it’s time to vote.

Poll

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or The Magnificent Seven?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
    (81 votes)
  • 49%
    The Magnificent Seven
    (80 votes)
161 votes total Vote Now

You have until Monday to vote. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is available on Max. The Magnificent Seven is available on Amazon Prime and MGM+, as well as free (with ads) on Tubi, Pluto and the Roku Channel. Both films can be rented, of course.

Coming up next is the final film to enter our tournament, the #4 seed Red River, directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift and Joanne Dru. It takes on True Grit (1969), directed by Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne, Glen Campbell and Kim Darby. I hope you watched True Grit on Amazon when it first came up for a vote because it’s not there anymore. However, you can watch the remake on Paramount+ now. That might not help the case for the 1969 original though. Of course, the original can be rented as well.


Welcome back to everyone who skips the tunes and movie tournament.

In case anyone is wondering, the title of tonight’s column is radio host Michael Feldman’s famous explanation for what “WGN” stands for. But tonight, rather than it standing for who is leaving Chicago, I’m asking you who else is coming to Chicago by signing with the Cubs.

The Shōta Imanaga contract turned out to be quite reasonable, so no one thinks that the Cubs are going to stop there. There have been several articles saying that the Cubs are still in on free agents. MLB Network and New York Post reporter Jon Heyman writes that he’d be shocked if the Cubs didn’t sign at least one more free agent and that he wouldn’t be shocked if they signed two more.

The four names most associated with the Cubs before the Imanaga signing are Cody Bellinger (of course), Rhys Hoskins, Matt Chapman and Jordan Montgomery. I think the Imanaga signing takes the Cubs out on Montgomery, unless they are looking to deal Jordan Wicks or send him back to Iowa. Otherwise the Cubs rotation would be four lefties (Justin Steele, Imanaga, Montgomery and Wicks) and Jameson Taillon. And Kyle Hendricks would probably be left out. No one is saying the Cubs are out on Montgomery, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense at the moment without other moves.

So I’m just going to ask you who among the other three are the Cubs going to sign. Obviously they could sign a different player like Josh Hader, but those are the three players they have most been associated. But if you vote for just one player in the poll, you can explain in the comments that you actually think the Cubs will sign another major free agent not listed here tonight.

So who else is going to join the Cubs this winter (or early Spring)?

Poll

Who will the Cubs still sign?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Cody Bellinger
    (71 votes)
  • 1%
    Matt Chapman
    (6 votes)
  • 11%
    Rhys Hoskins
    (36 votes)
  • 22%
    Bellinger and Chapman
    (71 votes)
  • 33%
    Bellinger and Hoskins
    (107 votes)
  • 4%
    Chapman and Hoskins
    (14 votes)
  • 4%
    All three!
    (16 votes)
321 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so much for stopping by this week. We’ve finally gotten something to talk about. A special thank you to everyone who commented and voted. Especially to those who watched the movies and voted. (Of course, you don’t have to have watched both movies to vote. How would I know?)

But get home safely. Stay warm. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.