Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the grooviest gathering of night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. I hope you’ve had a pleasant week so far. We’re so glad you chose to spend this evening with us. Come on in out of the cold. We can check your coat. Grab one of the few available tables, or make a new friend. There’s no cover charge. 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 about a trade proposal that I came up with that would send Christopher Morel and Kevin Alcántara to the Guardians for all-star closer Emmanuel Clase. Fully 68 percent of you think the Cubs would say no to that deal. Only 21 percent thought that was at trade that would get made. With Bruce Levine reporting that the Guardians want Cade Horton for Clase, I think the four percent of you who said both sides would say “no” are probably right.
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.
Tonight I have saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley playing the Cole Porter standard. “Love For Sale.” This features Art Blakey on drums, Sam Jones on bass, Hank Jones on piano and some dude named Miles Davis on trumpet.
It was closer than it should have been, but director Howard Hawks and Red River (1948) came out on top of director Henry Hathaway and True Grit (1969) by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent in the BCB Winter Western Classic. I suppose John Wayne and a director with the initials H.H. were going to win either way. But while I thought Red River should have won because I think Red River is close to a masterpiece, I understand why True Grit got so many votes. That’s a very good movie and a real crowd pleaser, even if I think the Coen Brothers remake is better. There are also a few flaws to Red River and some of you admitted that you had trouble adjusting to John Wayne playing the villain, even if the movie sort of redeems him in the end.
So Red River was the last Western to take the field in the classic. From now on, every film that we vote on will have won at least one round. And we start out with director George Stevens and Shane (1953), which beat Vera Cruz (1954), directed by Robert Aldrich in the very first matchup of the tourney. Shane will face off against director Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), one of the seminal films of the “New Hollywood” movement. The Wild Bunch beat director Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur (1953) in the first round.
Shane (1953). #5 seed. Directed by George Stevens. Starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur and Van Heflin.
As I’ve said before, I’m not going to rewrite an essay for every film as it advances to the next round. I guess I’m expected to start writing about prospects like yesterday, and re-doing everything would get in the way. So here’s what I wrote before on Shane.
“Come back, Shane!” That’s one of the most famous endings to a movie ever. It’s been endlessly copied and endlessly parodied. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’re probably familiar with that ending.
But Shane is a lot more than just its ending. While some of the plot elements seem cliché today, you’ve got to remember that’s just because so many lesser storytellers copied it. A stranger with a mysterious past rides onto a Wyoming farm and sticks around because of a brewing war between the ranchers and the farmers. (This is the basic outline of the Johnson County War, which was also the backdrop of the The Virginian. That’s the 1902 novel by Owen Wister, which is usually considered the first serious Western novel.) The farmers in Shane are generally no match for the ranchers, but Shane’s dark past is clearly full of violence that he’s trying to leave behind. After Shane makes a fool out of the ranchers in a barroom brawl, they call for a mysterious gunfighter (Jack Palance) to try to even out the odds.
In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this would be routine stuff. But Stevens elevates this into a classic. First of all, the film is gorgeous, shot in color on location in Wyoming. This one one of the biggest budget Westerns ever made. And Stevens is able to effectively contrast the beauty of the Wyoming landscape with the muddy, wooden cabins where the farms try to eke out a meager living. Cinematographer Loyal Griggs won an Oscar for his work on Shane and deservedly so.
In his review of the film as part of his “Great movies” series, critic Roger Ebert emphasized the psychological aspect of Shane. The short, pretty-boy Ladd plays Shane as a tormented soul. This is a man who has seen death and is haunted by it. When confronted by the ranchers, he has this pained look that yet another man has made the fatal mistake of underestimating him.
But Ebert stresses the psychodrama of Shane’s relationship with the Starrett family: Joe (Van Heflin), Marian (Jean Arthur) and little Joey (Brandon deWilde). This is the kind of domesticity that Shane longs for. And while Joe is a honest, hardworking farmer, both Marian and Joey are immediately attracted to this mysterious stranger. Marian is drawn to his good looks and the promise of a life away from a struggling farm. Joey immediately falls into hero worship, seeing Shane as the exciting gunfighter that his boring father isn’t. Shane could easily maneuver Joe into getting killed in this war and then Shane could replace Joe in the Starrett family. Shane is far too honorable and he likes Joe too much to do that. But you can see in Ladd’s face that Shane wishes it were otherwise. And maybe Marian and Joey wish it were otherwise as well. That give Shane a much different dimension than most of these “stranger rides into town” films.
It should also be noted that Shane was the great Jean Arthur’s final movie and the only one she ever made in color. It seems ironic that someone who became famous playing smart-talking city working girls would finish playing a wife on the frontier, but she did have experience playing in oaters, especially in the silent era. Arthur had retired years before Shane was made and she agreed to do the film as a favor to Stevens. (She would later return to the stage and did a little television, but she never did act in a movie again.)
Shane also has Elisha Cook Jr. in a smaller supporting role as one of the farmers who stands up to the ranchers with poor results. Any film with Cook in it gets extra credit in my book.
Besides winning for Color Cinematography, Shane was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for both Jack Palance and Brandon deWilde.
I do have a different trailer than the one that I featured last time. This one really captures the beauty of the film.
The Wild Bunch (1969). #11 seed. Directed by Sam Peckinpah. Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan.
My earlier essay on The Wild Bunch.
This is the film that earned Peckinpah the nickname “Bloody Sam.” The Wild Bunch is a revisionist Western that, rather than showing the beauty of the frontier and the gallantry of the men and women who lived there, shows the West to be dirty, ugly and filled with flawed and unlikeable people. He intended for people to be revulsed by the raw, graphic violence of The Wild Bunch and honestly, by extension, the raw and graphic violence that was being beamed into homes on the nightly news reports from Vietnam. It wasn’t until later that Peckinpah realized that many people were actually attracted to that violence. Oops.
The Wild Bunch takes place in 1913 on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border. Like Peckinpah’s earlier film Ride the High Country (and don’t worry, we’re getting to that one), he’s interested in showing the end of the West and the coming of a new order. But unlike John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance from just seven years earlier, Peckinpah doesn’t see the new “civilization” to be an improvement. The new generation is even more violent and even more criminal. He illustrates this at the very beginning of the film by a scene where children are delighted by watching a horde of ants devour a scorpion. That’s a theme to the film, in case you weren’t paying attention.
William Holden plays Pike, an aging outlaw who wants to pull off one last job before retiring. Ernest Borgnine plays Dutch, his loyal, but more cynical, second-in-command and best friend. The gang is being chased by a posse, hired by the railroad. The posse is led by Thornton, played by Robert Ryan. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Thornton had previously been a member of Pike’s gang, but a series of mishaps and betrayals led to Thornton having been captured, imprisoned and tortured. He’s been let out of prison only on the condition he hunts down his former gang—dead or alive.
Pike’s gang robs a bank in South Texas. That turns out to be a trap set up by Thornton. A bloody shootout ensues, where about half of Pike’s gang and dozens of innocent civilians get killed. That sends what’s left of Pike’s gang down to Mexico to flee Thornton and hopefully find one last score.
In Mexico, they find themselves smack dab in the middle of the Mexican Revolution. The gang encounter the thoroughly-rotten Federales General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), who hires the gang to rob a US Army supply train. He wants the job done to supply his troops with the weapons and ammunition to put down Pancho Villa and the rest of the Mexican revolutionaries. Pike accepts the job out of desperation, but Thornton is still hot on his trail.
Also Angel (Jaime Sánchez), one of Pike’s surviving men, is a Mexican sympathetic to the revolutionaries’ cause. He wants to give at least some of the guns to the rebels.
The movie is about the code of honor that these old outlaws—Pike and Thornton—still live by and how men like Mapache and the railroad baron who hires Thornton care nothing about. But Peckinpah even portrays that old nobility as flawed. Pike and Thornton’s code certainly allows for robbing and killing when the circumstances justify them. Even the murder of innocent civilians is OK as long as it couldn’t be avoided.
The old order is doomed, of course. Without revealing too much, Pike, Dutch and their gang are riding a sinking ship. They think that they can make it to shore before drowning, but any outside observer, including the audience, knows that isn’t going to happen.
What stood out to audiences at the time (and even to audiences today) is the violence. The film was highly controversial when it came out. Roger Ebert tells of watching the movie at a film festival before it was released to the general public. One critic asked Peckinpah and Holden at a press conference why the film was ever made. Ebert stood up and called it a masterpiece. But Ebert wasn’t even sure that Holden agreed.
In oh so many Westerns that we have looked at this winter, when a man gets shot, he falls to the floor. There’s no blood or anything. Not so in The Wild Bunch. When someone gets shot in this picture, blood flies everywhere. It sticks to their clothing and their faces. It’s ugly, and it’s meant to be.
Not only is it ugly, it’s often in slow-motion. The editing of the battle scenes in The Wild Bunch was revolutionary at the time. There are lots of quick cuts from all kinds of angles, with guns firing everywhere and the audience is lost in the chaos. That is, until, someone takes a bullet. Then the film slows down to slow motion as we watch the blood spurt out of their chest or wherever. It’s a ballet of violence.
So now it’s time to vote. And yes, considering how close the last two contests have been, these choices are getting harder and harder.
Shane or The Wild Bunch?
This poll is closed
The Wild Bunch
I’m not finding either film on any streaming service at the moment, but both are available for rent and they aren’t expensive. And maybe can find them somewhere. You have until Monday to vote.
Up next is one truly tough choice. It’s director George Roy Hill and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) taking on director Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959). I hope you watched Butch Cassidy when it was on Max last month because it’s gone now. I’m sure you’d rather watch a fine masterpiece like “90 Day Fiancé” instead. But both films are available to rent and perhaps you can find a video somewhere on the internet.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
OK, this is what I’m reduced to. Bruce Levine in his radio spot earlier today named three free agent relievers that the Cubs are reportedly interested in. One of them is Robert Stephenson, and I’m sure about 90 percent of you would love to have Stephenson on the Cubs next year.
So that wouldn’t make a very good poll question. Instead, I’m going to ask you about the other two right-handed relievers that he named, Ryne Stanek and Adam Ottavino. Which one would you rather the Cubs sign?
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. Neither Stanek or Ottavino is a “sexy” signing. Maybe they would have been back in 2018 or 2019, but both of them are aging relievers whose best days are behind them. Stanek is 32 and Ottavino is 38.
However, just because they are no longer in their prime, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t still be good. The last two seasons, Ottavino has had an ERA of 2.06 and 3.21, although his underlying numbers aren’t quite so good. He had 12 saves with the Mets last year. He still strikes out a batter an inning. His biggest issue last year was that Ottavino’s walk numbers reverted to something closer to his career norms (11.1%) , after his walk percentage dropped to 6.2 percent in 2022.
Stanek is a lot younger and throws a lot harder. His four-seam fastball averaged 98.2 mph compared to Ottavino’s 93.4. But Stanek wasn’t nearly as good in 2023. With the Astros, he had an ERA of 4.09. But that’s after an impressive 1.15 ERA in 2022. The biggest, but not the only, difference between Stanek’s 2022 and 2023 seasons was that his HR/FB ratio jumped from 3.8% to 10.4%. Those numbers are generally considered to be highly-variable for relievers and very luck-dependent. On the other hand, the 10.4 percent was a lot closer to his career norms, so maybe he was just lucky in 2022.
But even with that higher ERA, Stanek still had better strikeout and walk rates than Ottavino in 2023. But Ottavino is a ground ball pitcher, which fits in better with the Cubs’ infield defense.
Let’s be clear. Signing Stanek or Ottavino would not prevent the Cubs from signing anyone else. These are moves for someone to pitch the sixth and seventh innings, not the eighth or ninth. They’re depth acquisitions. They won’t command big salaries.
So, which reliever would you rather the Cubs sign? Honestly, they probably could afford both of them, but I am going to make you choose. There doesn’t seem to be much point in the Cubs signing two seventh-inning right-handers. But you can vote “neither” if you want.
Adam Ottavino or Ryne Stanek?
This poll is closed
Thank you to everyone who stopped by this week. A special thank you goes out to everyone who commented and voted. Get home safely. Stay warm. Tip the waitstaff. We hope you’ll tell your friends about us. And join us again on Monday for more BCB After Dark.