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BCB After Dark: Pick your southpaw

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if you’d rather have Jordan Montgomery or Shōta Imanaga play for the Cubs next year.

World Baseball Classic Championship: United States v Japan Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

It’s a new year here at BCB After Dark: the grooviest get-together for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We hope your new year is off to a great start. Ours is since you arrived. It’s cold outside but it’s warm in here. There’s no cover charge this evening. Grab any available table. 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 week I asked you if you thought Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki would finish in the top ten in MVP voting in 2024. The vote was extremely close, but by a margin of 51 percent to 49, you said “no.”

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.


Last September, saxophonist Joshua Redman released Where Are We, an album full of songs about places in America. So I thought I feature his tribute to Chicago, the greatest city in the world. (Cheap applause from the crowd.) This is “Chicago Blues,” which is a mashup of Count Basie’s “Going to Chicago” and Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.”

Gabrielle Cavassa is on vocals, Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Brian Blade on drums. This was recorded live in studio in . . . New Orleans. Oh well, no one is perfect.


You voted in the BCB Winter Western Classic last year and you picked A Fistful of Dollars over McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Fistful won with 70 percent of the vote, which just goes to show you that even seventy percent of you can be wrong. OK, it’s really my fault for not seeding McCabe & Mrs. Miller higher, because there’s no doubt that A Fistful of Dollars is a pretty good movie. It’s just that McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a great one. But I know how to take accept a loss and move on with dignity and respect. I’m a Cubs fan, after all.

Tonight is the final matchup of the first round of our tournament. The #16 seed, Johnny Guitar takes on our #17 seed, Ride the High Country. The winner of this contest will face off against the number-one seed, The Searchers.

Johnny Guitar (1954) #16 seed. Directed by Nicholas Ray. Starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden and Mercedes McCambridge.

There had never been a Western like Johnny Guitar when it was made and to tell the truth, there has never really been another one like it. Joan Crawford had bought the rights to the novel Johnny Guitar by Roy Chanslor with the intention of starring in the movie. The problem, of course, is that Johnny Guitar is a man, so she had the story changed around to make the Vienna, the saloon owner, the main character and reduced the title character, played by Sterling Hayden, to a sidekick role. On the other hand, of Crawford’s character Vienna, one of her employees comments that he’d “Never seen a woman who was more of a man. She thinks like one, acts like one and sometimes makes me feel like I’m not.”

Director Ray then turned the plot into the kind of psychological/sexual drama that he was famous for with In a Lonely Place and later on with Rebel Without a Cause.

Johnny Guitar is a former lover of Vienna’s, whom she has hired to perform at her currently-empty saloon and casino in the middle of nowhere. But her real motives are to reconnect with her former beau and use him as protection. You see, Johnny Guitar used to be a feared gunfighter named Johnny Logan, but he’s given up the gun for the guitar. We eventually discover the reason: Johnny has a bad case of PTSD and is seen firing with blood in his eyes at the first sound of gunfire.

Vienna’s saloon is currently empty, but she knows that the railroad is coming right past her in a few months. At that point, the saloon should be a goldmine. However, the railroad (and Vienna) is opposed by a group of cattle barons led by Emma (McCambridge). Things come to a head when Emma’s brother is killed in a stagecoach robbery. Emma is convinced The Dancing Kid (a current lover of Vienna) and his gang killed her brother, She leads a posse into the saloon determined to hang The Dancing Kid (Scott Brady) and Vienna, if she doesn’t turn him over. The Dancing Kid proclaims his innocence. There’s also a love triangle going on here between Vienna, The Dancing Kid and Emma. Emma is furious that the Dancing Kid has left her for Vienna.

Johnny manages to defuse this confrontation with some guitar playing—which, ironically, is the only time anyone in the movie plays any music. You’d think a movie called “Johnny Guitar” would be a musical, but you’d be wrong. There’s not even one full song.

What makes Johnny Guitar so different is the relationship between the enemies of Vienna and Emma. While Vienna talks fondly of her affairs with Johnny and The Dancing Kid, the real relationship is between her and Emma. Mercedes McCambridge was not a lesbian, but she was often cast as one and her performance as Emma clearly gives off that vibe. Emma’s anger at Vienna seems more directed as a woman scorned by her rather than by The Dancing Kid. Crawford and McCambridge also very much disliked each other personally, and Vienna’s sneering and Emma’s spittle seem all the more real because of it.

And that relationship—between Vienna and Emma—is what makes Johnny Guitar so fascinating. The film is also makes a statement about the way women are treated in society. Vienna is a saloon owner. Emma is a cattle baron. (Note: not “baroness.”) With the exception of The Dancing Kid and his gang, everyone in this film is pretty much at the beck and call of one of them. Yet Vienna complains that she’s held to a different standard as a woman and Emma complains that she’s always having to do everything the men won’t do.

In the end, Johnny Guitar features a old-fashioned gunfight showdown between two women. You aren’t going to find that in any other Western of the period.

In addition to the feminism, there’s some sneaky anti-blacklist commentary in the film in the way the mob wants to hang The Dancing Kid without a trial. While Philip Yordan got credit for the screenplay, Yordan was just a front for the blacklisted Ben Maddow. (Yordan may have made some contributions to the script. It’s unclear.) The script crackles with great lines throughout. The plot may be kind of preposterous, but you don’t easily notice because you get so caught up performances and the great dialog.

Johnny Guitar was a Republic Pictures movie, which was a studio that was just one small step above the “Poverty Row” studios. So this isn’t a big-budget picture with a lot of gorgeous outdoor set pieces. Most of the film is interiors inside Vienna’s saloon or The Dancing Kid’s hideout. While the film is in color, the Trucolor process is okay but clearly inferior to the big budget Technicolor films of the era. Still, Joan Crawford has a great wardrobe with several costume changes. They spent some money on that.

Critics and audiences of 1954 didn’t know what to make of Johnny Guitar and pretty much just dismissed it. Its reputation has only grown since then. In the most-recent Sight and Sound poll of the greatest films of all-time, Johnny Guitar checks in at number 122.

Here’s the trailer for Johnny Guitar. You get some sense of the dialog here, as well as some of Joan Crawford’s costume changes. Also, Mercedes McCambridge’s seething villain dressed in black is in here too.

Ride the High Country (1962) #17 seed. Directed by Sam Peckinpah. Starring Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and Mariette Hartley.

When I wrote about Ride the High Country last year, I called it a “transitional” Western that had one foot in the “classics” of the studio system and another one stepping towards the “New Hollywood” that started in the late-1960s. And certainly you can see some similarities between Ride the High Country and Peckinpah’s later film The Wild Bunch, which we voted into the second round a few weeks ago. Both are concerned about the closing of the West. Both portray the West as brutal and something less than glamorous. And both are a lot more graphic in their depiction of violence than what we are generally used to. Of course, in 1962 Peckinpah was able to break taboos by showing a little blood when people got shot whereas in 1969, The Wild Bunch sprayed the blood everywhere.

Joel McCrea plays Steve Judd, a very traditional kind of Western hero that Scott had played many times before in Hollywood. But like McCrea, Judd is an aging man whom the times seemingly was passing by. He rides into town and the townspeople have all come out, screaming and cheering, to see him come in. Except Judd quickly discovers that they haven’t come out to see him, but rather to see the finish of a crooked camel versus horse race. And they are only yelling at him to get off the street.

Judd has been hired by a local bank to go to a local mining camp and carry a shipment of gold back safely from the mountains. In one of the better beats of the film, Steve excuses himself to read the contract in private before he signs it. We then discover that he did that so that the bankers don’t discover that he needs reading glasses.

Judd discovers an old friend in Gil Westrum (Scott) in town at the festival, making a meager living telling tall tales about his life the (even older) West. Judd asks Gil and his sidekick Heck (Ron Starr) to help him with the job for a share of the contract.

Gil, however, would rather just rob the gold shipment than get paid for the job. Gil and Heck accompany Judd with the intention of robbing him on the way back home.

On the way up, however, the three men stop for the night at the home of an old farmer Joshua Knudson (R.G. Anderson) and his daughter Elsa (Hartley). The farmer is a strict religious man who still keeps his now-adult daughter under tight control, pretty much never letting her leave the farm. However, Elsa has fallen in love with one of the miners and decides to run away from her strict father to marry him at the camp. The three men don’t want Elsa riding along with them, but she gives them little choice.

There are a few things going on in Ride the High Country. The big one is the closing of the Old West and the fate of two gunfighters whom society doesn’t have much use for anymore. Judd, in turn, has little use for modern society and simply wants to get to the end of his life with his dignity intact. Gil, on the other hand, thinks that society owes him something for all those years he worked as a lawman with little thanks and less money. He doesn’t see anything wrong with robbing the gold shipment. He’s just taking what they should have given him earlier. Gil hopes to convince Judd to join him, but he doesn’t think that’s likely. Eventually, there is going to be a showdown between Judd and Gil.

The other thing going on is Elsa and the way that women are seen as a commodity in the West. First, her father treats her as his property and pays no mind to her desire for a life outside of his farm. Then, along the way, she starts to flirt with Heck, who takes that as permission to try to rape her. (Judd and Gil put an end to that before it gets too far along and Heck does apologize to Elsa.) Then, once Elsa gets to the mining camp to marry her beau Billy (James Drury), she quickly discovers that Billy and his four brothers share everything in their mining camp. That “sharing” extends out to any wives. Getting Elsa out of her marriage to Billy sets the second half of the film in motion.

This film was shot on location in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and veteran cinematographer Lucien Ballard makes it look gorgeous. This is a beautiful movie about some pretty ugly situations.

Other than the cinematography, the strongest part of this film is the relationship between Judd and Gil and the performances of McCrea and Scott. Hartley also makes her film debut here and does well to make more of a part that could just be a MacGuffin.

Here’s the trailer for Ride the High Country. If anything, you should get a good look at how pretty this film is.

Now it’s time to vote. You have until Wednesday to vote.

Poll

Johnny Guitar or Ride the High Country?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Johnny Guitar
    (23 votes)
  • 69%
    Ride the High Country
    (53 votes)
76 votes total Vote Now

I had mistakenly said that Johnny Guitar was leaving the Criterion Channel today. That’s wrong. You can still see it there if you’re a subscriber or for free on Pluto TV with ads. Ride the High Country isn’t available on any streaming service at the moment, but it’s a cheap rent on Amazon and I was able to find a copy of it streaming online.

The winner of this film takes on our top seed, The Searchers, on Wednesday. If you get TCM through a cable or satellite service, you can still watch The Searchers through the “Watch TCM” app or the TCM website.


Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

Honestly, I don’t know when Jed Hoyer is going to do something. I assume he’s in a staring match with Scott Boras right now and that it will end eventually, but I don’t know when. It will end when Cody Bellinger signs with the Cubs. Or it will end when Cody Bellinger signs with another team. At this point, however, I don’t know who other than the Cubs would sign him. That doesn’t mean that another team won’t jump in at some point.

So tonight, we’re going to play another game of “Would you rather?” There are two left-handed starters on the market that could be of interest to the Cubs. One of them is former Ranger Jordan Montgomery, and we covered the Cubs possible signing of Montgomery a few weeks ago. Most of you were in favor of it, although I haven’t seen many rumors connecting him to the Cubs.

Here’s part of what I wrote about Montgomery.

Montgomery was especially good after his trade to the Rangers at the deadline. He made 11 starts and went 4-2 with a 2.79 ERA. He only walked 13 batters in 67 2⁄3 innings and struck out 58. His results in the playoffs were mixed. He was terrific in the American League Championship Series against the Astros, giving up just two runs over 14 1⁄3 innings over two starts and a relief appearance. He was also the winning pitcher in Game 1 and in relief in Game 7 after bailing out Max Scherzer. You can’t ask for more than that.

Montgomery only made one start in the World Series against the Diamondbacks and he lost the only game the Rangers would lose in that five-game series, giving up four runs in 6+ innings. They probably shouldn’t sent him out for the seventh inning because he pitched well before then.

What Montgomery would offer the Cubs is a left-handed starter who gets ground balls and has averaged about 174 innings a year over the past three seasons.

The other lefty is one that I have seen connected to the Cubs, Japanese left-hander Shōta Imanaga. Al covered the Cubs’ interest in Imanaga a few weeks ago. Imanaga is a wild-card of sorts, having not pitched in MLB and he doesn’t have the same kind of stuff that Yoshinobu Yamamoto has. But he has been a very effective pitcher in NPB with a four-pitch mix. He’s got a 91-to-94 mile per hour fastball with good movement and a really good splitter. He also throws a curve and a slider. Last year in NPB, he made 22 starts and went 7-4 with a 2.80 ERA. He struck out 174 batters in 148 innings and showed excellent control with just 20 unintentional walks.

Imanaga sounds a lot like the Mets’ Kodai Senga to me. I’ll leave it to NPB experts to compare the two pitchers, but even if Senga is a bit better than Imanaga, someone who is 90% of Senga is someone who could be a real help to the Cubs.

I don’t know what the market for the two pitchers is, but I’m thinking that when you add in the posting fee to Imanaga, the total cost of both Montgomery and Imanaga will be roughly the same. (The posting fee doesn’t count towards the luxury tax, however.) Montgomery is roughly eight months older than Imanaga and about eight inches taller than the 5’10” Imanaga. Montgomery has consistently made more starts and thrown more innings each year in his career than Imanaga. Japanese teams generally go with six-man rotations, so there could be an adjustment period for Imanaga there.

Imanaga did start the final of the 2023 World Baseball Classic against Team USA. He allowed one run on a Trea Turner home run and four hits over two innings. He struck out two and walked no one.

So tonight’s question is: Which player would you rather the Cubs sign? Jordan Montgomery or Shōta Imanaga? Budget concerns rule out “both” as an answer, but I’ll let you vote for “neither.”

Poll

Which pitcher would you rather the Cubs sign?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Jordan Montgomery
    (142 votes)
  • 30%
    Shōta Imanaga
    (69 votes)
  • 6%
    Neither!
    (14 votes)
225 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so very much for stopping by. We hope you’ve gotten the new year off right. Please stay warm out there. Get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.