It’s another week here at BCB After Dark: the swingingest spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Please come on in out of the weather. It’s warm and dry in here. There’s no cover charge this evening. Let us take your coat for you. 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 which less-heralded free agent relief pitcher you would rather have for the Cubs: Ryne Stanek or Adam Ottavino. Fifty percent of you would like to see the Cubs sign Stanek and only 18 percent wanted Ottavino. The rest of you said that you wanted neither pitcher.
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.
The versatile singer Marlena Shaw died at age 81 over the weekend. Shaw was best known for her pop songs, mostly for her version of the Ashford & Simpson-penned song “California Soul.” Shaw’s version went mostly unnoticed when it was released in 1969 but has become a standard in the 21st Century thanks to sampling by hip-hop producers and its use in TV commercials. I certainly prefer Shaw’s version of that song to the version that was a minor hit for the 5th Dimension the year previous. And while the 5th Dimension’s arrangement was quite different as a group harmony, anytime I can say someone did a better job on a song than Marilyn McCoo? That woman is going to earn my respect.
But Shaw was primarily a jazz singer. So to pay tribute to her, here is her 1997 version of the Thelonious Monk standard “‘Round Midnight.”
There was another reasonably tight contest last week in the BCB Winter Western Classic. But the #5 seed Shane held serve over the #12 seed The Wild Bunch with 56 percent of the vote. I thought that maybe enough of you were annoyed with the kid in Shane to vote for The Wild Bunch. But in the end, the classic starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur and Van Heflin was too good for the majority of you not to vote for.
I have one request for this week’s vote between the #6 seed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the #22 seed Rio Bravo. Please do let this vote end in a tie and make me have to cast the tie-breaking vote. I’ve already said that I ranked Rio Bravo way too low. It’s a tightly-edited film with an appealing cast. It’s not great art, but it’s extremely entertaining.
The same could be said for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is, in part, responsible for the creation of the “buddy flick” in Hollywood. Also, when I was a little kid, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” was my favorite song. It was one of the first 45s I ever got and we sang the song in my music class in elementary school. The soundtrack to this film doesn’t bother me at all. I love it.
As always, I’m not going to repeat my previous essays on the films. My prospect list is already past due. I don’t need to spend more time on a baseball site writing about film than I do about baseball.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) #6 seed. Directed by George Roy Hill. Starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross.
“Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head/But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red”
You could consider Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to be the last great old Hollywood Western, or you could consider it to be the first great buddy action-comedy. The “New Hollywood” that emerged out of the wreckage of the old studio system was well underway by 1969, and Butch Cassidy certainly owed a lot ot Bonnie and Clyde. But it also has a much lighter tone than the other “New Hollywood” films of the late-1960s and that owes something to traditional studio Westerns like Rio Bravo.
The big difference in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with the lighter oaters of yesteryear was that the heroes of this film are the outlaws. But they are charming bank and train robbers—especially Paul Newman’s Butch, who is the talkative and gregarious one of the two. Redford’s Sundance is more the strong silent type, but he does serve a role in that he rolls his eyes at some some of Butch’s more outlandish ideas.
Butch tries to make friends with the people he robs. He admits halfway through the film that he’s never shot a man. There were Westerns made under the studio system with sympathetic outlaws, but only if they became heroes and renounce their old criminal ways. Butch and Sundance are heroes because they are outlaws and not in spite of it.
Honestly, there’s a bit of Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple going on between Butch and Sundance. There was an appetite for adult male friendships in movies in the late-sixties.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the reasonably-true-for-Hollywood story of two outlaws from “The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang” who rob banks and trains until the head of the Union Pacific Railroad gets sick of his trains being held up and hires a posse to hunt them down until they’re captured or dead. That forces them, along with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta Place (Katharine Ross) to flee to Bolivia where they try to go straight but end up on the wrong side of the law again, basically because being criminals is the only thing they’re good at.
One thing that struck me re-watching Butch Cassidy is how thin the plot actually is. I pretty much described all of it in the last paragraph. But its charm and enduring popularity is the product of the relationship between the leads and the breezy and clever dialog by screenwriter William Goldman, who won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. The scene where they fail to rob a bank in Bolivia because they don’t speak Spanish and they can’t make their demands understood is just one of several classic beats. The screenplay was criticized at the time for having the characters talk more like it was 1969 than 1899, but it’s a big part of the appeal of the film today.
It’s interesting that in the love triangle between Butch, Sundance and Etta, Etta is really the third wheel here. There’s no real hint of homosexuality between Butch and Sundance, but their male friendship is much more important to them than any woman who might come between them.
You also can’t talk about Butch Cassidy without mentioning the incredible Burt Bacharach musical score that goes far beyond the famous “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Again, the score at the time was criticized for being much more “Swingin’ Sixties” than Old West, but it’s a fabulous piece of music by one of the greatest American composers of all time.
I mention some of the criticisms because Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was not well-loved by the critics when it came out. Roger Ebert, for example, liked the first half, but thought a bad, self-indulgent second half brought it down. Other critics didn’t even like the first half. But audiences loved it—which is all the studio really cares about anyway—and in the decades since, most critics have come around to its charms.
As I said in the comments last time, we have no idea what happened to Etta Place or if that was even her real name. While it’s extremely unlikely, it’s possible that she actually saw Katharine Ross play her. She would have been around 90 years old when the film came out. It’s fun to think about.
Here’s the trailer again for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Rio Bravo (1959) #22 seed. Directed by Howard Hawks. Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson.
Director Howard Hawks hated High Noon. He didn’t think that a good sheriff would go around asking for help, nor did he think that the townspeople would refuse to help him. He also didn’t like the idea that Gary Cooper had to be bailed out by Grace Kelly. Nor did he like 3:10 to Yuma. He called the mind games played by Glenn Ford’s character in that film to be “a lot of nonsense.” So he set out to make a Western the way he felt should be done with heroes that acted the way that heroes were supposed to act.
If being a rejoinder to High Noon was the target of Rio Bravo, I think Hawks missed the bullseye. But fortunately, what he made was a terrifically-entertaining Western. Rio Bravo doesn’t ask a lot of questions of its audience, but it does deliver action and a lot of fun characters that you want to spend time with.
Dean Martin plays Dude, the town drunk who wanders into a bar, where he’s taunted by Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), who tosses a silver dollar into a spittoon. When Dude tries to reach in and get the dollar, Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne) kicks over the spittoon, starting a fight with Dude. After Dude flattens the surprised sheriff, Joe Burdette starts to beat up Dude. An unarmed bar patron (an uncredited Bing Russell, Kurt’s dad) tries to protect Dude and Joe shoots him dead. The sheriff, now recovered, arrests Joe Burdette for murder, since the dead man wasn’t armed.
Joe’s brother is the leader of the outlaw gang outside of town and has every intention of breaking his brother out of jail before the federal marshals can arrive to take him away to face justice. The sheriff only has the drunk Dude (who it turns out had been a deputy) and the elderly, one-legged and trigger-happy Stumpy (Walter Brennan), who, befitting his name, doesn’t move very well.
An old friend of Chance’s, Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond), arrives into town with a wagon train full of supplies and dynamite, heading for parts farther west. Wheeler stays and town and offers to help, but Chance tells him it’s too dangerous. Wheeler also recommends his new employee, Colorado (Ricky Nelson), whom Wheeler says is the best. Chance thinks Colorado is good enough to be of use, but Colorado isn’t interested in sticking his neck out to help a town he’s just passing through.
But when the Burdette gang find out that Wheeler is trying to put together a posse to help the sheriff protect Joe Burdette, they assassinate him. After that, Colorado decides he wants to help to avenge his former boss.
There’s one more member of this “gang” of heroes, a gambler who passes through town who goes by the name of Feathers (Dickinson). Chance wants to run Feathers out of town, but she decides to stay out of curiosity and because she’s got a thing for Chance, naturally.
So that’s our gang. A tough and wizened sheriff, a once-great deputy trying hard to sober up, a goofy, one-legged old man and a beautiful young card shark. Will they be able to hold out against the outlaws for six days until the marshals arrive? You probably know the answer to that already, but the fun is in seeing this ragtag band come together and what they have to do to accomplish their mission.
As I wrote above, Wayne has a tendency to just be “John Wayne” on screen during this period of his career. But luckily, that really works here. This isn’t a character dealing with past trauma or struggling with a moral dilemma. This is just a heroic sheriff who cares about his town and the good people in it. Martin has no trouble playing a drunk and he even rises to the occasion when he has to play the sobered-up hero. Nelson was the big teen idol at the time, but he could act well enough to handle this part. And Hawks make sure there’s a scene where the gang bides the time waiting for trouble to arrive by having both Martin and Nelson sing. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
But Angie Dickinson, in her first big role, steals the show despite not having a whole heck of a lot to do. Howard Hawks had a type of woman he wanted in his films—smart, fast-talking, witty, capable, but ultimately deferential to men. The “Hawksian Woman” is a well-known film archetype, best exemplified by Lauren Bacall. But Dickinson is the next-best thing to Bacall in Rio Bravo. She was 27 when she made this picture and looked even younger, but she gives the 51-year-old Wayne more than he gives her. Wayne will enter a scene and start yelling at her, but very quickly he gets this look on his face where he knows he’s not going to win this. The two even manage to make the romance between them seem somewhat believable.
The screenplay by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett deserves some special attention for the smart dialog and the way it keeps a 141 minute film moving along without any drab spots. Star Wars fans should recognize Brackett, as she wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back, finishing just days before dying of cancer.
Rio Bravo was shot in Technicolor, and recent restorations make it look great, But this film is mostly interiors and town streets, so don’t come looking for some glorious vistas of the American West.
Hawks loved Rio Bravo so much that he basically remade it twice with John Wayne—El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970). But the original is best. John Carpenter did a modern remake in Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).
To give you some more insight into Rio Bravo, here’s a video where New York Times film critic A.O. Scott praises the virtues of the film.
And here’s the trailer for Rio Bravo.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Rio Bravo?
This poll is closed
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
Th Cubs inactivity this winter has reduced me to doing something that I swore that I’d never do: talk about the Hall of Fame. Besides, my first thought for a poll question was something I discovered that I already did about a month ago.
I’ve grown tired of all the arguments about who belongs in the Hall and who doesn’t. I’ve discovered that it’s not really worth getting worked up about it. The historical record is the historical record and whether or not someone gets a plaque in an old museum in upstate New York doesn’t really make much of a difference to me. I know it does to the players involved and I do feel for them. But they aren’t really friends of mine and it’s no insult to me if my choices aren’t inducted.
The Hall of Fame is going to announce their 2024 induction class later today. Third baseman Adrián Beltré is a lock to go in and catcher Joe Mauer is very likely to. But there are two players on the border where the vote could go either way. One in reliever Billy Wagner. The other is slugger Gary Sheffield.
So tonight I’m going to ask you if you had a vote, would you vote for Wagner to get inducted into Cooperstown? Or would you vote for Sheffield? Both? Neither?
Which one of these players would you vote for to enter Cooperstown?
This poll is closed
Thanks for stopping by. It’s always good to get the week off to a good start. Please stay warm out there. Get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.