It’s another Monday night here at BCB After Dark: the grooviest hot spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re so glad to see you again tonight. Whether you are new or a regular, you’re alway welcome. Come on in out of the cold. There’s no cover charge this evening. There are a few tables still available. 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 where Ian Happ should rank among major league left fielders. Fifty percent of you believe that Happ is among the fourth- through sixth-best left fielders in the game at the moment. I don’t pretend that any of you are unbiased, but it seems like your opinion is more valid than the MLB Network’s on this.
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.
I felt a little funky this evening, so tonight we are featuring a performance from keyboardist Herbie Hancock for German television in 1974. This is “Chameleon” off of Hancock’s seminal album of jazz fusion, Head Hunters.
You voted in the BCB Winter Western Classic and in the showdown of John Ford/John Wayne pictures, you picked the original Stagecoach over the beautiful cinematography of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon by a 71 percent to 29 percent margin.
Tonight we have our final matchup of the second round. Our number-eight seed, director Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West faces off against the number-nine seed, director Anthony Mann’s Winchester ‘73. This is another one that I don’t want to have to break a tie on. The winner of this matchup gets the unenviable task of taking on the number-one seed, The Searchers, in the third round.
As usual, I’m not going to write an entirely new essay for the films of the second round. (I’m kind of busy this week anyway.) But I will reprint what I wrote the first time these films were up for a vote.
Once Upon A Time in The West (1968). #8 seed. Directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards and Charles Bronson.
After directing the “Dollars Trilogy,” also known as the “Man With No Name Trilogy” with Clint Eastwood, Italian director Sergio Leone had no interest in doing any more Westerns. The movie he wanted to make next was what eventually became Once Upon A Time in America in 1984. But the “Dollars Trilogy” was a huge hit and Hollywood was calling. They wanted him to do another Western and were offering him a lot of money. They also made promises that he could make in America next. So Leone relented and enlisted Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci to come up with a story that was a meditation about the relationship of the Western to the actual Old West, Once Upon A Time in the West.
Once Upon a Time in the West stars Claudia Cardinale as Jill McBain, a former New Orleans prostitute who is now the new bride of a widower with a small piece of land in the Arizona desert. But before she can get reach the ranch, the man and his three kids are all ruthlessly murdered by Frank (Henry Fonda) and his men. Frank takes care after the murder to plant evidence that ties to the killings to a rival outlaw gang led by Cheyenne (Jason Robards).
Before any of this happens in the film, three of Frank’s men meet a mysterious harmonica-playing stranger (Charles Bronson) at the train station. They have the following exchange:
Harmonica: Did you bring a horse for me?
Snaky: Well. . .Looks like we’re . . .looks like we’re shy one horse.
Harmonica: You brought two too many.
At which point all four men draw. All four men are shot, but only Harmonica comes out of the duel alive.
Unlike “The Man With No Name Trilogy,” where Clint Eastwood’s characters actually have names in all three movies, Bronson’s character in Once Upon A Time in the West is never given a name. He’s referred to as “Harmonica” in the script, but when he’s asked his name, he gives the names of men previously murdered by Frank. We don’t discover Harmonica’s motivations—or even whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy—until late in the movie.
The big question in Once Upon a Time in the West is why would Frank (or anyone, for that matter) murder this small family living in the middle of nowhere? In the case of Frank, Leone worked against type to cast the traditional “good guy” Henry Fonda as a cold, psychopathic killer. Fonda had to be convinced by his good friend Eli Wallach, from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, to take the part. Even then, he went out and got brown contact lenses so he could better play the villain. Leone told him to take them out. He wanted the audience to stare into Fonda’s deep blue eyes before Frank gunned down a child.
That’s a common theme in Leone films: contrast. The contrast when an extreme wide shot that then gets replaced with an extreme close-up. Or the contrast between quiet and loud. Or what we’re expecting out of a Western and what he’s putting on the screen. Leone did this in the “Dollars Trilogy,” but he takes it to another level in Once Upon a Time. At one point, the entire screen gets taken up by nothing but a closeup of Charles Bronson’s eyes.
Once Upon a Time in the West plays with our expectations of a Western. A scene at a train station echoes a similar one in High Noon, but whereas the station in High Noon is a clean wooden building with decorative trim, the one in Once Upon a Time in the West has clearly been slapped together with old wood that was found lying around. (Literally true. They used old wood that Orson Welles had recently used in filming Chimes at Midnight.) In fact, the whole town looks incomplete and like it could fall apart at any moment.
The film is full of little twisted homages to classic Westerns. (Johnny Guitar is a big one as well—but with a harmonica instead of a guitar.) But Leone played one homage straight. While most of the film, like his previous films, was shot in Italy and Spain, Leone couldn’t resist having Claudia Cardinale’s trip to the ranch go along the same route in Arizona’s Monument Valley that John Ford used in Stagecoach. It’s a beautiful scene.
Once Upon a Time in the West is a symphony of violence. There are lots of slow, quiet moments where not much happens. The only sound you hear is the creaking of doors or footsteps. But then it will explode into a loud, graphic violence. Some people have criticized the film for this and Paramount cut about 20 minutes of it from the original American release. But those slow periods are part of the fabric of the story. As proof, the film was a box office bomb in the US and a big hit with the full version in Europe.
As far as the symphony goes, you can’t mention Once Upon a Time in the West without mentioning the Ennio Morricone musical score. The score that Morricone did for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly gets all the attention, but his score for Once Upon a Time is just as great. The major characters all get their own leitmotif, announcing their presence.
The trailer for Once Upon a Time in the West.
Winchester ‘73. Directed by Anthony Mann. Starring James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea and Stephen McNally.
It’s hard to believe it in retrospect, but James Stewart’s career had hit a lull in 1950. Stewart’s career hadn’t really recovered from his stint in the military. Some of his films that today that we consider classics, It’s a Wonderful Life and Rope, for example, were considered critical and box office disappointments at the time. So Stewart set out to remake his image with director Anthony Mann. Stewart made eight movies with Mann and generally, Mann tried to stretch Stewart’s acting range. The characters that Stewart played in Mann’s pictures were generally much darker and tormented than the characters he had played earlier.
The first film Stewart and Mann made together was Winchester ’73 in 1950. Stewart plays Lin McAdam, a man obsessed with killing the man who killed his father, “Dutch” Henry Brown (Stephen McNally). He heads to Dodge City on the Centennial because he’s convinced, correctly, as it turns out, that Brown will be there.
The Winchester 1873 rifle was “the gun that won the West,” according to both popular lore and the Winchester company’s marketing campaign. But part of that marketing was that each rifle was tested and certain guns would score in the top 0.1% for the consistency of their grouping when fired. Such super-accurate rifles were termed the “One in a Thousand” Winchesters and were given special status. To celebrate the Centennial, Dodge City is having a shooting contest with one of these “One in a Thousand” Winchesters as first prize. Henry Brown is in Dodge City to win that rifle. Lin also enters the contest, of course.
After several rounds of shooting, Lin and Henry and the only two contestants left for the gun. Lin eventually comes out on top, but Henry and his men soon thereafter jump Lin, steal the gun and hightail it out of Dodge. Lin and his companion Frankie (Millard Mitchell) follow in pursuit, but Henry and his men have quite the head start with the gun.
As you might have guessed, the gun is a MacGuffin, and a cursed one at that. It’s not literally cursed by a demon or a witch or something. It’s not that kind of picture. But basically bad stuff happens to anyone who possesses the gun because other people are willing to do anything to get their hands on it and the people who want the gun are generally not nice people. Henry quickly loses possession of the gun (and all his money) in a poker match with an Indian trader. The trader loses the gun (and more than that) to a Native War Party, and so on and so on. All the while, Henry tries to get the gun back and Lin follows Henry’s path to avenge his father’s death. Eventually, we learn Lin and Henry’s backstory and the two have their final showdown.
Clearly, this is an incredible cast. Dan Duryea plays “Waco” Johnny Dean, an outlaw who comes into possession of the gun at one point. Johnny is planning to meet up with “Dutch” Henry to pull off a job. He’s basically playing the same violent, misogynistic psychopath that he played in all those film noirs of the period. Stewart rises to the occasion of playing a good guy with a violent, obsessive dark side and McNally is a believable villain who doesn’t overplay things. (No mustache twirling here!) Shelley Winters is a bit wasted here as a bar girl who gets kicked out of Dodge and ends up becoming the forced companion of Duryea’s character. But Winters was a pretty great actress when she was young and she makes the most of what little she has to do.
(It seems like poor Duryea had to abuse a woman in every film he was ever in. I have read that he was actually a very nice man in real life, married to the same woman for 35 years until his death. He was a very good actor.)
For those of you who like to see big stars before they became famous, Winchester ’73 has minor roles for Tony Curtis as a cavalry soldier and Rock Hudson in redface as an Indian brave
The trailer for Winchester ‘73.
So now it’s time to vote.
Once Upon a Time in the West or Winchester ‘73?
This poll is closed
Once Upon a Time in the West
You have until Wednesday evening to vote. If you didn’t watch the films the first time, Once Upon a Time in the West is available for streaming for free with ads on the Pluto channel. Winchester ‘73 is available on Starz, or there’s this copy on YouTube.
Up next is the first matchup of our third round. Howard Hawks directs John Wayne, Montgomery Clift and Joanne Dru in 1948’s Red River. It takes on Shane (1953), directed by George Stevens and starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur and Van Heflin. Red River is on MGM+ and Tubi, Pluto and the Roku Channel with ads. Shane is available through the Watch TCM app if you get TCM channel. Of course, all of these films are available for rental.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
Jon Morosi of the MLB Network reported this morning that free agent Justin Turner is nearing a decision of which team to play for next. And on that point, Morosi wrote this:
Justin Turner’s free-agent decision is increasingly likely to occur this week.@redturn2’s market is helped by the fact that multiple large-market teams — Giants, Mets, Blue Jays, Cubs — are looking to add an impact corner infielder. @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 29, 2024
Now this seems to be a little more than mere speculation and a little bit less than an inside scoop by Morosi. So there may or may not be some fire behind that smoke.
But since Morosi brought it up, what is your take on the Cubs signing Justin Turner? A few years ago, it would have been a no-brainer. The Cubs are in the market for an upgrade at third base and Turner was an at least average defensive third baseman who hit a ton. Yes, he’s right-handed, but Turner hasn’t had much of a platoon split between right-handers and left-handers over the course of his career. Last year he hit lefties better, but in other seasons he was better against right-handed pitching.
But nowadays Turner really isn’t a third baseman anymore. He can play there in a pinch, but he’s mostly a first baseman/DH at this point. But he can still hit. Even though Turner turned 39 in November, he hit .276/.345/.455 over 146 games for the Red Sox. He had 31 doubles and 23 triples. If you care about RBI, he drove in 96 runs. Despite serving mostly as a DH last year, Turner had a WAR of 2.1.
The other advantage of Turner is that at 39, he’ll take a one-year deal, probably in the $10 to $12 million range. If he doesn’t hit, he can be released mid-season and the only thing the Cubs would be out would be money.
Turner also has a reputation as a good clubhouse guy and he could be a good mentor to some of the younger players on the Cubs for a year.
So, what would you think of the Cubs signing free agent Justin Turner?
Should the Cubs sign Justin Turner?
This poll is closed
I probably know how the vote on this is going to go, but Jed isn’t giving me a lot to work with.
Thank you so much for stopping by this evening. We’ve enjoyed having you here. We hope you’ve enjoyed your time as well. Please recycle any cans and bottles you may have brought. Get home safely. Stay warm out there. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow night for more BCB After Dark.