It’s the end of another week here at BCB After Dark: the coolest speakeasy for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in and join us. What’s the weather like out there? It’s nice and warm in here. Let us know if we can do anything for you. There are still a few good tables 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 night I asked you who, out of four candidates, would get the most starts for the Cubs in 2024? The vote wasn’t even close as Jordan Wicks ran away with the vote at 62 percent. Javier Assad was in second with just 19 percent.
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 we’re featuring a concert from last summer headlined by saxophonist Marcus Strickland. Charles Haynes is on drums, Kyle Miles plays bass and Mitch Henry plays keyboards and organ. The quartet plays four songs, all of which were written by Strickland.
You voted in the final matchup of the second round of the BCB Winter Western Classic it was a close one again. But director Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West beat out director Anthony Mann’s Winchester ‘73 by a margin of 53 percent to 47.
As we move on to the third round and the final eight films, the decisions are only going to get tougher. The bracket as we stand right now looks like this:
I can tell you like the works of the masters. Of the final eight films, there are two directed by John Ford (Stagecoach and The Searchers), two directed by Howard Hawks (Red River and Rio Bravo) and two directed by Sergio Leone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West.) The other two directors—George Stevens for Shane and Fred Zinnemann for High Noon-—are known more for dramas than Westerns, but both of them won two Oscars for Best Director. Stevens won for A Place in the Sun and Giant while Zinnemann won the Academy Award for From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons. And Giant is a Western, although it’s one set from the 1920s to the 1940s rather than the Old West.
I also noticed that all four matchups in the third round feature a film starring John Wayne against a film that doesn’t star him. That’s a complete coincidence.
So now we’re on to the third round. Tonight’s matchup is the number-four seed Red River (1948) which beat True Grit in the second round. It takes on Shane (1953), which advanced with victories over two films set mostly in Mexico—Vera Cruz and The Wild Bunch.
As I have been doing in the later rounds, I’m just going to repeat what I wrote earlier about these films. Maybe next week I can say a little more about these films, but I’m a little busy this week.
This is also a matchup of the final film to enter the tournament against the first one.
Red River (1948). Directed by Howard Hawks. Starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift and Joanne Dru.
According to Hawks, when fellow director John Ford saw Red River, he was so impressed with the performance of Ford’s frequent collaborator John Wayne that he told Hawks “I didn’t know the big son of a bitch could act!” Without Red River, so the belief goes, Ford would have never cast Wayne in the more challenging roles he played in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and, of course, The Searchers.
Red River also plays an important role in film history as Montgomery Clift’s first movie. Clift is widely considered to be the the first actor to come out of the Method School to hit Hollywood, opening the door to Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe and pretty much every big actor of the “New Hollywood” era of the sixties and seventies.
The plot of Red River is esentially Mutiny on the Bounty set on a cattle drive, with some added Freudian touches about the relationship between fathers and sons and the psychological need for the son to surpass the father. The message of the film unfortunately gets blunted by an ending tacked on to give American audiences a happy ending.
Red River is a fictionalized story of the opening of the Chisholm Trail after the Civil War. Wayne plays Thomas Dunson, a man traveling to California in 1851 with his herd of cattle and his sweetheart Fen (Coleen Gray). Dunson, along with his faithful sidekick Groot (Walter Brennan), decides to break off from the wagon train and stay in Texas. Despite Fen’s pleas to take her with him, he orders her to continue on to California.
Shortly thereafter, the wagon train is attacked and slaughtered by Indians. (And the fact that Wayne barely reacts to the slaughter of his sweetheart is either a sign that Dunson is either a man who keeps his feelings well bottled up or a sociopath.) The only survivor of the attack is a young boy named Matthew Garth, whom Dunson and Groot take in as a ward.
Light spoilers: Fourteen years pass and Matt (Clift) is now a man. Dunson’s ranch had prospered, but the Civil War wrecked the market for beef in South Texas. The only way for Dunson to save his ranch is to drive the cattle to Missouri, where it can be loaded on the railroad and shipped to hungry markets in the East. (And yes, Dunson has several speeches about the virtues of eating beef.) The trek will be hard and Dunson demands than any man who signs on sees it through to the end. His orders along the way are not to be questioned.
Eventually along the way, the men hear that the railroad has been extended to Abilene, Kansas, which would be a much easier trip. A stampede has destroyed most of their supplies and they’ve been forced into eating their cattle and living off the land. Most think they won’t make it to Missouri and want to divert to Kansas. But without proof that the rail has reached Abilene, Dunson refuses to consider it.
A lack of sleep and a a lot of whiskey drinking makes Dunson more erratic and tyrannical. But when he threatens to hang two deserters, Matthew leads a mutiny, least the men decide to kill Dunson themselves. In Matt’s mind, he’s doing Dunson a favor. Matthew leaves Dunson behind and takes the cattle off to Kansas. Dunson assembles a gang and follows, swearing that he’ll kill his traitorous surrogate son. Spoilers over.
Red River really is an actor’s movie. Hawks’ direction, Russell Harlan’s black-and-white cinematography and the Christian Nyby editing are terrific as well, but what really makes Red River stand out is how different the acting feels from everything else made in the mid-forties. (Even though it wasn’t released until 1948, the film was shot in 1946.) Even though Matt is the real hero of this film, Clift doesn’t play him as a typical Western hero. Clift underplays Matthew Garth, giving him a thoughtful air and a sense that there is a lot going on underneath. He’s clearly torn between his loyalty to Dunson and his desire to prove himself to be as good or better than his surrogate father. Matt is also the one who keeps everything in perspective when Dunson is losing all touch with reality. Clift is good enough to convey this with just a look or a pause.
You can imagine that Wayne, when working opposite this cerebral performance by Clift, said to himself “Oh, so we’re going to do it that way?” He eschewed his typical larger-than-life performances, seemingly knowing that he’d look bad compared to Clift doing it that way. Instead, Wayne also went as small and intimate as he could. Even as Dunson’s obsessions descend into madness, Wayne never really loses his cool. In a turnabout for Wayne, Dunson is basically the villain for over half of this film. Even in his more heroic moments, you can tell there’s a dark side there. I’m not sure how audiences of 1948 would have taken Dunson claiming his ranch by shooting two Mexican cowboys early in the film, but it’s a red flag to modern audiences. That scene also starts Dunson’s disturbing and somewhat darkly comic habit of killing people and then reading the Bible over their graves.
Brennen as Nadine Groot plays the comic relief role that he often played in Westerns. There’s a running gag about him losing his false teeth in a poker game. But he also serves as a narrator, explaining to characters (and the audience) about the relationship between Dunson and Matt. In some versions of the film, Brennen literally works as the narrator, although the restored versions mostly available today use the original cut that had a written journal appear on the screen to fill in the blanks between certain scenes.
Dru plays Tess Millay, a dance hall girl on a wagon train that the cattle drive encounters about three-quarters of the way through the film. She’s a standard Hawksian woman—tough, smart, fast-taking, confident and ultimately there to serve the men. In our introduction to Tess, her party is under attack from Indians. While Matt comes to the rescue and fights off the assault, Tess takes an arrow to the shoulder without flinching. She continues talking to Matt for a while until he realizes that she’s been hit.
Matt: I thought I told you to stay down.
Tess: You did.
Matt: Why didn’t you?
Tess: I got up.
Tess falls in love with Matthew, of course, but her ultimate role is to serve as a sounding board for both Matt and Dunson. Matthew leaves Tess to finish the cattle drive (just like Dunson did Fen 14 years earlier) and Dunson comes across her, looking to find and kill Matthew. That’s where Wayne does one of his better acting job, depressingly explaining that all he wanted was for something and someone to live on after him. That person was supposed to be Matthew, but the mutiny ended that. Dunson offers Tess half of everything he has in exchange for bearing his son. Tess agrees on the condition that Dunson stops trying to kill Matt. That’s a deal-breaker for Dunson. His quest for revenge is more important to him at this point than having a son.
Hawks made the decision to shoot in black-and-white because he felt that color would have made this dark tale too pretty. I wouldn’t call Red River a noir, but there’s some similar thinking going on there. But there is a lot of great cinematography in Red River, especially with the hundreds of cattle traveling across the countryside. And the scene where the cattle drive starts with repeated closeups of the ranchers going “Hee-yaw! And waving their hats is iconic enough that Peter Bogdanovich used it for The Last Picture Show.
There are a few things that keep Red River from being truly great. The portrayal of the Native Americans as nothing but bloodthirsty savages was common for the time, but still strikes a bad tone—especially since Dunson becomes just as bloodthirsty. There’s Hawks’ typical misuse of women, not giving them much life beyond a desire to be a wife or girlfriend to the male lead. Dru, in just her second film, does a great job with what little she’s given to do, but mostly she’s there to force a deus ex machina ending. That ending is the third problem.
The fourth issue with Red River is the relationship between Matthew Garth and a rival rancher Cherry Valance (John Ireland). The two have a rivalry from the time we meet them and Groot keeps telling us they are going to have a showdown—which, not to spoil things, never comes. Film historians of queer cinema have suggested that there is something else going on between Matthew and Cherry, which, I don’t know. Maybe. If you see it, good on you. I really don’t.
But despite those flaws (especially the cop-out ending), Red River is a still a great movie for the acting, the editing and the cinematography.
I should also mention, for those of you who missed it during our discussion of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, that Joanne Dru was the aunt of seventies-era Cubs’ first baseman Pete LaCock.
Here’s a trailer for Red River. This video calls Dunson “John Wayne’s Darkest Hero,” but as I claimed the last time Red River was up for a vote, Wayne is really the villain for most of the film. Montgomery Clift is the real hero of Red River.
Shane (1953). Directed by George Stevens. Starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur and Van Heflin.
“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.
Here’s a trailer for Shane.
Both of these films are gorgeous, although only Shane is gorgeous in color. Hawks was going for a grittier feel in Red River and chose to use black-and-white.
So now it’s time to vote.
Red River or Shane?
This poll is closed
Good luck. You have until Monday evening to vote. 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.
The next matchup is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly taking on Rio Bravo. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is available for streaming on Max. Rio Bravo is just available for rent at the moment.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
The Cubs signed free agent right-handed reliever Hector Neris last week to a one-year, $9 million deal. There’s a team option for a second year which becomes a player option if Neris pitches in 60 games in 2024.
In the article announcing the deal, 88 percent of you were positive about the signing and only one percent was against it. (The other eleven percent were in our “meh” category.)
My goal tonight isn’t to go over the pluses and minuses of signing Neris. He’s been a good relief pitcher for most of a decade, although Neris has had a few bad years mixed in with the good. He was the closer for the Phillies in 2017, lost the job because of ineffectiveness in 2018 and then re-claimed it with a strong 2019 season. He’s pitched for the Astros the past two seasons in a middle-relief role. pitching in 70 games in 2022 and 71 in 2023. He was particularly good last year with an ERA of 1.71, but as many have noted, the underlying numbers don’t really support an ERA that low. But even if you think he got a bit luckly last season, he was still a good pitcher.
So tonight’s question is going to be “Will Hector Neris pitch in 60 games last year and turn that team option into a player option?” Since 2016, the only years he hasn’t appeared in 60 games was 2018 (his bad year) and 2020, because you know why.
Only two pitchers on the Cubs were over 60 appearances last year—Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr. Of course, that was when David Ross was the manager. The Craig Counsell-managed Brewers had three relievers make that many appearances: closer Devin Williams, Joel Payamps and Hoby Milner.
So in order for Neris to make sixty appearances, he’s going to have to stay healthy. That’s a given. The other thing is that he’s going to have to be effective enough for Counsell to call on him repeatedly. Neris will also have to be better than the other options out of the pen. It’s a reasonable assumption that only two or three Cubs relievers will make sixty appearances. Neris will not only have to be good, he’s likely going to have to one of the two or three best relievers in the Cubs’ pen.
So will Hector Neris make sixty appearances in 2024?
Will Hector Neris make 60 relief appearances in 2024?
This poll is closed
Thank you to everyone who stopped by this evening and all week long. We really appreciate you taking some time to join us. Please get home safely. Stay warm and dry, wherever you are going. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.