We’re finishing up another week here at BCB After Dark: the coolest club for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re glad to have you stop by this evening. Come on in and get warm. There’s no cover charge this evening. There are still a few 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 how confident you were that Cody Bellinger would re-sign with the Cubs. Most of you were realistically optimistic about it, with 37 percent giving it a “4” on a scale of 1 to 5. Another 33 percent gave it a “3,” which is somewhere around a 50-50 chance.
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.
One of my Christmas presents this year was a Barnes & Noble signed edition of Sly Stone’s memoir Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). It’s a very well-written memoir and Stone has lost none of his talent for wordplay. It’s made all the more remarkable by the fact that no one thought Sly Stone would ever write it.
So I’ve been listening to a lot of Sly and the Family Stone lately, and so I’ve discovered that the big band clarinetist Woody Herman covered Sly’s “Sex Machine” in 1969. Note: this is the song from the Sly and the Family Stone album Stand!, which came out a full year before the more-famous James Brown song of the same name.
But anyway, here’s Woody Herman playing “Sex Machine.” It’s a trip.
You voted in the BCB Winter Western Classic and picked Ride the High Country over Johnny Guitar by a 69 to 31 percent margin. to claim the last spot in the second round. I generally don’t vote except to break a tie, but had I voted I would have voted for Johnny Guitar. However, unlike when McCabe & Mrs. Miller went down the time previous, I can see both sides of the argument on this one. It’s not an injustice that Ride the High Country advanced in this round. Johnny Guitar is, in fact, weird. But I like that.
With the first round done, it’s time to publish the updated bracket.
With the first round ended, our four top seeds enter the competition. And first up is John Ford’s 1956 epic, The Searchers, starring John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond and Natalie Wood. It’s going to face off against Ride the High Country, so we can see if director Sam Peckinpah’s second movie can keep his winning streak alive. He’s 2-0 so far in this tournament, with The Wild Bunch also advancing to the second round.
The Searchers. (1956) #1 seed. Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne, Jeffey Hunter and Vera Miles.
The Searchers is bookended by two of the most famous shots in American cinema. The movie starts in a darkened screen when a woman opens a door, revealing a glorious, Technicolor VistaVision shot of John Ford’s beloved Monument Valley of Northern Arizona, here standing in for West Texas. The film closes the same way, with the the door framing John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards standing in front of the same door in front of Monument Valley. This time, the door closes on him and the screen goes black.
Whether or not you like The Searchers—and the film has plenty of critics—it’s hard to argue against it being one of the most influential films of all time. The basic theme of a man obsessed to the point of madness on an epic quest may have been lifted from Moby Dick. In turn, director Martin Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver is, in many ways, The Searchers set in contemporary New York. The scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle’s home on Tatooine is burned down is a direct lift from The Searchers. Heck, the Buddy Holly hit “That’ll Be the Day” was lifted from the line that Wayne’s character utters repeatedly throughout The Searchers.
By 1956, director John Ford was starting to question the basic story that had been told since the birth of the Republic about the settlement of America. What if the white people aren’t the good guys? The Searchers is far too thematically ambiguous to come down on one side or the other of that question. I don’t think Ford was ready to answer that question in 1956. But he certainly is starting to question the basic racism that fueled the genocide of the Native Americans, as well as the cycle of revenge that leads to nothing but death and destruction.
But The Searchers is not a piece of agitprop propaganda. Far from it. It’s an epic tale of a man obsessed, driven by his demons in a years-long quest for revenge that he hopes will culminate in the murder his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood). Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a former Confederate officer who, three years after the war ended, has never accepted the South’s defeat. He returns to the farm of his brother Aaron (Walter Coy), sister-in-law Martha (Dorothy Jordan) and their two daughters Debbie (Natalie’s younger sister Lana Wood playing the young Debbie) and Lucy (Pippa Scott).
Ford makes it clear from the beginning that Ethan is not the heroic character that Wayne traditionally played. Beyond not accepting the defeat of the Confederacy, he seems to have made a suspicious amount of money in the three years since, for which he offers no explanation. Ethan also clearly has a thing for his sister-in-law and her, in turn, for him. While the film leaves it at that, there has been much speculation about their relationship from film scholars in the decades since.
But what most marks Ethan as a man of questionable character is his overwhelming racism. Aaron’s family has adopted Martin (Hunter), an orphan of 1/8th Native American blood. That one Indian great-grandfather is enough for Ethan to think Martin is of questionable character and loyalty, even though he has given zero reasons for anyone to think that he’s anything but a fine, upstanding young man who loves his adopted family.
When the cattle owned by a neighbor are stolen, men of the settlement and the Texas Rangers go out to look for them. It turns out that the stolen cattle was a ruse by a Comanche named “Scar,” who leads a raiding party to kill Ethan’s brother and sister-in-law while the men are out looking for the cattle. The two young girls have been abducted. The party goes off to find them.
Eventually along the way, Ethan reveals that he’s found the body of the older Lucy, raped and murdered by her Comanche abductors. But they have reason to believe that the younger Debbie is still alive, forced into a marriage with Scar.
This starts a five-year quest for Ethan to find Debbie. But Ethan’s plan isn’t to rescue Debbie but to kill her. Because Ethan believes that after a few years living with the Comanche, Debbie has likely gone “full native” and in his mind, it’s better for a blood relative of his to be dead than living as a Comanche bride. Martin goes along with Ethan’s quest because he’s determined to keep Ethan from murdering his little sister. He leaves behind his fiancée Laurie (Miles) in order to save his sister’s life.
So yeah, this is a dark picture. Ford, probably correctly, felt that audiences in 1956 weren’t ready to handle that unfiltered, so he puts in some more light-hearted storylines, such as when Martin finds himself accidentally married to an Indian girl. There’s also that unrequited romance between Martin and Laurie that doesn’t serve a lot of purpose other than to take a break from the grim reality of Ethan and Martin’s quest. Ford also softens the ending, which should finish with either Ethan killing Debbie or Martin killing Ethan. Would the film be better without these touches? Probably, but I don’t think audiences would have accepted the film without them. One test screening and Warner Brothers would have rejected a film like that outright.
The Searchers is also a gloriously beautiful film with cinematography by Winton C. Hoch. Ethan and Martin travel through not just Monument Valley, but also in other picturesque areas of the West.
The racism at the heart of the film is also the heart of the controversy of the movie. Knowing what I know about John Ford, I have no doubt that he has little sympathy for Ethan’s hatred of the Indians, even in 1956. (I’m not so sure about Wayne, although its been said that every good actor thinks they’re the hero of their film, no matter what part they play.) Audiences are supposed to sympathize with Ethan’s quest for revenge and the loss that he feels about the murder of his family, but even there, it is revealed that Scar attacked the homestead in revenge for the death of his two brothers at the hands of white settlers. But Scar is portrayed as even worse than Ethan. The major theme of The Searchers is how the cycle of revenge destroys not only the victims, but also the souls of the perpetrators.
Audiences are supposed to feel uncomfortable cheering for a hero like Ethan who is so flawed and so filled with evil intentions. But where the critics of The Searchers make their point is that is not clear that audiences, either of the fifties or today, are actually bothered by Ethan’s racism. On top of that, by casting an actor that audiences are predisposed to accept as heroic like Wayne, The Searchers risks making the racism look heroic as well. But Ford knew audiences of the time would only accept so much criticism of the prevailing narrative of the settling of the West. It’s also not clear that Ford himself was fulling willing to give up those heroic narratives at this point either. Ethan and Martin aren’t the only searchers here. Ford, and we as an audience, are supposed to be searching for answers as well.
Many have said that as Ethan Edwards, Wayne turns in his greatest performance. This is a complicated man who has that John Wayne charm and is loyal and generous. He certainly loves his family. But his blinding racism leads him to believe that the murder of his niece would be an act of love.
Here’s the trailer for The Searchers. You certainly get a sense of the beautiful cinematography and the intensity of Wayne’s performance. You also see a portion of the scene where Martin puts himself between Ethan and Debbie.
Ride the High Country (1962) #17 seed. Directed by Sam Peckinpah. Starring Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and Mariette Hartley.
I’m not going to write up a new essay for each film that advanced to the second round. Especially not Ride the High Country, which I just wrote up on Monday. So here’s most of what I wrote then.
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.
In the future, if I have something new I want to say about a film that has advanced to the second round, I will. But otherwise, I’m just going to cut and paste and/or link back to the original piece. I know that there’s one essay that I wasn’t happy with and I might re-write that one. On the other hand, I don’t remember which one it was at the moment and maybe that film got eliminated already. If it did, my crappy essay was probably to blame.
Once again, here’s the trailer for Ride the High Country.
So now it’s time to vote.
The Searchers or Ride the High Country?
This poll is closed
Ride the High Country
The Searchers is available on the WatchTCM app and on-line for cable and satellite subscribers that get TCM. Ride the High Country is playing all month on HDNet Movies if you get that channel. Check your local listings. Both films can also be rented.
You have until Monday to vote. Coming up on Monday, the number-two seed High Noon will take on A Fistful of Dollars.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
Give me something to work with, Jed!
The Red Sox are looking to shed salary, reportedly so that they can sign someone else. The player that everyone expects the Red Sox to move is closer Kenley Jansen, who has one year and $16 million left on his contract.
Jansen was arguably the best closer in the game in his heyday with the Dodgers during the teens. Since then, he’s been much more pedestrian, although he’s still been pretty solid. He led the league in saves with 41 with the Braves in 2022, although partly that’s because he got so many save opportunities in Atlanta. He also blew seven saves that season. That’s not a bad conversion rate, but it’s also not “elite” anymore.
Last year in Boston, Jansen was good. He saved 29 games in 33 attempts. He put up a decent 3.63 ERA. His strikeout percentage was a career-low 27.7 percent, but that’s still a pretty decent percentage. His walk percentage was in line with his career numbers (except during his peak years) at nine percent. At 35 last year, he hadn’t lost anything from his velocity on any of his pitches.
The point is, Jansen may not be the same pitcher that he was in 2017, but he can still pitch and he can still close out games.
Now if the Red Sox decide the trade Jansen, would you like to see the Cubs pick him up? This article by Masslive writer Sean McAdam lists the Cubs as one of the best fits for Jansen in a trade. Brett Taylor over at Bleacher Nation also did a pros and cons of a Jansen trade that you should check out.
Now what would Jansen cost in trade? Since the Red Sox are primarily looking to dump salary by trading Jansen, probably not a whole hell of a lot. Taylor points out the dangers of dealing with Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow, who was in the Cubs front office from 2019 to 2023 and knows the Cubs minor league system as well as Jed Hoyer does. He might have someone in mind whom he thinks the Cubs have undervalued. But since this is mostly a salary dump, I seriously doubt that the Cubs would have to part with a top ten prospect for Jansen. Maybe a top 25 prospect and one prospect out of the top 30 that Breslow thinks is “interesting.”
So with that in mind, do you think the Cubs should make a trade for Kenley Jansen?
Should the Cubs trade for Kenley Jansen?
This poll is closed
Thanks to everyone who stopped by tonight and over the rest of the week. We’re so glad to spend these cold days with warm company. Please get home safely. Stay warm. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.