It’s another week here at BCB After Dark: the swinging spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in and join us. There’s no cover charge. It may be cold out there but it’s warm in here. Grab any table that is 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 what you thought about the possibility of the Cubs trading for right-handed closer Kenley Jansen. By a margin of 39 percent to 24 percent, you were against it. The rest of you were “meh” about it.
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 great pianist Les McCann died over the holidays. December 29, to be exact. I was kind of unplugged over that time so I missed it, but there’s still time to pay tribute to him tonight.
Here is McCann, singing and playing piano, at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969 with saxophonist Eddie Harris. Here’s McCann doing his signature tune “Compared to What.” This is a protest song that definitely swings.
You voted in the BCB Winter Western Classic and you saw fit to allow the top seed, The Searchers, advance to the third round with 79 percent of the vote against Ride the High Country. Ride is a good movie, but The Searchers tops a lot of these lists for a reason.
Tonight, the number-two seed High Noon enters the competition. It faces off against the #18 seed, A Fistful of Dollars, which upset McCabe & Mrs. Miller in the first round.
High Noon (1952) #2 seed. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. Starring Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado and Grace Kelly.
It’s amazing that a Western as classic as High Noon started as, basically, a low-budget contractual obligation movie. Most of the credit has gone to scriptwriter Carl Foreman, who turned the story into a condemnation of the blacklist, and star Gary Cooper, who fought for the film to be made. Cooper was rewarded for his tenacity with a Best Actor Oscar. Foreman was rewarded with exile to Great Britain. (He did get a Best Screenplay nomination before that.)
Three years ago I wrote something in this space about the history of High Noon and I don’t really want to go deep into it in this spot. After all, we’re judging it as a movie and not as a piece of history. You can go back and read it if you’re interested. But briefly, Foreman was in the process of getting blacklisted as he was writing High Noon, which caused him to turn the script into an allegory about the blacklist. Cooper, despite being an fierce conservative and anti-communist, loved the script and fought for it. Besides, although Cooper didn’t like communists hanging around Hollywood, he liked the idea of forcing people to rat out their friends even less. That Foreman told him that he no longer believed in communist ideology or the party was good enough for him.
High Noon starts with the marriage of marshal Will Kane (Cooper) to his Quaker bride Amy (Kelly) on a Sunday morning. Kane, at his pacifist wife’s urging, is leaving the law enforcement business and this dusty New Mexico town to open a store somewhere. The new marshal is not expected until Monday.
But as the newlyweds are preparing to leave, word comes that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) has been pardoned and is heading their way. Miller wants revenge on Will for sending him to prison. Amy’s solution is to leave town quickly and avoid violence, but Will believes that you can’t run from trouble. Trouble will find you soon enough if you don’t confront it. (Yeah, that’s a metaphor for America in 1952.)
Frank figures that if the town bands together, it won’t be much trouble taking care of Frank and his three henchmen. But everyone finds a reason not to help. Deputy Harvey Pell (Bridges) is upset that he was passed over for town marshal. A saloon keeper welcomes Miller back as he was a good friend and customer. The mayor (Mitchell) doesn’t want the bad publicity of a gunfight and argues that if the town doesn’t do anything to provoke Miller, this whole thing will just blow over. Other townsfolk are just plain scared of dying.
Fred Zinnemann’s direction of High Noon is a masterclass in economy. The film checks in at a brisk 85 minutes and it takes place in real time on a Sunday morning. Will and Amy get married at 10:40 in the morning and Frank Miller is arriving on the noon train. The final confrontation takes up the final five minutes. There isn’t a wasted shot. The editing is tight and clean. It’s no surprise that Elmo Williams and Harry W. Gerstad won an Oscar for Film Editing. (High Noon also won an Oscar for Cooper as Best Actor and a third for the title song, which is played several times though the course of the movie and sung by Tex Ritter.)
Along the way, Zinnemann ups the tension with repeated (I counted at least 16) shots of clocks that countdown the ticking time until noon. Cooper has a deserved reputation as a restrained actor, but he does a master job here of showing increasing anxiety through subtle movements of his face and eyes as noon approaches. Cooper’s understated approach gives the scene where he eventually loses it while alone in his office more power. Even then, Cooper (and Zinnemann) allow Will to have a one-second emotional outburst and then grimly returns to the task at hand.
Zinnemann also used the low-budget to his advantage by giving the film a grainy, documentary style look. While most of the film is shot in interiors, he keeps them small, as if the walls were closing in on the 6’3” Cooper.
Cooper got the part because he was the only “name” actor willing to do it and willing to do it at a big discount. Grace Kelly was an off-Broadway unknown who got the part because she could act, was pretty and would work cheap. Not only that, but she accepted fifth billing despite really being the female lead. (Second-billed Thomas Mitchell was a bigger name, but he’s essentially in just one scene.)
Kelly is a natural playing a young, innocent pacifist, of course, but the age difference between her and Cooper is noticeable. Cooper was thirty years older than Kelly and looked at least ten years older than that. Still, while you can’t figure out how Amy fell in love with this grandpa, Kelly makes you believe that she does, in fact, love him.
Mexican actress Katy Jurado plays Helen Ramirez, the “woman from Will’s past” that Amy finds threatening. But she—and us, the audience—eventually find out that she’s probably the wisest person in town. She’s also the one who convinces Amy that her place is by Will’s side.
The Western has throughout its history played a role in defining what American masculinity means. But High Noon takes direct aim at that by portraying the men, not including Will, to be mostly selfish and cowardly. The women on the other hand, both Amy and Helen, are the ones who take decisive action, even if they go in opposite directions.
But don’t get the impression that High Noon is just a psychological drama. Yes, the action takes a while to build, but it comes, There’s a fistfight between Will and Harvey and the final four-on-one gunfight between Will Kane and Frank Miller does not disappoint.
High Noon is also a very influential film. It was pretty much the template for Clint Eastwood’s career. The “lone gunman” takes on a band of outlaws is repeated in A Fistful of Dollars. The “lone cop stands against the criminal tide” is basically the entire Dirty Harry franchise. Will Kane may not be a “rogue cop” and he does, in fact, “play by the rules,” but so many movies that have just one outnumbered cop making a stand against the forces of anarchy with little or no help owe a debt to High Noon.
This is the trailer for the restoration of High Noon. I like it better than the original. You can see the shot of the empty railroad tracks heading off into the horizon, which is another way that Zinnemann upped the tension in the film. If you look closely, you’ll catch Lon Chaney Jr. and Lee Van Cleef. Harry Morgan is in this film as well.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964) #18 seed. Directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch and Gian Maria Volonté.
As I’ve said previously, I’m not going to write a new essay for each film in each round. If I have anything new to say, I’ll add it here. Certainly it’s ironic that A Fistful of Dollars is taking on a film that influenced it so much. But of course, Fistful is hardly anything close to a remake of High Noon. It takes the idea of one outnumbered hero facing off against the criminal element and goes in an entirely different direction.
Here’s what I wrote last time.
A Fistful of Dollars is a punk Western. It’s cheap, stripped down to the bare necessities and not particularly interested in following the rules. It’s the first film in “The Man with No Name” trilogy (more on that later) and the film that made Clint Eastwood a star. It’s the type of film with a kind of brilliance that only people who didn’t know what they doing could achieve.
An unauthorized remake of director Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and yes, Leone got sued, A Fistful of Dollars is the story of a mysterious gunman who rides into the tiny Mexican town of San Miguel and decides to put a stop to a feud between two rival criminal factions.
What is his motivation to do this? Unclear! Where is this man from? The United States, but beyond that, who knows? What’s his name? They call him “Joe,” but we don’t know if that’s actually his name or just a generic nickname for any Yankee. How did he get so good with the gun? Again, who cares?
In fact, we’re not supposed to care about any of these normal details of storytelling. A Fistful of Dollars is a violent video game, untethered to any connection to reality. It has a hero and two sets of villains, with Ramón Rojo (Volonté) as the final boss to be defeated. Joe uses his wits to overcome impossible odds. as much as his guns and his bravery. In many ways, Leone started the archetype of the modern hero who has been played by Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, etc. “Joe” is a man of action and few words. He gets beat up badly and that is not something that you really ever saw happen to heroes in Westerns in 1964. But he gets back up and keeps on fighting.
There are dozens of people killed in A Fistful of Dollars and Joe kills about a dozen of them himself. The film makes no attempt to justify the killings. Standard practice for a Hollywood Western of the time was that if the hero was going to kill someone, he pretty much had to have no other choice and the person who was getting shot deserved it. A Fistful of Dollars makes no attempt to justify all the killing and shooting to kill (or blowing stuff up) is Joe’s first resort, not his last. It really was the first modern action movie in that sense.
This is also the first film of the “Dollars” trilogy, along with A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. (We’ll get to that second one later.) The series is also called, “The Man With No Name” trilogy, which was a marketing term created by the US distributor. It’s also confusing because the character that Clint Eastwood plays in each of the three movies has a name (or at least a nickname) and it’s not supposed to be the same character in three films. The confusion comes from these films being so low-budget that Eastwood had to supply his own wardrobe and he wasn’t shelling out for a different outfit for each film. He even brought his guns and boots from Rawhide, the TV show he was starring in at the time. But the poncho that Eastwood picked out to wear, as well as brown hat with the wide brim, have become iconic.
Still, the character might as well have had no name. “Joe” has no past and no future. He exists only as far as the confines of the plot of the movie.
As was the custom for Italian films at the time, all of the dialog was dubbed in later in post-production. (From what I understand, the part of Spain they shot the outdoors scenes in was near an airport and was pretty noisy anyway to record sound on-site.) This meant that Leone took his international cast and just had them speak in their native language, which allowed them to be more comfortable with their parts. So Eastwood speaks English, Koch spoke German and Volonté spoke Italian and the film just got dubbed into whatever the language of the country it was playing in. The dubbing is not particularly carefully done, which either adds to the films charm or detracts from it, depending on your point of view.
As with all the Leone-directed films, A Fistful of Dollars has a musical score from Ennio Morricone. The score may not be quite as good as Morricone’s later efforts in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, but it’s still plenty excellent. Leone didn’t have enough money to hire an orchestra, so Morricone had to make do with electric guitars and trumpets, and creatively filled in the gaps with sound effects like a cracking whip, gunshots, whistling, handclaps and the like. The music is as much a character in this movie as the actors, punctuating the scenes in a manner similar to the way that the 1966 Batman TV series would use the “Pow!” and “Bam!” word bubbles.
Since I showed the original trailer for Fistful last time and I showed the 4k restoration trailer for High Noon, I thought I’d give the 4k restoration trailer for Fistful as well.
Now it’s time to vote.
High Noon or A Fistful of Dollars?
This poll is closed
A Fistful of Dollars
High Noon can be streamed on Amazon Prime, Paramount+ and MGM+. A Fistful of Dollars is available on Max.
You have until Wednesday to vote. Then Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood will be up again with the #3 seed, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It faces off against the #14 seed, The Magnificent Seven. Again, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is available on Max. (As is the second film in the trilogy, For a Few Dollars More, which didn’t make the tournament but probably should have.) The Magnificent Seven is available on Amazon Prime and MGM+, as well as free (with ads) on Tubi, Pluto and the Roku Channel.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
I’m just as frustrated as you are about the Cubs lack of signings this winter. Probably more so, since it deprives us of things to write about. There are only so many times we can talk about Cody Bellinger. And the number of times we can talk about a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training? That’s either one or zero.
I think the Cubs’ front office is sensing that we’re frustrated. I’m sure they’re frustrated as well, but they’re determined not to make a bad deal just so that the can say they made “a deal.” And they want you to know this.
How do I know that the front office is concerned about the fans? Because there has been a publicity blitz over the past few days where writers have been saying “Hey, the Cubs are really trying.” On Monday, Shahadev Sharma published this piece in The Athletic that outlines what the Cubs are trying to do and how there is still a lot of time to do it. (The Athletic sub. req.) Sharma’s sources even push back on the “intelligent spending” thing by saying that the Cubs know that it takes a little “irrationality” to sign top free agents.
And over in USA Today, Bob Nightengale writes that the Cubs appear to be the only team “in” on Cody Bellinger at the moment. He also predicts that they’ll sign Bellinger and they could also sign Matt Chapman, Rhys Hoskins and a starting pitcher.
There is also this today from Jim Bowden, who claims that the Cubs have made “significant offers” to Bellinger, Chapman, Hoskins and Jordan Montgomery. So I’m guessing that unnamed starter Nightengale refers to is Montgomery.
Now obviously Nightengale and Bowden don’t have the best track records about these things. As the saying goes, if Jeff Passan or Ken Rosenthal report it, you can take it to the bank. With all others, beware.
Still, I don’t think Nightengale and Bowden are just making this up. Someone is telling them this and it’s probably the Cubs’ front office.
One major issue is that all four of those free agents have superagent Scott Boras as their representative. Boras has no problem taking a player far into February or March to get what he and his client feel is the best deal. So we wait. And Boras generally has an order that he wants his clients to sign in. One sets the market for the others. I don’t know who is supposed to go first, but I’d guess it’s Bellinger.
So tonight’s question is just how long are we going to have to wait? When will the Cubs sign their first major league free agent? Will it be this week so that the Cubs will have someone to show off at the Convention? Will it be later in January? How about early or late February? March? Never?
Please tell me when this long Cubs national nightmare will end.
When will the Cubs sign their first major league free agent this winter?
This poll is closed
This week—by Sunday
Later in January
The first half of February
The second half of February
Thank you so much for stopping in. Please stay warm out there. Get home safely Clean up around your table. Recycle any cans or bottles you may have brought. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.