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BCB After Dark: Looking sharp?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks you what you think of the new Cubs spring training caps.

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Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images

It’s great to see you here at BCB After Dark: the grooviest get-together for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in and get out of the cold. The fellowship is warm in here. I think we even have a fireplace. Let us take your coat for you. Grab any available table. Let us know if we can do anything for you. 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 about newly-signed free agent reliever Hector Neris and whether he would make 60 appearances for the Cubs this year. I asked about that because 60 is the number that turns the second year of his contract from a team option to a player option. Most of you think Neris is going to be someone that manager Craig Counsell will rely on, because 71 percent of you think that he’ll reach that 60 appearances.

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 have the Jackie McLean Quintet playing the Sonny Clark tune “Cool Struttin’,” that McLean played alto sax on the original recording. Woody Shaw is on trumpet, Cedar Walton on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. Oh yeah, McLean is on alto sax, if you couldn’t figure that out. This is from the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival in 1986.

You voted in the BCB Winter Western Classic and it was a pretty close one, but Red River (1948) pulled it out over Shane (1953) by a vote of 55 to 45 percent.

Up tonight in the quarter finals is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), director Sergio Leone’s third film in the “Man With No Name” trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach. It takes on Rio Bravo (1959), which, like Red River, was directed by Howard Hawks and starred John Wayne. But Red River also features Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson. Red River has already pulled off two upsets. Can it pull off a third?

As always, I’m not going to write a whole new essay on the films, If I have something more to say, I’ll put it in.

I am going to add that I think The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the only way that any American could identify the New Mexico campaign of the Civil War. I guess they probably teach it in school in New Mexico. But I’ve seen a lot of documentaries on the Civil War in my time and I’ve never heard one mention the New Mexico campaign.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. (1966) #3 seed. Directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach.

Take the famous first shot of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We start out with one of Leone’s famous long shots of a desolated, empty Spanish desert, here standing in for New Mexico. Except the desert isn’t empty. A face pops into the screen from the left. Leone goes from his famous long shots to his famous extreme close-ups without even a cut. The face was always there in the scene, we just didn’t notice it until it appeared on camera.

Who is this man? He certainly has an interesting face. It’s dirty and wrinkled. The gunfighter has obviously been in the desert sun too long. Where has he been? Where is he going? It doesn’t matter. This guy isn’t going to live long enough for us to find out.

After the success of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, United Artists wanted another Western out of Leone. And this time, Leone was going to get a big budget, or at least a huge budget compared to what he had been working on. So he decided to make a sprawling epic about three men searching for a fortune in Confederate gold during the New Mexico campaign of 1862.

The three men are Blondie, or “The Good” (Eastwood), Angel Eyes, or “The Bad” (Van Cleef) and Tuco, or “The Ugly” (Wallach). The story is about the three men trying to outmaneuver each other to discover the buried gold before the other two. All three men would have no issue killing the other two, but all three men have just one part of the puzzle as to where the gold is buried. Angel Eyes knows the name of the man who knows where it’s buried. Tuco knows the name of the cemetery, but not the grave. Blondie knows the name on the grave, but not the cemetery. The three men ally with and betray each other throughout the three-hour film until there is a famous showdown at the end.

This plot is in no way detailed enough to fill up three hours. So Leone takes his time getting to the final showdown with side stories. Tuco, a wanted bandit with a price on his head, gets forced into a scheme by Blondie where Blondie brings him in for the reward money, only to shoot the rope at the last second before Tuco hangs. Then they split the money and pull the scam all over again. Except Tuco, naturally, doesn’t like this scheme much since Blondie could end it at any time by simply letting him hang.

Angel Eyes is a hired killer who finds out about the gold from a man he was paid to murder. Through a series of events, he discovers where the gold is buried by capturing and torturing Tuco. Angel Eyes then teams up with Blondie to retrieve the gold and Tuco is sent off to hang for his crimes. Except Tuco escapes and re-teams up with Blondie to wipe out Angel Eyes’ gang, but not Angel Eyes himself.

There is also a big piece in the middle of the film where Leone attacks the folly of war by recreating a big Civil War battle. Is this digression necessary to the plot? Absolutely not. But it looks and sounds great and it gives The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that epic feel that Leone was aiming for.

Eastwood’s Blondie is a pretty similar character to the two he played in the first two films of the “Man with No Name” trilogy. The are both highly-intelligent and creative men of few words and are quick to resort to violence. Eastwood even wears the same poncho he wore in the first two films for the big finale. You can see why the US publicists would pretend they were the same character in all three films.

But despite being nicknamed “The Good,” Blondie is a darker character than what he played in the first two films of the trilogy. Early on, he leaves Tuco in the desert to die. (Although Tuco is like a cockroach in how difficult it is to kill him. Many, many people try and fail in this film.) Blondie does show some moments of real kindness and empathy in the film, especially towards people who are dying, but mostly he’s motivated by the same desire for gold that Tuco is.

Like his characters in the first two films, Blondie has no past and no indications of what he intends to do in the future. But Eastwood had grown as an actor and he gives Blondie a bit more complexity this time. He’s a survivor in a world gone mad with warfare. He has no problems killing evil men in cold blood or leaving Tuco to die. But he does seem to have a soft heart for those who haven’t been able to escape the madness of the surrounding world.

Of course, Eastwood has that “cool” factor that actors like Steve McQueen, Paul Newman or even James Garner had in those days. They made everything look easy.

Angel Eyes is just a pure psychopathic killer. While “The Good” may be a relative term for Blondie, Angel Eyes earns “The Bad” at every turn. He kills without mercy or empathy for the victims. When he manages to worm his way into a Union outfit, he spends his time torturing Confederate prisoners who may or may not have information on the gold. And he seemingly enjoys it.

But as many people have noted, this is Tuco’s film. While Angel Eyes is a man of few words and Blondie is a man of even fewer, Tuco never shuts up. Whereas Blondie and Angel Eyes have no backstory, Tuco is given one, complete with a family. He has a showdown with his brother, a priest, over Tuco’s life as a bandit. But Tuco defends himself by saying a poor Mexican kid has only two choices to get out of poverty: join the church or become a bandit. His brother made one choice and he just made the other.

And Wallach is just magnificent in this movie. He practically steals every scene he’s in, except for a few where Eastwood seemingly says “Nah, this is my scene.” Wallach is playing an archetype that we’ve seen before—the little man with a big mouth who is motivated by nothing but money. He’s willing to say or do anything to both save his hide and/or steal some money. But as base and craven as Tuco is, you can’t help but like him. He’s just too charming and honest in his greed. (Or “Ugly.” Leone always maintained that the “Ugly” referred to Tuco’s soul and not Wallach’s face.)

There are lots of scenes in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that are shot masterfully, but I wanted to highlight two. There are some Spoilers to follow.

The scene where Tuco is running through the graveyard is fantastic. Wallach sprints through the graves with a look of absolute joy on his face. It’s a scene that could have been a man running to his lost lover at an airport in a romance picture. But the “lover” at the end that Tuco is running towards is actually a grave full of Confederate gold. It’s really the only thing Tuco could love. The Morricone music playing over the scene is just fantastic. I love it.

There’s also the final three-way showdown between the three leads. They famously stand in a circle that Leone frames with one of his signature long shot. Then come the close ups of the three actors. One after another. The face, the gun, the hands, the eyes. This goes on for quite a while. It’s as if Leone is asking “How many close ups can I get away with before I have to show the shootout?” Turns out, the answer is “a lot.” Spoilers over.

I can’t give the Morricone score enough credit. Whereas Elmer Bernstein’s score in The Magnificent Seven is a rousing ode to heroes, the music in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly takes you to a different world. It’s vaguely Mexican (or maybe Spanish) but mostly it’s just alienating and mysterious. You know the people riding into Bernstein’s score (which is fantastic, to be clear) are the heroes. The people announced by Morricone’s score are much more ambiguous.

Once again, here’s the trailer for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. A reminder that this original trailer mistook Tuco as “the Bad” and Angel Eyes as “the Ugly.” I assume this is because the original Italian title was Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. That translates to “The good, the ugly, the bad.” But “The good, the bad and the ugly” just sounds better in English than “The good, the ugly, the bad,” so they switched the order in English. But someone in the trailer department didn’t get the message, apparently.

Rio Bravo (1962). #22 seed. Directed by Howard Hawks. Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson.

Before I re-run my original essay, I’ll point out one interesting contrast between these two movies. Other than Tuco, there isn’t a lot of dialog in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Eastwood isn’t directing here, but even back then, he was clearly living by the motto of “less is more” when it comes to dialog.

On the other hand, Rio Bravo, like all Howard Hawks films, is full of people who talk over each other and have sharp and witty things to say to each other. It’s not His Girl Friday, but it’s awfully dialog-heavy for a Western.

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).

Once again, here’s the trailer for Rio Bravo.

Now it’s time to vote.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Rio Bravo

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
    (75 votes)
  • 53%
    Rio Bravo
    (86 votes)
161 votes total Vote Now

Good luck on this one. They’re only going to get harder. If you haven’t seen them recently, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is available on Max. You can probably also find a copy on line. Rio Bravo is available to rent from all the normal places.

You have until Wednesday evening to vote.

Up next is the third quarter-final. The number-two seed High Noon (1952) faces off against the number-seven seed, Stagecoach (1939). If you need to watch them again or for the first time, High Noon is on Amazon Prime, Paramount+ and MGM+. There’s a copy online here. Stagecoach is on Amazon Prime, Max, Criterion Channel and the Roku Channel, Tubi, Pluto and Crackle with ads.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

Jed has me reduced to doing fashion reviews.

The caps for the 2024 Spring Training have arrived and are now for sale everywhere you can buy Cubs caps. Here’s a look at them.

So it’s powder blue with a blue walking Cub and a blue brim. It has the “Spring Training 24” logo on the side with the Cactus League cactus .

So what do we think? Do you like it? Would you buy one? I called it power blue, but I’m sure the Cubs’ low-A minor league affiliate would call it “Pelican Blue” because the color is extremely close to the color of the Pelicans main caps. I also have an old Daytona Cubs cap in that color. In fact, that cap is very similar to this cap except that the bear in the Daytona cap is surfing and not walking. Daytona hasn’t been a Cubs affiliate since 2014, but I still wear that “surfing Cub” cap, especially at the beach. So I clearly like the color scheme. And I love the “surfing cub” logo.

(The Pelicans cap I have is the all black with a white logo “Pelicans Pirate” cap.)

So what do you think? Is this something you’d wear? More importantly, as far as MLB is concerned, is this something you’d be willing to buy? Or do you hate the color and the departure from the classic royal blue and red “C.”

In any case, bring out your inner fashion critic and tell us what you think. And no, don’t vote for “C” because you think it means “Cubs.” It means “average.”


Grade the Cubs’ new Spring Training caps:

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    (38 votes)
  • 26%
    (51 votes)
  • 19%
    (38 votes)
  • 23%
    (44 votes)
  • 10%
    (20 votes)
191 votes total Vote Now

Thank you for stopping by. New faces and old faces, we love them both. We hope you’ve had a good time. Please stay warm tonight. Please get home safely. Recycle any cans or bottles you may have brought. And join us again tomorrow evening for more BCB After Dark.