Tuesday, June 19

Crying at the Movies

I don't cry much outside of the movies and I have always wondered, therefore, why I am such a big crybaby in a darkened theater?  For this piece my brain immediately came up with four films which had me blubbering but the past week or so I have come up with more.  It seemed that most everyday I would remember another film that set off some tears.  I know, however, that there are hundreds upon hundreds of films that have at least made me teary-eyed.  Maybe the tears didn't spill down my cheeks, but it was hard to see.  There are those films that made me shed some big ones and since a great many films leave that super sad scene until the end, I have often waited for the theater to clear (or close to) so I can walk out without appearing to have wilted. 

In 1979 I saw a film which I knew at the time was the wettest movie I ever sat through.  I was drained from crying, thoroughly worn out.  I suspected I might not ever top this film for a crying jag and so far I never have.  It is the granddaddy of them all for me and quite frankly, I expect it's the same for a great many others.  Let's see.

I have seen that film and quite a few other sad ones more than once.  I love to be sad at the movies.  I always remember what my mama said when I freaked out... Honey, it's just a movie.  So sad or glad or happy or scared, by and large I leave it in the theater.  But I have loved every film that caused some emotion to soar in me.

At the moment I am reminded when I saw 1953's The Glenn Miller Story at a walk-in theater with my parents and bratty little brother.  We almost always did things the way the old man said and as a result we usually went to drive-in theaters.  But Mom put her foot down.  She wanted to hear Miller's music filling an auditorium not over some battered box clinging to the car window.  I didn't mind going with them at all.  I heard his music all the time at home and I loved Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson, stars of the film.  But for this posting I direct you to the final scene of the film.  Miller/Stewart has been lost at sea during WWII and there is one more concert to be heard over the radio.  Allyson and family friends are listening and she is heart-broken and quietly sobbing as Little Brown Jug, a song she loved and he was loathe to play, fills the room.  He had finally played it for her in something recorded before his death.   I looked over at my parents and they were both crying too.  Seems as though the entire audience was.

A year later came White Christmas.  And I am, of course, referring to the scene where the old general, now an innkeeper, is shanghied by his granddaughter and a pesky housekeeper to wear his old uniform to a show that is opening at his inn.  What he doesn't know is that his former group of soldiers have secretly gathered, prepared to surprise him.  When Dean Jagger as the general walks through those big doors and someone shouts out Attention, my little heart cried as tough ol' Jagger's eyes fills with tears, as did everyone else's in the film.  Man, this was a slice of sentimentality that cleared out all my senses.

I have already done a piece on Old Yeller (1957) because it is one of my 50 favorite films.  But it bears repeating that when the teary-eyed Tommy Kirk (damn, he was good) told his mama that he would do it and then kills the rabid family pet, I sobbed and sobbed, thinking of my own beloved dog at home, and wondered how Uncle Walt could go so dark.

Author Fanny Hurst was good for some tearjerkers.  Imitation of Life (1959) and Back Street (1961), each had scenes involving deaths of loved ones.  In the former when Susan Kohner breaks through the crowd and runs to the horse-drawn hearse that carries her mother, whose funeral she has missed and who was shunned by her daughter for years, it had audiences sobbing.  And in Back Street, Susan Hayward gets a phone call from the hospital where her married lover, John Gavin, is dying from injuries in a car accident.  The phone is being held by his young son who hates Hayward and has been distant with Gavin once he learns of the affair.  I have seen both films recently and confess to not shedding a single, renewed tear but in their times and at my young age, boy did I bawl.

Also in 1961 was West Side Story and I confess time and again I cried in the film's final scene on the playground when Tony dies.  Don't you touch him, Natalie Wood wails as she runs to cover his body and whispers Te adoro Anton.  My heart was breaking.  To this day the tears still come.

In 1962 came To Kill a Mockingbird, a film we will discuss much in detail at a later time.  Starting with the scene in the woods and the killing and going forward to Boo Radley being in the house and Scout encouraging Boo to touch Jeb to Atticus saying to Boo, thank you for my children, oh man, tears, tears, tears.  Still... 50 years later.

Of course we don't all find the same things sad or cry over the same things, but if you didn't cry at the farewell scene in 1982's E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, I gotta think you have had your tear ducts removed.   The finale began with an exciting chase scene as five boys and E.T. head for the spaceship and E.T's journey home.  There is the thrill of seeing the boys on their bikes take to the skies to avoid capture and finally to the field for the goodbyes.  As E.T. says farewell to his earthly family, the tears started for me.  He asks Elliott to come with him and Elliott asks E.T. to stay.  Ouch.  E.T. puts his finger to Elliott's forehead and says I'll be right here.  The tears are full-force now.  They embrace in one of the best movie hugs of all time.  The house lights come up and I look around at others, noticing everyone else looking around, too.  It's all too much.

Are you aware of how many of these scenes involve children?  More to come.

In 2004 there was a little gem called Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp as Peter Pan creator, J. M. Barrie.  In the final scene he is sitting on a park bench discussing life with 11-year old   Freddie Highmore who suddenly turns on the tears with such an endearing and profound silence that I found myself matching him.  Kid, you really bloody got to me.

Finally we come to it... the biggest bucket of tears I have ever spilled in the movies... 1979's The Champ... and perhaps the best child performance in the history of the movies from Ricky Schroder.  Little T. J. idolized his has-been boxer father who decides to have one last fight, knowing full well it is likely to kill him.  The scene of the father dying and T. J.  yelling through tears wake up, Champ, and moving through the room to others to help  (wake him up, Georgie, wake him up) is about as heart-breaking as they come.

The Champ is the only movie I can ever remember crying in where I actually made a noise.  I heard this audible sob and at first I thought it was someone else but realized it was me.  It was so involuntary and so surprising.  And if that's not enough, it was probably the third or fourth time I'd seen the film.

So there you go.  What has made you cry at the movies?

NEXT POSTING:   Under-rated Movies

1 comment:

  1. Oh man you sound like me but the movie my sisters keeper had me in tears. They were spilling down my cheeks and dripping off my chin. My husband was holding it in but on the way home he let the tears flow. To this day that movie can make my tears stream