Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Top Ten Anniversary: Favorite Tear-jerkers

We didn't intend to break up the procession of Top Ten lists, but the untimely demise of Miss Carol Lynley called for it. So were back now with list #9. (Can you guess how many there will be in the series?  Ha ha!) Today we're going to wallow in shameless emotion because we're breaking out the tearjerkers. Now... My own most significant tear-jerker is, amazingly enough, The Poseidon Adventure (1972), which reduced me to a mess as a child, but I am not including it in this list for reasons which will become clear later. Another one is also being omitted for reasons which will be made known in the not-too-distant future. However, the others below represent films that are practically guaranteed to set off my waterworks. There are many more (I'm Irish and well up at everything from Hallmark commercials to big game show wins...!), but these are MY favorites, in alphabetical order. Grab a hankie!
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957) -- The original version of this film (by the same director!), Love Affair (1939), is great, but I like this one a skosh better because of its color and production values and the fact that I really like Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant as a couple. The better part of the movie is a "cutesy" shipboard romance between two people involved with others on shore, but once a story point hits just as the stars are about to reunite at the top of the Empire State Building, things turn melodramatic quickly. Things I love about it: the self-sacrifice that Kerr is willing to make in order to not burden the love of her life, the tragedy of such hopeful anticipation spoiled by a lightning fast event and, most of all, the tete-a-tete between Kerr and Grant at the finale as they toy with one another and delay our gratification. Probably the part that gets me more than any is when Grant starts to dart around Kerr's apartment in search of something and his expression when he finds it. This film's ending is so tear-jerky to me that I started crying during Sleepless in Seattle (1993) when Rita Wilson was merely describing it! I cannot, however, stomach the dreary, passionless later remake Love Affair (1994), which I awaited with bated breath, by Warren Beatty. Bonus points for the gorgeous opening song crooned by velvety Vic Damone. It was Oscar nominated, but lost to "All the Way," another beautiful song, from The Joker Is Wild.
GLORY (1989) -- This is one of the rare movies in this category that I have only seen one time. Sometimes you see a movie and you cannot wait to relive it over and over. Sometimes you see a movie and you absorb it so much that once can be enough. (The Pianist, 2002, springs to mind. I ADORED it and have it on DVD, but have never watched it again...) I can never forget sitting in the theater and watching as Denzel Washington, about to be unfairly punished by whip for breaking the Union army rules, is stripped of his jacket, revealing a litany of scars from countless prior assaults on his person. As the punishment proceeded, he began to release a tear (*the story of which is interesting in itself) and that was it for me. I don't think I stopped weeping until the movie was over... Like many movies in this post, the music means so much and, amazingly, it was not nominated for an Oscar despite being so unusual and wonderful. (The composer James Horner was nominated, however, for Field of Dreams that year.) *Washington was being flogged with a special whip that didn't cut, but did leave a sting. On the take that made it into the final print of the film, the director hesitated in calling "Cut!" and it resulted in a real tear from the actor as he was being struck. Agonizing, yes, but he took home an Oscar for his pains!
MADAME X (1966) -- We keep mentioning this film, but I swear it is just so memorable to me! Cynics and eye-rollers may be immune to it, but those who fall for a good "mother love" yarn and who like being emotionally manipulated in exchange for a good cry will feel differently. At the climactic murder trial, pretty Keir Dullea does all he can to help his downtrodden client Lana Turner without her even lifting a finger to help herself and finally she acquiesces. As she relates her own story, and we begin to see the mournful expressions on a now (finally!) aged Constance Bennett, and hear the pleading closing statement from Dullea, the flood begins. One of my quirky tear-jerking triggers is when someone who has behaved horribly eventually comes around and is remorseful for what they've done. In countless movies and TV shows I've become moved by this for some reason I haven't completely explored in my own psyche. Maybe it's because I sometimes say or do things I wish I wouldn't have and would like to be able to make it right. Not sure. As is so often the case with this list, Frank Skinner's music is delirious throughout. (There's a staircase climb near the start of the film as Miss Lana races to the top in heels and a snug skirt that I especially treasure!)
PENNY SERENADE (1941) -- This is the third film that Irene Dunne and Cary Grant made together (following The Awful Truth, 1937, and My Favorite Wife, 1940) and so by now their already wonderful chemistry was off-the-charts. The first two films were highly comedic and this one has its moments as well, though typically more gentle than the other ones. Here, Dunne plays a series of records on a phonograph as she recounts her life with Grant and is preparing to leave him. Their up and down relationship is revealed in a sequence of episodes that are amusing, touching, always-charming and in some cases heart-wrenching. The affable Grant, star of so many screwball comedies and light romances, has a scene before a judge that is positively gut-wrenching. He received one of his only two Oscar nominations for this tenderly sentimental film (losing to Gary Cooper for Sergeant York.) And Dunne, who could really do just about anything, is his perfect counterpoint with her extraordinary immediacy and realistic reactions as a cinema actress. Expert support, and I do mean expert, is offered up by Beulah Bondi as an adoption agent and Edgar Buchanan as an endearing character called "Applejack" who witnesses most of the couples trials and triumphs. The little girl who plays their daughter Trina is simply precious. Trivia tidbit: Dunne starred in Love Affair (with Charles Boyer) while Grant starred in the aforementioned remake An Affair to Remember.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) -- This is the play-turned-movie that gave us the line "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!" and that happens to resonate with me, but let's face it, among a certain crowd this whole damned movie is quotable. It's also got several moments that open up the floodgates. Needless to say, Sally Field's big meltdown in the cemetery is a whopper, and Julia Roberts' line about rather having "thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothin' special" is touching, but as I've noted elsewhere there are strange things that tend to set me off. One is when Roberts' brothers come to visit her in the hospital. This is a teensy moment, but since they've been rowdy roughhousers all along, it's touching to see them actually show a little respect. The other one for me is when Dolly Parton and Sam Shepard share a moment that was not in the (all-female) play.  Parton's character has spent her whole life trying to make herself and others as beautiful as she can and her husband has barely taken an interest in any of it. He tugs at some soft wax on a stick and says, "What is this stuff?" and she replies, "It's supposed to make you pretty," with tears in her eyes. All the wax in the world can't help you save a life, though. Roberts was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Brenda Fricker of My Left Foot) and that was the film's sole nomination. Most staggering of all is that the superlative score by Georges Delerue was not nominated. The delicate, yet rich, music is unforgettable.
SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) -- Of all the movies I have paid tribute to here, this is the one I keep meaning to write about and yet never do...  Strangely unsuccessful in theaters, perhaps due to its unabashed romanticism and the fact that newly-famous Christopher Reeve wasn't in his red and blue Superman (1978) uniform (along with the fact that an actor's strike prevented promotion for the film from them), this soon developed a cult following. It stands as a Valentine to beautiful Mackinac Island (and, in fact, now to its picture perfect stars.) Reeve is a playwright who becomes obsessed with the enigmatic portrait of an actress from decades ago and eventually finds a way to go back in time to meet her. Stunning Jane Seymour in her most beautiful period plays the graceful, elegant actress. Appearing in support are Christopher Plummer and Teresa Wright. While Rachmaninoff is heavily utilized in the film to punctuate the couple's lush romance, John Barry also provided some incredible music to accent the story, including an airy yet rich love theme. It's especially wonderful leading up to the moment when Reeve and Seymour finally meet up for the first time. That's one point where I nearly always tear up. The music was ignored at Oscar time, though the costumes were nominated (losing to Tess.)
THE CHAMP (1979) -- I guess I oughtta quit bellyaching all the time about remakes when this is the third remake to appear in this list alone! The famous original was in 1931, starring Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper. This time out, we have Jon Voight as a down-on-his-luck boxer trying to raise the young son (Ricky Schroder) left behind when mother Faye Dunaway felt the need to seek greener pastures and a more cultivated existence. While the movie was mocked for some of its more unusual elements (Dunaway's ethereal character is often awash in gauzy, enveloping clothing and her interest in Schroder sometimes seems a little icky!) and for it's heart-on-its-sleeve emotionalism, it still works thanks to Voight's devoted performance and the wellspring of tears that pour out of the little towhead. The poor little tyke just has problem after problem and he convincingly takes each one on like a trooper. He and Voight share a clear connection thanks to director Franco Zeffirelli, all underscored tastefully by Oscar-nominated Dave Grusin (who lost to Georges Delerue, winning that time for A Little Romance.)  This tear-jerker even has a tendency to crack tough "he-men" although there have been a few who could withstand the test.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) -- When a movie means as much to a person as this one means to me, there is going to be emotion. There are scenes meant to bring about tears and some not that still do anyway. One that was intended to hit the mark and does for me is when stern Christopher Plummer (looking devastatingly handsome throughout!) surprises his children by joining in with them as they serenade his lady love Eleanor Parker. The iceberg has begun to thaw. If you're like me and have "daddy issues" this scene is particularly touching. I actually got to live this whole thing out when I played the Captain on stage in 1995. Different parts at different stages of my life "get me." For instance, I was all choked up not even watching the movie one time. Just the Diane Sawyer anniversary special that was on a couple of years ago had me welling up with each new featured piece on the damn thing...! And, yes, the music is everything in practically every scene.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) -- In a similar vein, I get really gooey, really easily when it comes to this film. It's "There's no place like home" message resonates with everyone and it does to me as well, though I really was never happy at home and can't imagine it being better than the freedom I eventually found! What really gets me is a) the fact that Judy Garland is so caring and innocent and giving, which, in light of the way her life wound up makes viewing more poignant, and b) dog lover that I am, anything to do with Toto. In the sepia-toned early section, when Toto joins Dorothy for "Over the Rainbow" and puts out a little paw, I'm just gone... G'night, folks! Later, when Toto makes a brave escape from the Wicked Witch of the West (played by the divine Margaret Hamilton), it's equally touching to me. The whole movie is such a perfect candy box and it's needless to mention how, again, music plays a substantial part in it.
TOMORROW IS FOREVER (1946) -- This lesser-known film has a wealth of talent on hand from the renowned (if, let's be honest, sometimes hammy) Orson Welles to the always rock-solid Claudette Colbert and even veteran leading man George Brent. It also introduced us to young Richard Long, who had a great career going until his untimely death from a heart attack at forty-seven. But the really big draw for me is the debut acting performance of one Natalie Wood. Yes, she'd been an extra once, but this was her first real role at age eight and she's astonishing in it. Uncharacteristically blonde and playing a German, she is nonetheless so naturally adorable, articulate, delicate and utterly charming. Like Judy Garland, the fact that she perished so young (at forty-three) adds a whole new layer of sentiment to what was already a very heartfelt performance. Her character is the adopted daughter of sickly Welles. She cares for him capably and demonstrably in spite of having been in a concentration camp herself and exposed to untold horrors.
I tend to fall for it every time. Thus, movies like Blossoms in the Dust (1941), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and I Remember Mama (1948), and countless others could have made it onto this list as well. I love to be moved by a motion picture. And, as I say, different things move me at different times. The first time I saw Titanic (1996), I was moved by Leo and Kate's story, but the second time, I found myself reacting more to Gloria Stuart and what she was doing.


BONUS PICS!

She doesn't appear like this for long, but this is the look Deborah Kerr sports as a nightclub singer in An Affair to Remember.
And here is a wardrobe test photo of Cary Grant from the brief shipboard swimming scene in the film. Grant was clearly still in admirable shape, though had recently quit a 2-pack a day smoking habit and began to eat a lot more than usual. Still, he always maintained a decent physique during his acting career.
On the subject of swimming, here is Mr. Ricardo Montalban between takes on the set of Madame X (1966.) He plays Lana Turner's suave lover who doesn't like it when she attempts to break off their affair once her husband returns. Montalban was another man who kept up a good figure throughout his acting career.
Between Captains and the Kings (1976), in which she was paired with Perry King in a look much like this, and Somewhere in Time (1980), I thought that Jane Seymour was the last word in Gibson-style beauty. She and Christopher Reeve made a beautiful couple.
The setting, the costumes, the music and the performances all join together to create a really beautiful viewing experience.
Yours truly as a pup in 1995 during an outdoor production of The Sound of Music. The day we were going to open, it occurred to me that the children had been (mis)directed to sing to me when they meet The Baroness. They'd been coming on with her after my fight with Maria over the clothes and then singing to me. However, I took them all aside and said to them, "You were taught this song to sing to the Baroness... so do that. Do not look at me! When you suddenly hear me singing after all these years of never doing it, then you look at me." Well... cut to the moment in the show that night when I began chiming in, "...I go to the hills..." and all of a sudden seven little shocked, touching moppet faces turned and looked at me in unison and I swear to God I almost lost it! It was a struggle to get through the song (and the brief duet with Maria after that, which is cut from the movie.) Some of these kids have their own kids now and a couple of them still perform, even professionally, which is gratifying.
I do not ask it. I demand that you click on this photo and take in the blue-eyed glory of Mr. Christopher Plummer. My God, no wonder the Baroness didn't want to give up without some sort of college try!
I've seen this picture cropped to just chests many times or in black and white, but not too often in color, so I share it here... the fabulous foursome on the set of the Wizard of Oz.
Garland and Terry (the canine heart-breaker who played Toto) had a wonderful relationship on and off screen. Terry even stayed with Garland prior to filming so that they would be better acquainted during the shoot. Terry later lent Susan Hayward this pose for "I'll Plant My Own Tree" when she took over Judy's role in Valley of the Dolls (1967.) Okay... I made that up...
One of several posters that were developed for the release of The Champ.
But looky here... a piece of photo art that was used in creating the poster. Note how the real poster extends both Voight's and Dunaway's necks unnaturally! That gave me an idea for a party game and since "laughter through tears is my favorite emotion," I will show you how to do it. You print off the above photo with a copy for each person there and then let them fill it in the way they wish. Then everyone votes for the winner... Example below! LOL
Now don't get your titty in a twist. I'm just having some fun at the end of this post. Till next time, I'm yours truly... Poseidon!

10 comments:

Gregory Moore said...

I'm very much enjoying your retrospective series! As far as tear-jerkers go, I'm right with you on "Somewhere In Time," a film that barely registered a blip on anyone's radar when it was released, but seems to inch further into the "Classic" category with each passing year. There's actually a very active "Somewhere In Time" fan group that meets on Mackinac Island each October, to bask in the beauty of this, their favorite film. Jane Seymour will be attending this year's conflagration. To me, it's quite a perfect film, one of my sentimental favorites--and a film I can only watch alone, since it renders me a soggy mess from beginning to end.
I agree, the soundtrack is one of Hollywood's greatest and (in typical Oscar fashion) was completely overlooked at the time). I highly recommend this film to fans of guileless, unbridled, uncynical romantic films. For this viewer, it's one of the greatest ever made.

Martin said...

Love this list! So many of my favorites are on here. I agree, that reaction when Cary Grant in "An Affair" opens that door and realizes the woman he loves didn't want to tie him down with her handicap breaks my heart every time I see it.

I am really loving your top ten lists!

Gingerguy said...

I love that you did this list! I have a hard time crying so when the tears come in a movie I just let them rip. Cary Grant and Deborah are so appealing as a couple, older and sexy, that it would seem like shooting fish in a barrel, but they really both give it such depth. I do associate this movie with one of the frights of my life though. I had an old huge screen tv that kept shutting itself off. IN the middle of the night it turned it self back on and I woke up to the incredibly creepy sound of children singing in my living room! my gay nerves never fully recovered.
The end of Madame X is shameless, if you don't cry you aren't human. This film is similar to Imitation of Life for me. I laughed all the way through both films at some of the campy situations, but was reduced to tears at the end, death bed and funeral.
Penny Serenade is ruthless in it's pursuit of emotion, don't they lose three children including her pregnancy?
Ditto Steel Magnolias. I watched it recently and couldn't believe all the lines that came from that movie, including "eat shit and die"(perhaps that wasn't original to the film?) and the recipe for cuppa cuppa cuppa, which I still say.
My own list would include Showboat. The 1950 version. Since I was 7 years old watching it at my Grandmother's apartment until today, it still chokes me up. When Magnolia is onstage murmering her way through "After The Ball Is Over"and her Father instructs her to smile through the tears just wrecks me. Also the sacrifice that Julie makes and the kiss she blows her at the end gets more poignant over time (I didn't really get the racial stuff the first time I saw it). Throw in the floor washing/lullaby scene from I Remember Mama and I am a blubbering mess. I even cried telling that scene to a friend on the phone! I need a tissue just thinking about it.

DJWildBill said...

You may have never heard of the movie "Rocket Gibraltar" which was Burt Lancaster's last movie role and Macaulay Culkin's first. David Hyde Pierce also stars as Lancaster's son. The movie features Lancaster as the 80 year old grandfather at home and in failing health for his 80th birthday. His children are oblivious to their father's health, happiness, or wishes: their plans include throwing a birthday party to please themselves and to continue their own petty lives. The grandchildren are more in tune with their grandpa and the youngest, Culkin, is grandpa's favorite. The grandchildren notice grandpa isn't well and he tells them of Viking funerals: "No worms!"

The grandkids find an abandoned boat on the beach. The only legible lettering on the boat suggests to the kids it must be the "Rocket Gibraltar" and would be a perfect boat for their grandpa's Viking funeral.

Without giving away too much more of the plot, my favorite scene is at the beach when grandpa tells the children, "C'mon men!" and they head to the water's edge. The next line uttered by Lancaster is "Nothing feels as good as a piss in the ocean!" Culkin and the other boys have completely bonded with grandpa, the girls are understanding and have no need to feel jealousy, and the adults remain blissfully unaware of anything that has transpired over the weekend.

It is a beautiful and slightly twisted story. It also caps Lancaster's career nicely and in a very sweet, albeit blazing, manner. "No worms!"

BrianB said...

I have enjoyed this series of posts so much but am chagrinned about how many of your picks don't resonate with me at all. Mostly the TV series postings and movies from the 70's. I realize that it's probably a generational difference going on. You mentioned a TV show you loved when you were 7 and I thought about it and figured out I was already in my 20's! Son! lol

However, comments on this group... I love watching Tomorrow is Forever because of the studio system craftsmanship of the movie. Sets, costumes, music and acting abilities. Of course you just had to mentally tone down Welles performance in your mind and it was OK. I've learned over time I'm kind of good at that! But I live for Natalie Wood as the little girl trying to master English in this movie. She did things that can't be taught to someone that age. Considering how much I grew to dislike her acting as she got older, this is something.

I always love seeing Love Affair with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne because, black & white and dreamy, but the reveal at the end is so much more effective with Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember. You really feel his sorrow and helplessness. I remember going to the opening of Sleepless in Seattle when I lived in Seattle and laughing with the audience at moments of ridiculousness in the movie. One of them took the little motor boat from the houseboat on Lake Union to go Alki Beach in West Seattle while the other followed in the car. Try plugging that in your GPS and see what happens!

I think the first time I saw Penny Serenade I was emotional but in subsequent viewings I just get anxious. I think it's too much and I want them to be happy all the time. But the scene in the judges chambers, yes!! And Beulah Bondi, double yes!! One of my absolute favorites. Talk about tear jerking, the first time I saw her and Victor Moore in Make Way for Tomorrow. An elderly couple broken up by their children who won't help them in their old age. Beulah was a force of nature.

Movies I tend to find as tear jerkers are Random Harvest, which lots of people seem to have the same reaction, The Enchanted Cottage with Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire, and it's too goofy to explain but every time I see the end of Shall We Dance with Astaire and Rogers and they do that little line, "Ho ho ho, who's got the last laugh now" and bow a little to the camera I do a gag sob! Every time!

Oh, and as a kid my parents would take us to the Fox theatre in town, (which as I got older and went to the big city realized looked a lot like a Times Square porn palace!) and drop us off to see the latest Disney film. So many times they met us out front after sitting through Bambi, Old Yeller and St Francis of Assisi with half of us still sobbing! My worst was the end of The Little Shepard of Kingdom Come with Jimmy Rogers who had a hit with a song called Honeycomb. I was a mess at the end because I had fallen in love with Jimmy at 8 years old!

BrianB

F. Nomen said...

I first saw “Somewhere In Time” at choir camp movie night. Then, as now, it seemed an odd choice for a couple dozen boys ranging in age from 10 to 18.

Dan said...

Many years ago a group of us had gathered for a Thanksgiving dinner. Turned on the TV just in time to catch the start of "The Yearling". Only Bonnie and I knew the story, and by the time the opening credits finished, we were sobbing, soaked in tears. Everyone else just stared at us. Oh, well.

The Irish in me would add "The Fighting Sullivans", the Welsh in me "How Green Was My Valley". The scene showing the silhouettes of the older boys heading off to America, knowing full well they would probably never see their family again, does it to me every time.

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is one of the loveliest movies made, and a rare instance of a movie that improves on the book. The last scene is perfection.

"Stella Dallas" or "Captains Courageous", anyone?

Stefano said...

Ahh Poseidon, as you are the great god of temblors and such, it is good to see you managed to include some disasters among the tear jerkers. No digital twister has equaled the impact of the one in "Wizard of Oz", and "Penny Serenade" has a brief but well- staged earthquake scene, very integral to the plot.

I never fail to get verklempt at the finale of "Wizard": when Dorothy comes out of her delirium to find all those well-wishers gathered around, then says "And I love you all!", it feels like she's also addressing anyone watching the movie. Feelings reciprocated!

Shawny said...

Here’s the ones that trigger my tear ducts:
#1 (by a huge margin) E.T.
The last time I watched it I got up off the couch and realized I had been crying so much, I was dehydrated. From beginning to end, a steady stream. I guess I have some major issues.
#2 Fargo
The final scene where Marge is so sweet to her husband as she tries to comfort his frustration over only getting his duck painting on the 2 cent stamp, is truly the most absurd cathartic release in cinema history. Just before that she had caught a murderer gruesomely dispensing a body in a wood chipper. Her calming sympathy and love for her husband over his relatively trivial concern, is staggering in its power. Most people miss this moment, I did after my first few views. Just thinking about it brings me to tears.
#3 Miracle on 34th Street
Not the whole movie, just when Santa speaks Swedish to the little girl.
Can’t think of any more for the moment though there are so many.

Shawny said...

#5 Dersu Uzala
My favorite Kurosawa is really a love story between two men. After you witness all of the adventures they go through, the amazing rescues and stressful wilderness scenes, the ending is hard, so hard. It leaves me absolutely devastated.
#6 The Butler (as seen when it came out)
When Forest Whitaker returns to the White House at the end, I had a breakdown in the theater and was sobbing uncontrollably out loud. I couldn’t reign it in. This has never happened to me before or since. I wanted to get up and leave but I was seated near the front and the room was completely quiet because most everyone else was trying hard not to be heard.
#7 Moonlight
It didn’t happen until after I walked out. I started crying on the way to the car. The movie ended and everyone was clapping. The clapping shocked me and I was questioning whether or not I had seen the same film everyone else had. To me, whatever progress the main character had aceived, was so meager, I left feeling the shock of external and internalized homophobia so pervasive from the movie. It triggered me and left me a little PTSDish.
#8 Inside Out
This little animated film spoke to my subconscious. The love with which it was written was so obvious to me, all of its tear jerking devices worked splendidly in me.