Thursday, August 16, 2012

When Men Cry at the Movies

Freddie Bartholomew

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

I'm an emotional says so here.  I cry easily when watching movies.  I know I'm not alone in this...movies are good at tugging at our evoking emotion.

Captains Courageous(showing on 8/18/2012 at 8:00pm EDT) with our star of the day, Freddie Bartholomew is one such movie that can get my tears flowing.  That made me think: are there certain kinds of movies or certain movie situations that can create this emotion in me?  In men in general?

Remembering something Kevin Costner said from a DVD special on my Dances with Wolves DVD, I think the answer is yes.  What he says is this (and I'm paraphrasing) a lot of men commented to him that they cry at the end of the film when Wind In His Hair shouts to Dances With Wolves.  My thought is this: in the movies when two men become close friends and then at the end of the movie one man leaves or is killed, that has the ability to evoke emotion in a man viewing the movie (or anyone I guess.)

Let's explore three movies where this happens, shall we?:

In this movie when Lt. Dunbar first meets Wind In His Hair (Rodney A. Grant,) there is fear in his heart.  Wind In His Hair is a fierce warrior and shouts out in a foreign tongue "Do you see that I am not afraid!"  Indeed, it's so shocking to Lt. Dunbar that after the Indians ride off, he passes out.

Wind In His Hair is fearful about why the white man is here in the native American territory and is pensive when Kicking Bird (played memorably by Graham Greene) attempts to bridge the language and culture gap between the tribe and the white man.

Over the course of the film, Lt. Dunbar and Wind In His Hair become friends and gain respect for each other.  At the end of the film, when Lt. Dunbar decides to leave the Indian camp for their safety, Wind In His Hair cannot say goodbye personally as Kicking Bird does, he must shout down to Dunbar from up on a ridge "Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that I will always be your friend?"

And then (for me) the water works come.

This is one of my favorite Italian films.  (The Italians make a mean film!)  It's about the friendship between a young boy (Toto, played by three actors in the film [as a boy, a young man and an adult]) and the man who runs the projection machine in the small town's theater (Alfredo, played by the great French actor Philippe Noiret).

It's a coming-of-age film...the young boy's father is off at war and his mother is in denial that he's probably dead and not coming back.  So this projectionist takes Toto under his wing and acts as a surrogate father to him while he grows up in this small town.  Toto learns the projectionist job and eventually runs the theater.  He serves time in the military, falls in love with a girl from town, then goes off (reluctantly) to study film in college.  At the end of the movie he's a hot-shot movie director in the big city, and learns that his friend Alfredo has died.  (OK, technically this happens at the very beginning of the film and most of the film is flashback...stick with me here.)

He returns home to his small town (after being away for some 20+ years) for Alfredo's funeral and it's here where the film pulls out seemingly every sentimental device: he reunites his aged mother, he meets all of the old townspeople whom he grew up with at the theater, etc. I won't give too much away...but it's almost over the top.  Almost.

Meanwhile during this strumming of the heartstrings, your humble blog author cries 99 tears.

And the final scene in the whole movie...the very last image you're left with is the push over the think you've cried your eyes out up to this point...and then you get hit with this final scene.  Brutally sentimental and so beautiful.  To me, this is the best final scene of any film ever made.  It speaks to one thing: love.

This is a love-letter to the art of cinema.

(Note, this isn't the final scene that I discussed above...just a nice scene between Alfredo and the boy Toto.)

  • Captains Courageous
This is a similar coming-of-age story to Nuovo Cinema Paradiso as it's the story of a boy (Harvey, played by star of the day Freddie Bartholomew) who's taken under the wing of an adult (Manuel, played by a young Spencer Tracy with curly hair!)

What makes this a little better is that the boy undergoes a transformation as he works on a fishing schooner on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.  At the beginning of the film, he's a spoiled, well-to-do schoolboy who thinks anything he wants should simply be delivered into his lap.  He manipulates others for his own gain.  As a person watching this, you'll want to smack me, you will.

Through an accident he ends of up on the fishing boat and he's in for a rude awakening here.  The hardworking fishermen don't have time to coddle him like he's used to.  On the fishing boat (the "We're Here"), Captain Disko quickly gets fed up with his demanding demeanor and hauls off and slugs the kid in the side of the head.  As a person watching this, you will cheer when this me, you will.

Thus begins his transformation.

Through Manuel he learns about what's important in life and how to treat a fellow person.  When Harvey admits to fouling the lines of another fisherman in order to win a contest, Manuel has to hide his smile because he's proud that Harvey's growing into a fine young man.  When Manuel dies near the end of the film, Harvey is separated from his friend just as he and Manuel have become close friends.  Manuel had become a substitute father for Harvey.  

Here too, there is some sentimentalism...Harvey wants to keep some of Manuel's possessions, he lights some candles in the church for Manuel and he attends the funeral for all of the fishermen who have died this season, and then for me...the floodgates open.

These are just three examples of films where there is a strong friendship between two men that grows over the course of the film and then there is separation.  For me this makes the movies extra-emotional.  There are plenty more examples where these came from (see war movies for lots of examples.)

If you haven't seen any of these films, seriously consider seeing them...they're each great in their own way.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Great stuff, Joel! I'll be honest Tracy annoys me in this one, so the ending has never gotten me as much as it does you, but I do find Freddie's evolution fascinating to watch and I will be watching it yet again tonight. Hope reading this doesn't make me cry now!

    1. Thanks, Cliff! I've heard others express the same thing about Tracy...especially about his accent. Hopefully I'll be there tonight watching and tweeting.

  2. Great post, Joel!

    The one that gets me every time (and I mean sobbing. EVERY TIME.) is the end of "Avalon," one of Barry Levinson's "Baltimore" movies. There are a lot of loose parallels about the story of an immigrant family splitting apart (and subsequently growing apart) as they scatter to the "suburbs" which echo my own childhood experiences. About how families who once traveled near and far to spend holidays together now spend them alone in front of the tv. But it's the final scene, with an old Sam (the wonderful Armin Mueller-Stahl) alone in a nursing home, being visited by his grandchild Michael, that rips my heart out, stomps on it, and puts it a blender.

    2nd place: the end of "Fiddler on the Roof," the "Anatevka" number. Norman Jewison turns it into a montage of silent faces and the empty shtetl set to that fabulously lush choral arrangement. (I'm a sucker for lush music.) *tears*

    Honorable mention: UP. The first 7 minutes. YOU KNOW WHY.

    1. UP montage is *THE* best montage I've ever seen. In the course about 5 minutes they sum up the *ENTIRE* life of one man, all the joy...and (tearfully) all of the hurt.

  3. Thought-provoking piece, Joel. I certainly found the ending of 'Captains Courageous' very poignant and may have shed a tear, even though I agree that Tracy's accent is rather dodgy. It's a long time since I saw either of the other two you discuss here but I remember both having a powerful impact. I'm not sure which film I find the most devastating, but there are many which move me to tears - Cary Grant at his mother's bedside in 'None but the Lonely Heart' comes to mind, but there are loads! Judy

    1. Thanks Judy...your words mean so much to me coming from an experienced blogger.

  4. Yup - That's why Stand By Me hit me hard as a kid. The loss of a really good thing.