Aw, heck. I'm man enough to admit that certain movies have left me crying like a little girl (and that comment isn't sexist...just accurate.)
Here's the top 10 film or television moments from my childhood that brought me to tears (or at least had me sitting stone-faced with a lump in my throat, trying to control a quivering lip.) These were all first viewed in my grade school years.
10. KONG TOPPLES FROM THE WTC TOWERS
King Kong (1976)
I saw the 1976 King Kong remake in the theater, and while it was never a well regarded film, I loved it enough at the time for it to earn the coveted lunchbox slot for that year.
Questionable special effects and cheesy sequences aside (did we really need to see Kong blow-dry Jessica Lange with his big, puffy cheeks?), you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be affected by the big ape's final tragic plunge from the top of the World Trade Center towers. The disrespectful photographers scurrying across his lifeless body like eager maggots only added to my grief.
9. SNOOPY'S GOING AWAY PARTY
Snoopy Come Home (1972)
Who on earth thought it was a good idea to use Charles M. Schulz's beloved Peanuts characters as fodder for this sadistic sob fest?
Created and written by.... oh. Alrighty then.
In this feature, Snoopy is guilted into leaving Charlie Brown and the gang when his former owner, sickly and bed-ridden Lila, asks him to come back to her. Charlie Brown doesn't want Snoopy to leave, Snoopy doesn't really want to leave, and Lila, who is portrayed as a friendly and sympathetic character, leaves the audience with no one to root against in this depressing and frustrating situation.
The entire thing comes to a soul-crushing crescendo at Snoopy's going away party, as one character after the next succumbs to despair.
I distinctly remember foregoing dinner the night I watched this on TV... my stomach was already full after a big plate of W-A-A-A-A-H.
8. FROSTY MELTS IN THE GREENHOUSE
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Little Karen is accompanying Frosty on a trip to the North Pole in this Rankin Bass animated holiday special. But as the weather turns bitterly cold, it becomes clear that Karen's life is in jeopardy.
Frosty carries her in his arms, looking for shelter, when they come across a poinsettia greenhouse. He brings her inside the warm enclosure, but before he can exit, the evil Magician (who wants his magic hat back) locks him in.
I can't tell where Frosty's melted body ends and my pool of tears begins...
7. MAMA ORCA MISCARRIES
Basically a Jaws rip-off but with killer whales, Orca opens with scenes of a killer whale couple cavorting playfully (they're monogamous, don't you know), traveling together in pods like a big happy family, and even saving a scuba-diver from a shark attack.
So about the last thing I wanted to see was the female whale being harpooned, reeled in and suspended from the boom of a fishing boat while still alive.
Did I say the last thing I wanted to see? Make that second-to-last.
The last thing I wanted to see was the mommy Orca, still dangling over the deck, miscarry her calf, which drops onto the deck before being unceremoniously tossed overboard.
Daddy Orca roars "No-o-o-o-o-o!" And so did I... (tapping chest) ...in here.
6. LINDERMAN'S BIKE GETS TRASHED
My Bodyguard (1980)
Loner Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin) forms a delicate friendship with Clifford (Chris Makepeace) and his circle of friends after defending them against the bully Moody (Matt Dillon).
But despite his reputation as a psychotic tough, Linderman's really a gentle giant, still carrying guilt over the accidental death of his little brother years earlier. So when bully Moody and his new "bodyguard", the macho Mike (Hank Salas), start trouble at the park, Linderman can't even find the will to defend himself.
The despicable pair double-team him, before finally throwing his vintage motorcycle, which he'd rebuilt piece by piece over the past year, into the lake.
The lessons I took away:
a) high school is a horrible, horrible place, and...
b) if you love something, don't set it free--lock it away somewhere. Somewhere where Moody and Mike can't get it.
5. DUMBO VISITS HIS MOTHER
Dumbo's mother is locked away as a "mad elephant" after aggressively defending her baby from being picked on by a mob of obnoxious kids.
Dumbo visits her one night, but she's chained to the wall and can barely reach her trunk out the tiny barred window. The gentle melody of "Baby Mine", heard while mother rocks baby Dumbo in her trunk, only magnifies the bittersweet scene.
4. HAZEL JOINS THE BLACK RABBIT
Watership Down (1978)
We've followed Hazel on a grand adventure, risking death many times, to find a safe new home for his family after their den was demolished by construction vehicles. In an epilogue set years later, an older, tired Hazel is approached by the ghostly Black Rabbit, who invites Hazel to join him.
After one last look at the younger rabbits of his warren (whom, the Black Rabbit assures, will be alright without him), Hazel lays on his side and takes his final breath.
3. ASLAN IS SACRIFICED
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1979)
Aslan the lion could have torn the White Witch and her monstrous minions to pieces. But instead, he lets them murder him in a black magic ritual, part of a secret bargain he's made to spare the traitorous Edmund from a similar fate.
Lucy and Susan are watching from a hidden position, and, like the audience, are unaware of what is going on until it unfolds before their disbelieving eyes.
2. WE'RE LOSING E.T!
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The little alien that we'd grown to love over the past 90 minutes finds himself withering away on an operating table, surrounded by clueless adults who seem to be doing more harm than good.
After the damage is done, Elliot (Henry Thomas) says a final solemn goodbye to E.T., whose lifeless body must now suffer the indignity of being frozen for future lab study.
1. OLD YELLER GOES MAD
Old Yeller (1957)
Old Yeller, the big yellow lab who is adopted by young Travis Coates (Tommy Kirk), proves himself time and again to truly be man's best friend, even fighting off a wild wolf that trespasses on their remote wilderness farm.
But mother Katie (Dorothy McGuire) realizes only a rabid wolf would attack so boldy. There's a poignant moment where the audience sees, just by the expression on her face, that Katie grasps the terrible implications for Old Yeller, then just as quickly masks her concern, so as not to upset her children. It's the moment when we first realize things will soon take a dark turn.
Old Yeller must be isolated in a shed for several days until they are sure he hasn't caught "the madness". But soon the sickness has transformed him into a savage beast, too dangerous to be kept alive.
Travis assumes the responsibility for putting him down. Classic Disney films are sometimes stereotyped as being sugar-coated frivolity (dare I say... Pollyannish?) but that isn't always true, as anyone who's seen Old Yeller can testify.
Whew--all that remembering about stuff that used to make me cry has made my eyes itchy. I'll just turn my head away and dab them with a Kleenix.
Every title is available on DVD.
10 months ago