My first experience at the movies was not a happy one. I was 7, and the movie, TheHouse of Wax in 3D, scared me to death. For years afterward I would go only to Disney cartoons. Eventually I made my way back to real movies and discovered the magic of film. I especially relished the tearjerkers, the weepies, the four-hanky ones.
The Million Dollar Movie, on TV, played the same movie twice on weeknights and many times over the weekend! One of my.favorites was (and still is) a World War II movie, Since You Went Away, starring Claudette Colbert and Joseph Cotten. Colbert is left with her two daughters after her husband enlists (he’s never seen on camera, and is only present in the notes he’s left behind before going off to war). She decides to take in a boarder, Monty Woolley, whose grandson, Robert Walker, visits and falls in love with the older daughter, Jennifer Jones. One of the classic scenes is Jennifer seeing him off at the train station and running along the platform till the train passes from view. (The anguished-train-platform-goodbye is an evergreen heart-tugger; picture the scene in which Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary Crawley stands transfixed in the cold as Matthew’s train slides away, taking him to war.)
Ah, Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas! She’s a working-class woman who marries a wealthy man and has a daughter by him. They divorce because she can’t live up to his expectations. She gets custody of their child, but ultimately gives her up to her former husband so her daughter can have a better life. The last scene, Stanwyck peering through a window at her daughter getting married, is in my four hanky-hall of fame.
The last scene in the Lana Turner version Imitation of Life always brings tears as Susan Kohner, after passing herself off as a white woman, goes running after her mother’s casket, begging to be forgiven. I liked this version better than the original with Claudette Colbert.
I prefer the latter version. Grant and Kerr meet on board a ship crossing the Atlantic. They fall in love even though they are involved with other people. The plan is to meet six months later at the top of the Empire State Building, but an accident prevents them from meeting. (The movie is featured in Sleepless in Seattle, and, in my opinion, should have received co-starring credit). The third version, with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, was not nearly as good as the other two or others.
My all-time favorite, though, is Splendor in the Grass, with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood as high-school sweethearts who are forced by their parents to separate. I was totally caught up in the story and wasn’t prepared for them to end up with other people. As it turned out, I couldn’t stop crying and had to be escorted from the theater by the manager. I saw it again recently and thought I could watch it without crying. Nope. Even with the passage of 50 years I still couldn’t watch without sobbing. The good news was that I was at home, so I could cry my eyes out. That’s probably the best place—home, a comfortable spot on the couch, a glass of milk, and some chocolate donuts. And of course, a box of tissues.
Honorable mentions go to either version of Back Street—the original with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer or the remake with Susan Hayward and John Gavin. Also to My Foolish Heart, Waterloo Bridge, Random Harvest, The Notebook, Love Story, Philadelphia, The Way We Were, and Terms of Endearment. These last two were delayed -reaction tears. I was fine when the movie ended, then started crying 20 minutes later.
As I once told my husband, who had teared up while we were watching an episode of The Waltons, “You have to pace yourself. If you cry too much in the beginning, there’s nothing left at the end of the show, when there’s another really good part to cry about.”