Sentimental claptrap. Fabricated hokum. Schmaltz. A shameless manipulation of the heartstrings.
They don’t do it much anymore. It’s embarrassing now. We’re far too sophisticated for the button-pushing blatancy. It is believed.
Irony rules. And where there’s irony, there’s no place for blubbering. Knowing smirks, yes, but no blubbering.
Especially mechanically evinced blubbering. It’s okay to cry when they take Anne Frank away. That really happened. But fictional tearjerkery?
Gimme a break.
They made fun of this kind of thing in Sleepless In Seattle (1993). It was a “the men versus the women”, scene the women acknowledging the glorious weepfest that is the climactic scene in An Affair To Remember, the men parodying such foolishness, recreating the “emotional outpouring” over Jim Brown’s being cut down in a hail of bullets during the payoff scene in The Dirty Dozen. It was arguably Sleepless in Seattle’s funniest moment. Though as I recall, that Jim Brown moment was really sad.
Of course, that’s me. I’m a total sucker for movie sentimentality. A boy’s dog comes home, and I’m reaching for the Kleenex. The bandages come off, and they can see – and the floodgates are open!
I wrote recently about the original True Grit, mentioning its last scene, wherein an aging John Wayne, playing “Rooster Cogburn”, first brays “Come see an old fat man sometime”, and then clears a three-rail fence on horseback in what sensibly should have been his swansong as a western movie legend. The scene moved me.
It would have moved me even more if it hadn’t been so carelessly put together – John Wayne galloping toward the fence and taking off; a long shot of some stunt man jumping the fence, intercut – and here’s where it really gets awful – with a terribly edited “cut-in” of what appears to be “The Duke” whooping it up on horseback, but looks suspiciously like John Wayne rocking back and forth on a ladder, simulating being on horseback – and then a return to a long shot, as the stunt man lands the horse safely on the other side.
That kind of messed up the moment.
A sentimental moment executed impeccably? Check out the final scene of Ride The High Country (1962). Two aging cowboys this time – yeah, cowboys again – Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott, both acting in their final movie ever. Straight shooting McCrea lies on the ground, mortally wounded, as a grieving Scott, who’d been planning to double-cross McCrea but had come to his senses in the end, stands over him. There’s a seven-word parting exchange, laconically appropriate for the venerable buckaroos:
“So long, partner.”
“Ah’ll see ya laydah.”
Scott heads away, as the dying McCrea lowers himself slowly out of frame.
Cue the waterworks.
I know it’s all subjective. One viewer’s “moving moment” is another’s “Let me outta here.” But when they work, they work. And none more powerfully than a late scene in the baseball fantasy, Field of Dreams (1989).
A guy builds a ballpark in his Iowa cornfield, and, as was whispered in his ear, if he built it they would come, they did. Who came were the ghosts of ballplayers of the past, resurrected for a final sampling at the pastime they revered. Among the returning ghosts was the male lead character’s ballplayer father. In life, the two had never gotten along.
But now it was different. It was their last chance at connecting. As the dead Dad is about to leave, evaporating out of the cornfield into who knows where, the lead character, afraid he might never see him again, agonizes over what he should do. His wife suggests,
“Introduce him to your daughter.”
If your dad is dead, and you have a young daughter – mine is, and I did; in 1989, she was six – that moment just tears you to pieces. Not just sobbing. Primal moaning, and gasps for breath.
Examples will vary, relative to differing sensibilities. But those ones work on me.
A final pondering. Sometimes, it’s easier to cry at sentimental claptrap than at the real thing.
I wonder why that is.