Society says that real men don’t eat quiche, and they don’t cry. Today’s 5 for the Day takes issue with the latter, offering up five movies that are guaranteed to put a lump in the throats of my fellow Y chromosome owners. For the sake of “society,” we can christen this piece “Five Movies It’s OK for Guys To Cry At ” or “Kleenex: It Isn’t Just for Porn.” So read ’em and weep, and if you’re a real man, you’ll chime in with your own choices.(Peer pressure…it’s fantastic!)?
1. Brian’s Song. (1971) “Ernest Hemingway once said ’Every true story ends in death.’ Well, this is a true story.” So begins perhaps the greatest love story between two straight men ever committed to celluloid. Brian’s Song is a 1971 TV movie starring Billy Dee Williams and James Caan, both one year removed from the movies that would make them legends (Lady Sings the Blues and The Godfather, respectively). Billy Dee plays Gale Sayers and Caan plays the title character , Brian Piccolo. Caan has never been looser or more charming, and you’d be hard pressed to find him generating more chemistry than he has with Williams. It’s the 60’s and, despite their different races and the fact they’re competing for the same position on the Chicago Bears, Brian and Gale become close friends. When Sayers is injured, Brian and his wife are there for him, helping him rehabilitate his wrecked knee. Sayers and his wife are able to return the favor when Brian falls ill. Since this is a true story, I can reveal that Brian is diagnosed with malignant cancer and dies. This is no disease-movie-of-the-week, though; it’s a devastating and moving 74-minute celebration of a life cut short, superbly written, directed, acted and scored (by Michel Legrand). I dare you to watch Sayers’ award acceptance scene, or the leading actors’ final scene together, and not be moved. Just thinking about it hits me like a 2 x 4 to the tear ducts.
2. The Pride of the Yankees. (1942) Even a Red Sox fan can get choked up at Gary Cooper’s portrayal of the self-proclaimed luckiest man on the face of the Earth, Lou Gehrig. Sure, it’s fictionalized as hell, and sports fans harp on the fact that they used reverse photography to make Coop bat southpaw. But director Sam Wood pushes all the right buttons, capitalizing on Coop’s clumsy charm and the way he looks at the lovely Teresa Wright. This is the movie that made me a lifelong Yankees fan—and made me think Ms. Wright was Miss Right. Real life Murderer’s Row occupant Babe Ruth, and the House that He Built, show up for verisimilitude, but it’s those echoing final words from Mr. Gehrig that do me in every time.
3. Old Yeller (1957). Guys, think about your best friend. You know the guy—the one you can trust with your life, the dude who’s there for you through thick and thin, the chap with whom you have had some classic experiences, the bloke who is like a brother to you, the homeboy you can hug with impunity. Can you see him in your mind’s eye? Now shoot him in the head with a rifle, and you have some idea what watching Old Yeller is like. The quintessential story of a boy and his dog, Old Yeller is yet another harsh life lesson from that sadistic frozen bastard Walt Disney. Tommy Kirk, Chuck Connors, Fess Parker, and Dorothy McGuire give great performances, but the heart of this movie goes to the big yellow dog who gives the movie its title and its most traumatic death scene (sorry, Bambi’s Mom). Watching it today, I still hope that the ending will be different. Notably name-checked in Stripes and on Friends, Old Yeller is Chinatown for Children. For any guy who ever loved a furry, flea-bitten rascal of a canine, this is the male answer to Beaches.
4. Field of Dreams. (1989) I worked as an usher in a movie theater when this film came out, and every day, without fail, I would see the following occur after the final credits rolled: grown men exiting the theater, their eyes bigger than saucers and redder than Mars, followed by women staring at them with a “What the fuck just happened?” look on their faces. I imagined that the guy had been dragged to the movie by his Costner-obsessed better half, only to be sideswiped by the father issues he may or may not have known he had. Baseball pictures are always about redemption of some sort, which explains the mythic quality of movies like The Natural, but Dreams is more layered than that. It’s about following one’s dreams, having someone to support said pursuit, and finding more than you expected once your dream has been realized. Dreams is corny as hell—literally and in the Capra-corny sense—but when Costner says, “It’s my father,” there nary a dry male eye in the house. I know I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but women just don’t get this movie in the same way men do; it’s sweet revenge for all the times men cluelessly watched dates bawl over some mushy chick flick.
5. Stand by Me. (1986) One of the better Stephen King adaptations, Stand is a movie that works as a tearjerker if you bring an identifiable sense of nostalgia to it. The first time I saw it, I was 17 and, excepting the wonderfully gross vomit fantasy sequence (this is Stephen King), I was less than enamored of the movie, and certainly not moved by it. When I was 30, I caught it on HBO and saw it through a different prism of life experience. In that 13-year gap, I lucked into friendships with several great guys, some of whom are no longer with us. The exploits of wannabe-writer Gordie (my stand-in) and his pals evoked memories of my own adventures, and when narrator (and computer illiterate) Richard Dreyfuss informs us of the fates of the characters as their youthful incarnations disappear from the screen I was caught completely off guard. All the memories of the times I had spent with the guys who had passed on flooded into my head and out through my eyes. Everybody needs catharsis sometimes—especially “real men.”