Somehow this morning a song got stuck in my head. I don’t know why, because I haven’t heard it in a long time. It’s La Vie en Rose, a standard, originally written (of course, it’s controversial) and performed by Edith Piaf in French, and then covered by a lot of other people, including Louis Armstrong and Jo Stafford - one of my favorite singers from the standards era. The song I was hearing in my head, though, was by no one near as famous, but a young actress named Cristin Milioti. She was the “mother” on How I Met Your Mother, which has been for the past few years one of my favorite shows.
Maybe it was the last episode of the second to last season when she actually first appeared on the show and sang La Vie en Rose on the balcony of her room at the hotel at which she was supposed to perform at a wedding. Soon afterwards she meets Ted, sort of the show’s focus and her future hubby. Little did she know that he was pouting on the next balcony just on the other side of the wall while she sang, as the woman he loved was the bride at whose reception she would be performing (and the camera cuts to all the gang, each in their own doldrums). In narration later in the future, he tells their kids that though he has heard their mother sing that song over a million times, that was his favorite. If you want to listen to her sing this slow and haunting melody, accompanied by her ukulele, here it is. It’s less than 2 minutes, so don’t panic.
Anyway, while I was thinking about the song, particularly her version, I got a little misty. I realized that this is not the first time that has happened. I teared up when I first heard it, when I saw the episode re-run and whenever (rarely) I hear it. Now I was brimming when I wasn’t even hearing it - just thinking about it. Why? It’s a great song, but it’s not my favorite, nor even my favorite Louis Armstrong song, though it makes my top ten for him. Nor is it sad. It’s kind of a sweet and hopeful love song. Whatever the reason, it chokes me up a bit. Maybe it was the connection to the story line and the slow, longing way she performed it, but nothing on that show ever made me feel like that before. It’s a very silly comedy, with only an occasional poignant moment.
So, I youtube’d it, and listened again, and sure enough, got all verklempt. I then listened to a few other versions I hadn’t heard before. I even discovered an artist I had never heard of, who is one of those newfangled youtube stars with millions of listeners, but I’m not sure has actually released an album yet. Her name is Daniela Andrade, a young Canadian, who I think only records acoustical guitar covers of famous songs in her bedroom(?) and sometimes next to her dog. Try her La Vie en Rose (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ba_WoSZXvw), which is probably more technically perfect than Milioti’s, or her Christmas Time is Here (Cutest Dog in the Galaxy)(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ba_WoSZXvw). However, I noticed, as beautiful as her version is, she doesn’t make me cry. I guess it was the How I Met Your Mother context.
So, I started thinking, what other songs make me tear up? What movies?
The first one that comes to mind is Into the West, which is the song that ends the last of the three Lord of the Rings movies, and they play during the credits. It’s sung by Annie Lennox, who had a string of hits in the 80s with The Eurythmics, the only two of which I remember being Here Comes the Rain Again and Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). I think she’s really huge in Britain though.
Perhaps it is the quality of hauntedness, which I doubt is a word, that makes me wimpy because Into the West certainly has a haunting sound. It’s about loss and the passage of time and people and longing for what once was and other such melancholy things, which pretty much sums up a major theme in The Lord of the Rings too. Lennox wrote it with the movie's co-producer, Fran Walsh (aka, Peter Jackson’s wife) and the composer Howard Shore, who wrote most of the music for the trilogy.
I don’t think I can listen to it without being overcome and I’ve listened dozens of times. It probably has a more powerful effect on me than Milioti’s La Vie en Rose.
And, of course, because I’m human, Danny Boy. I mean, is it possible someone relatively normal could listen to it and not drop a tear? In my humble opinion, Kate Smith’s is by far the best version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQD7XToP2Ag), but I’m sure many people have other favorites. Danny Boy seems like it must be a centuries old song, but it's not. The melody is older, but the lyrics were written only about 100 ago (my grandparents were already alive) by an Englishman named Frederic Weatherly, a name I looked up and have already forgotten at the end of this sentence. It was based on an Irish tune, Londonderry Airs, the origins of the melody being unknown. It is also unknown exactly who is singing about whom in Danny Boy. I don’t know if no one bothered to ask whatshisname or nobody thought of it until he died. But, it’s a tearjerker all right, because somebody got up and left Ireland, probably during the famine, and didn’t come back until someone who loved him died. In my mind it’s a young man who came home to find his betrothed in her grave. When it gets to the part when she hears his footsteps above him. . . oh, boy, I just hope I’m alone (or at least my evalovin’ gf isn’t around – because she’ll just mock me).
Many movies make me weepy at the end, even comedies, if there is some poignant moment. There are three that stand out in my mind. The first is probably no longer in my top ten movies, except for the ending scenes. The movie is Angels with Dirty Faces, a 1938 drama with an unbelievable all-star cast – Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Ann Sheridan, Pat O’Brien, George Bancroft and the ‘Dead End’ kids aka the Bowery Boys, including Leo Gorcey.
Here’s the set up. Cagney is a gangster, Rocky Sullivan. Pat O’Brien, is a childhood friend, became a priest – Father Jerry. Cagney kills Bogey and gets a death sentence. When he’s about to go, Father Jerry visits him. He’s concerned about the young boys who idolize Rocky and wants to do something about it. That leads to this dialogue, which makes me weepy just to read it online:
Father Jerry: We haven't got a lot of time. And I want to ask you one last favor.
Rocky Sullivan: There's not a lot left that I can do, kid.
Father Jerry: Yes, there is, Rocky. Perhaps more than you could do under any other circumstances. If you have the courage for it, and I know you have.
Rocky Sullivan: You mean, walking in there? That's not gonna take much.
Father Jerry: I know that, Rocky.
Rocky Sullivan: It's like a barber chair. And when they ask me "you got anything to say?". I'll say, "sure, give me a haircut, a shave, and a massage, with one of those nice new electric massages".
Father Jerry: Are you afraid?
Rocky Sullivan: You know Jerry, I think in order to be afraid, you've got to have a heart. I don't think I got one. I got it cut out of me a long time ago.
Father Jerry: Suppose I asked you to have the heart, huh? To be scared.
Rocky Sullivan: What do you mean?
Father Jerry: Suppose the guards dragged you out of here screaming for mercy. Suppose you went to the chair yellow.
Rocky Sullivan: Yellow? Say, what's the matter with you Jerry?
Father Jerry: This is a different kind of courage, Rocky. The kind that's well, that's born in heaven. Well, not the courage of heroics or bravado. The kind that you and I and God know about.
Rocky Sullivan: I don't know what you mean.
Father Jerry: Look, Rocky, just before I came up here, the boys saw me off on the train. Soapy and several of the others. You can well imagine what they told me. "Father, tell Rocky to show the world what he's made of. Tell him not to be afraid and to go out laughing."
Rocky Sullivan: Well, what do you want? I'm not gonna let them down.
Father Jerry: I want you to let them down. You see, you've been a hero to these kids, and hundreds of others, all through your life - and now you're gonna be a glorified hero in death, and I want to prevent that, Rocky. They've got to despise your memory. They've got to be ashamed of you.
Rocky Sullivan: You asking me to pull an act, turn yellow, so those kids will think I'm no good. You're asking me to throw away the only thing I got left that they can't take away. To give those newspapers a chance to say, "Another rat turned yellow."
Father Jerry: You and I will know you're not.
Rocky Sullivan: You ask a nice little favor, Jerry. Asking me to crawl on my belly the last thing I do.
Father Jerry: I know what I'm asking. The reason I'm asking is because being kids together gave me the idea that you might like to join hands with me and save some of those other boys from ending up here.
Rocky Sullivan: You're asking too much. You wanna help those kids, figure out some other way.
Father Jerry: It's impossible to do it without your help. I can't reach all of those boys. Thousands of hero-worshiping kids all over the country.
Rocky Sullivan: Don't give me that humanity stuff again. I had enough in the courtroom. Told everything. Named names. Told the whole mess. What more do you want?
Father Jerry: What I've always wanted, Rocky. Straighten yourself out with God. Outside of that, I can't ask for anything else.
Of course at the end, when Rocky walks into the death chamber, he doesn’t ask for a massage. He mans up and does the bravest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie, deliberately lets his reputation be destroyed for the sake of some kids who idolize him:
“No! I don't want to die! Oh, please! I don't want to die! Oh, please! Don't make me burn in hell. Oh, please let go of me! Please don't kill me! Oh, don't kill me, please!”
And the tears well up just writing about it. I haven’t seen the movie in decades and I am almost afraid to.
The next movie that makes me bawl is my favorite movie, Miracle on 34th Street. For the millionth time in this blog I say – BUT only the 1947 version!!!!! It hits me three times. First, little Natalie Woods’ character, Susan, is standing on the side of Kris Kringle’s chair at Macy’s watching him talk to the children who come up to sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. A young woman comes up with a cute little girl, her foster child. The little girl is Dutch and apparently,
her parents were killed, I presume in the war. She doesn’t speak a word of English and her foster mom tried to explain it to her, but the little girl was sure Santa would understand her anyway. Awww. And then Kris looks down and starts speaking Dutch to the little girl. Cut to my waterworks while Susan does a double take.
The second time is a little later. Kris Kringle is undergoing a sanity hearing to determine if he needs to be committed for believing he is Santa. Susan’s mother, Doris (Maureen O’Hara) likes Kris but doesn’t believe he is Santa either (d’uh). Susan asks Doris if Kris was sad and Doris says I’m afraid he is. Susan says she will write him a letter and she does. Doris reads it and before she seals it she adds “I believe in you too.” I know. I’m such a baby, but it gets me every time.
Third time – It’s the end of the movie. Kris is a free man. On Christmas morning, Susan and Doris arrive at a party at the old folks’ home where Kris is living. Susan can’t find the house she asked Kris for under the tree (again, d’uh). Fred, Kris’s lawyer and Doris’s boyfriend, had been quarreling with her because she didn’t believe in him when he represented Kris. He offers her a ride home and Kris gives them special directions. They are driving through the suburbs of Great Neck, New York, when Susan screams “Stop Uncle Fred, stop!” She darts out of the car and runs into a house with Doris and Fred on her heels screaming for her. Susan tells them it is the house that Kris promised her and it is up for sale. She tells Fred that her mom told her that you have to believe in people, which was what Fred was trying to get through to Doris. Now they are embracing and suddenly they stop and look into the corner where they see - Kris’s cane. Okay, that was a long description, but it’s really sweet and my eyes tear up like a grandmother’s at her grandchild’s first recital. I swear to you it is happening right now.
Last movie, Love Actually. It’s a romantic comedy, an ensemble piece, with a great soundtrack that sweeps the story along and helps hold the 9 or whatever separate stories almost seamlessly together. There are about 9 mini-climaxes to the movie and you could get a little misty at all of them. I find I’m generally more likely to get teary at a sentimental or happy moment in a movie than a sad one. But, the one that gets me in Love Actually is one of the two sad story lines. Emma Thompson (Karen) is married to Alan Rickman (a brilliant actor – the best “bad guy” in contemporary movie history) who plays the very British, but kind and kind of doofy Harry, the owner of a sizeable business. Karen is expecting a gold bracelet he bought (and she snuck a look at) for Christmas, but gets a CD instead. She realizes the bracelet was for someone else (a young woman who works for him who was slowly seducing him). She goes upstairs and has a cry but rallies herself for the kids’ pageant. After it, she is walking with Harry in the school and she lets him have it ever so subtly:
Karen: Tell me, if you were in my position, what would you do?
Harry: What position is that?
Karen: Imagine your husband bought a gold necklace, and come Christmas gave it to somebody else...
Harry: Oh, Karen...
Karen: Would you wait around to find out...
Parent: Good night!
Karen: Night, night. Happy Christmas!
[back to Harry]
Karen: Would you wait around to find out if it's just a necklace, or if it's sex and a necklace, or if, worst of all, it's a necklace and love? Would you stay, knowing life would always be a little bit worse? Or would you cut and run?
Harry: Oh, God. I am so in the wrong. The classic fool!
Karen: [voice breaking] Yes, but you've also made a fool out of me, and you've made the life I lead foolish, too!
It’s great acting by the both of them – it was the most real moment of the movie and neither raised their voice. But, when her voice broke, my wussy movie watching heart broke a little too.