Charlie Chaplin, the famed silent film star, was always known to mix a bit of pathos in with his broad slapstick humor, and in this case, the last act denouement is devastating. Through the movie’s 87-minute running time, Chaplin’s Little Tramp has been goofing around while “fooling” a blind girl into thinking he’s wealthy. Naturally, at the end, she regains her sight and at that moment, sees the man for who he really is. While Chaplin doesn’t show the reaction, her response is insinuated in the Tramp’s tentative smile. As an old school example of emotional manipulation, no one did it better.
Perhaps the first post-modern weeper, Erich Segal’s 1970 romance novel was an absolute blockbuster when it was released. What few knew at the time was that he had actually written the story of a doomed college relations as a film first, and it was Paramount who asked him to turn the screenplay into a book. The resulting frenzy made the studio eager to release the adaptation, and it too became a massive hit. It even placed the famous “love means never having to say you’re sorry” quote into the everyday lexicon of ‘70s speak. While it may be obvious and contrived, it remains a highly influential weeper.
For the entire movie, a miserable old man named Cesar (an amazing performance by French icon Yves Montand) plots to undermine the efforts of a hunchback (Gérard Depardieu) to make a go of his newly acquired farm and live off the land. You see, the cunning codger knows that there is water on the property, but with his son’s help, he makes the location a secret. Our handicapped hero struggles mightily, but as you might guess, tragedy finally strikes. Just when it looks like he has won, however, Cesar learns a secret about the dead man which turns his victory into a telling personal tragedy.
No matter the version—the original 1931 film starring Wallace Berry and Jackie Cooper or the 1979 remake with Jon Voight and Ricky Schroeder—this movie earns a place on any tearjerker list for one scene and one scene only. In the storyline, our boxer has clearly taken one too many punch to the head. He’s also an alcoholic with a gambling problem and a small boy to care for. One night, the injuries he receives in the ring are beyond medical attention. As our hero dies, his son sits by his side, bawling like a baby and calling out for his pugilist papa.
Tim Burton typically doesn’t make tearjerkers. In fact, some might find the inclusion of this film on the list a bit… suspect? No matter, the reality is that, when an aging Winona Ryder recalls how snow first came to her small town, and why it remains to this day, the vision of our title character, a little worse for wear after his struggles to “fit in” a suburbia setting, carving ice figures in his old attic home is enough to get any misfit (yours truly included) to weep like an open faucet. It was a devastating moment in a film filled with heart and hope.