The Doomed Boys

I got to thinking about this the other day when I was watching the hit movie about cancer-ridden teenagers in love, The Fault In Our Stars, with Ansel Elgort as an aggressively adorable one-legged eighteen-year-old virgin.  I love doomed boys.

I think I can pinpoint pretty accurately when it happened. It was sometime in the very early 1970's and we were at Bernie and Papa's house.  Bernie was a lady that used to be my babysitter, and Papa was her husband. We weren't there to be sat upon; it was a social call. The adults were having their adult conversation,  and the kids, my two brothers and I, were watching TV. A movie was on:  A High Wind in Jamaica (1964),  starring Anthony Quinn and James Coburn

The movie is about a bunch of kids who get mixed up with a bunch of pirates, and although it sounds like the kind of thing that children might enjoy watching, it wasn't really a kids movie.  I watched it though.  At that point in my life I was already movie crazy and would have watched just about anything.  At some point in the movie something happened that really got my attention.  The children are holed up in the upper floor of a brothel while the pirates enjoy a night on the town.  There is cockfight happening on the town square.  The oldest of the boys, a blond moppet played by Martin Amis, son of author Kingsley Amis and  later to become a renowned literary figure in his own right, leans out of the second floor window to get a better look.  He falls.  He dies.

For the rest of the evening,  and in a way, for the rest of my life, all I could think about was that dead boy. Wasn't his demise tragic?  Wasn't he the most beautiful boy of all the boys who ever lived? Why did he have to die?  Life is so unfair!

Flash forward a few years. The CBS Friday Night Movie is a film called The Christmas Tree (1969) and stars William Holden as a very rich man whose son (Brooks Fuller) is dying of nuclear-accident-related leukemia.  Spoiler alert!  The movie ends with a dead boy lying at the foot of a Christmas tree with his pet wolves (yes, wolves) baying over his lifeless body.  The critics were not kind to The Christmas Tree, but I loved it. Of course I loved it, because it is about a doomed boy, and I was obsessed with doomed boys. By then I was, at most, twelve years old.

What is it about doomed boys?  What is behind the romance of it? Of course you don't want a character you like to die, but isn't the sadness exquisite?  Don't you just love the feel of tears coursing down your own cheeks?  And didn't you, just once in a while, place yourself in the doomed boy's shoes?  What if that were you, bravely facing terminal illness? Everyone who ever treated you badly would be sorry!

And what about real life doomed boys, like River Phoenix,  or James Dean, or Heath Ledger?  They all did good things in their careers, but doesn't all that lost potential make them seem even more interesting?  Just think what they could have done had they lived!  I once asked a friend who was River Phoenix obsessed if he thought that River was hotter now that he was dead.  My friend was taken aback. "Of course not," he said. "That's weird."  Well, I thought it was a legitimate question.  River Phoenix will always be young, beautiful, capable of who knows what. He didn't give us a chance to be be disappointed in his choices, or disenchanted by his decline.  

Finally, let's look back to the '70s, and the king of doomed boys.  I refer to Robby Benson.  
In Death Be Not Proud he cheerfully and stoically endures a fatal brain tumor.  
In The Death of Richie he plays Richie, so you know right away how that's going to turn out. Richie is shot to death by his own Father, basically for being a hot mess.  

And in Ode to Billy Joe, he throws himself off the Tallahatchie Bridge because he had a drunken homosexual experience and can't live with the shame.  As one does.  

He didn't die in Ice Castles, but he did have a totally gratuitous scene in his underwear. How I adored him; a hot, skinny Jewish kid who took off his shirt a lot. I even liked him in movies where he lived.


Absolutely awesome blog entry. I really liked it, course you know I'm obsessed with movies so any article on movies is perfect. This is a great article, my first crush wasn't really a doomed person, we'll I kinda guess he is, the character of Richard in The Blue Lagoon, that's when I knew. Atkins was my first movie crush I was 10 years old.
Pitbullshark said…
Very interesting topic, the "doomed" boy, or perhaps, simply, "the boy who dies"…don't they really stick with you!

The immediate example that come into my mind when I read your description was Chris O'Donnell dying in "Fried Green Tomatoes". I developed a Chris O'Donnell obsession the first time I saw him in a movie, "Scent of a Woman", where I thought he was impossibly beautiful. I wanted to BE him and I wanted to HAVE him, so he was a double whammy. So then I wanted to go backwards through rental video tapes to see what he had already been in, which took me to "Fried Green Tomatoes" which he had done a year prior to "Scent of a Woman". Still was cute as can be, of course, but he gets his foot stuck in the railroad tracks and gets killed in like the first ten minutes of the movie! I was almost screaming in anguish, how could they do that! It just seemed so horribly TRAGIC, plus so unfair to me to kill off this beautiful boy so soon.

It ends up that "Fried Green Tomatoes" is one of my favorite movies of all time, for lots of reasons, but it probably got an early leg up onto that pedestal due to Chris O'Donnell being a "doomed" boy in.
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Pitbullshark said…
(comment continuation):
The other movies of his that I saw were never really all that good; "The Three Musketeers" (the version that he was in) was kind of silly, although he was certainly beautiful (and thank God, he finally is shirtless in one brief scene). And I can't say I was all that thrilled about "Batman Forever", although he did have a really hot costume with nipples (it helps to have a gay director who really understands young male beauty); I certainly wasn't one of those fools complaining about the costume with nipples! And even better nipples on the costume for "Batman and Robin", although my greatest thrill regarding that movie was that on my first job as a movie extra when I did that many years ago, I was on the Warner Brothers Studio lot to be in a television show starring Suzanne Somers, and Chris O'Donnell and Arnold Schwartzneggar, filming "Batman and Robin" there, and I saw that they were on the same studio call sheet that I was on (the studio's calendar and soundstage directory).

After a while, I lost interest in him, and now for the past almost two decades, I have been working in a private school where we have lots of celebrities who send their kids there. While still thrilling, it is now kind of commonplace to see those celebrities and talk with them, have them know my name. But then one day, Chris O'Donnell came on campus to watch a game his child who goes to a different private school was in, and I got to see him, and my excitement was generated again. I told some of my co-workers about it, "It was exciting to see him because he isn't one of OUR celebrities, so it felt special." I didn't explain to them that he had been one of my doomed boys!
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Pitbullshark said…
(comment continuation):

Commenter Abe Moses, here, perceptively mentioned Chris Atkins in "Blue Lagoon". No, he didn't really die, but it was every bit of the tragedy anyway, because he and the character played by Brooke Shields were rescued from their island paradise when they didn't want to be and I didn't want them to be. Instead, they were going to put clothes back on and go live in San Francisco; what a horrible loss, and that disturbed me no end.

I was obsessed by Ryan Philippe for a very long time, not only because he was so amazingly good-looking and sexy, but because he was so sweet in "White Squall" (the first movie I saw him in), he loved his brother, and he, so sadly, was one of the boys who drowned at the end.

I had an interest in Jonathan Brandis when he was in "SeaQuest DSV", but then later he killed himself. I kept thinking, "All you had to do was come to me and I would have made your life worth living again!"

I deeply liked Brad Renfro from "The Client" on to every movie he was in up to "Apt Pupil", especially "The Cure", but then didn't see him in a film until "Bully" and by then drugs or age or whatever killed his looks, and a while after that, I guess it was the drugs that killed him. I'm glad I have a movie like "The Cure" on videotape, so in a way, guys like that can remain alive forever when they were in their prime.
Vera said…
Abe- interesting you should mention Blue Lagoon, because I am in the process of preparing a blog entry about the four (to date) Blue Lagoon movies. Stay tuned.

Pitbullshark- Interesting replies, as always. Yes, Chris O'Donnell in Fried Green Tomatoes! Perfect example! I had the exact same reaction.

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