7th Heaven (1927)
1st Academy Awards (1929)
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Art Direction (Harry Oliver) and Outstanding Picture.
Won Best Actress (Janet Gaynor), Directing–Dramatic (Frank Borzage), and Writing–Adaptation (Benjamin Glazer).
Watched: July 13, 2012.
This film is the definition of a cheesy, wholesome romance. There was passion, comedy, predictability, and it was all wonderful. My memories of the 2011 French film, “The Artist,” now pale in comparison. It is difficult to hold a candle to an original silent film. They were the norm in the 20s and no one had to be introduced to their artistry because they were already a well-appreciated genre. Today, making a silent film is a novelty and an experiment; the filmmakers have to somehow make it understandable to today’s society.
I loved this film. Almost everything about it made me fall in love with 1920s filmmaking. Even though the film was silent and occasionally overacted, I enjoyed every second of it. I think it has something to do with the fact that I’m a huge romantic.
Janet Gaynor, who plays Diane, is a genius. Her range of emotions would put to shame many of today’s actors. Her ability to laugh and cry at the same time, and her completely genuine expression of “I’m not used to being happy. It’s funny… it hurts” are just some examples of why this 21-year-old won the first ever Oscar for Best Actress. Presenting a prostitute as a pure innocent soul trapped by her circumstances is not an original concept, but Gaynor’s angelic face and large, expressive eyes pull you into her life story and make you believe you have never seen a character like her before.
The setting of “7th Heaven” is the early 20s in Paris. Diane lives with her sister Nana (Gladys Brockwell), who is an abusive drunk. After Diane confesses their misconduct to their wealthy relatives, Nana drags her into the street, where she proceeds to beat and strangle her. Chico (Charles Farrell), who is a sewer worker, finally pulls Nana off of Diane and forces her to stop. The rest of their love story is history.
As two so completely different characters – one who has given up hope in life, and one whose life goal is to move from the sewers to the streets – it is a wonder that they ever find love for one another. Diane is rescued by a tall, handsome man, and thus falls hard and fast, but Chico, who is “a remarkable fellow,” has his head up in the clouds and it takes him a little longer to come around.
Once the director, Frank Borzage gets us to Chico’s seventh floor apartment, time and space slow and blend. Love is not a subtlety or mired in hidden symbolism. Diane’s timidity gives way to bravery as Chico tells her to never look down, but always keep her head up! The passing of time has no meaning and all that there seems to be in the world is their story up in the heavens.
I will say it again, 7th Heaven is very cheesy–so cheesy that if you aren’t a sappy romantic (like me), or a film noir silent film advocate, you might want to think twice before you pick this film as your Friday night flick. However, this is something I would love to add to my collection and will certainly think of watching it on any rainy afternoon I can.
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