Yet another Frank Borzage film starring none other than Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. Perhaps Gaynor’s true talent was in playing a small waif of an innocent street walker in Italy, and Farrell’s in playing the dreamer who falls in love, because this film, very similarly to 7th Heaven, is another romance between the two. Ironically, it is a Hollywood followup, as the original romance between director and actors must be recreated.
Janet Gaynor has done it again, but in this film, she is a vivacious vixen from the beginning. In the opening scenes in Naples, her mother’s health leads her to regrettably and desperately walk the streets, attempting to earn money for medicine. When her wiles fail her, she resorts to theft, but in being caught is sentenced to a year in the workhouses. Desperately, she flees and is helped in her escape by circus performers. Having a natural talent (or I should say almost flawless balance), she joins the troupe easily. It is while traveling and performing that she meets Gino the painter (Farrell). He is taken in by her fiery personality immediately and decides to travel with the group, insisting that he must paint her. Initially, she is very put off by him and insists that love is silly, but really, who can think that for very long when Charles Farrell is around?
When Gaynor’s character Angela is injured in a fall, Gino immediately volunteers to take her to Naples for a doctor. Through her healing process, Angela learns to love Gino and we see a relationship as sweet as can be. This relationship, unlike that in 7th Heaven, requires much less of a suspension of reality. It is still romanticized, but in a more realistic way. We can be pulled in and believe that their love is true. The moments of tenderness as well as of irritation are expertly done, and Farrell’s continued use of puppy-dog eyes don’t hurt along the way.
Inevitably, the police recognize Angela and cart her away, leaving Gino a shell of the man he used to be. If you know Borzage, however, you won’t fear too much that there will not be a happy ending.
Technically, the film is not a master, however, there are several key follow shots that are breathtaking. My favourite in particular is when Angela is taken to jail. Gino wanders the streets, at first frantically searching, and eventually he is merely dejectedly dragging his feet as he navigates the crowds, finally ending to lean against a wall in despair. The acting is superb and the characters are lovable. The writing is a bit unoriginal, but that could also be because this is the original, and all the films after it are only chasing greatness.
If you are looking for a cute romance, a strong female character, or a look into Naples in the past, I would highly suggest this film!