janet gaynor

Sunrise (1927) Review | Jamie Daily

Sunrise (1927)
1st Academy Awards 1929
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 4 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Art Direction (Rochus Gliese).
Won Best Actress (Janet Gaynor), Cinematography (Charles Rosher and Kart Struss), and Unique and Artistic Picture (Fox).
Watched September 23, 2012.


Please stop what you are doing right now and watch Sunrise.  If you have been searching for the perfect silent film, this is it.  Starring Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien (who has a star on the Walk of Fame), this tale of love conquering all is a beautiful and extraordinary feat from director F.W. Murnau.  An artistic director, he was given free reign in terms of creativity–so much so that at the time, the film did not do very well in the box office and he needed to be tamed in order to direct more films.


The story begins with an affair between The Man and The Woman from The City (there are no names in this film).  The Wife (Janet Gaynor) knows as soon as he has left the house where he has gone and with whom.  The maid says, in the few title cards used in the film, that they used to be such a happy couple they laughed all of the time, but now he ruins his life with That Woman (Margaret Livingston).  That Woman convinces O’Brien that he should kill his wife and then the two of them can move to the city to be together.  The man is reluctant, weighed down by his choices.


The next day, he takes his wife on a boat trip.  She is ecstatic and dresses in her best, expecting to go to the city.  That is not what the husband is expecting, and he nearly goes through with the city woman’s plans.  Gaynor shrinks from him, sensing the intent behind his eyes, but her terror brings him back to his senses and he quickly rows them to shore.  Gaynor flees from him.  If this movie had been created today, there is no way that Gaynor would have gone back to O’Brien, but in the lovely, romantic movies of the 20s, after many tears, apologies, and flowers, the couple rediscovers the love and happiness they once had for one another.


Everything was shot on set, which meant that the budget was huge!  This stems from Murnau’s background in expressionism.  The critics loved him.  The farm and the swamp at the beginning of the movie are incredibly dark and twisted, whereas the city is bright and promising.  His incredible use of special effects are mind boggling.  Nothing was done in post, but rather he used several techniques in camera, such as shooting a scene, and then reusing the film and superimposing another scene on top of it.


The film falls into so many categories: mystery, suspense, romance, comedy, drama.  If you don’t believe that the comedy of silent films can be anything but exaggerated movements or Charlie Chaplin-type stunts, you would be proved wrong by Sunrise.  To whet your appetite, imagine a drunk pig.


Jeffrey M. Anderson from Combustible Celluloid said that, “if Hitchcock had made Sunrise, the murder itself would have been the climax of the movie.”  When I was watching the film, at first I thought the beginning completely out of place, and yet somehow it ties back into the end and what feels like two films is actually only one.  This is my one negative about this film, which is why I only gave it four stars.  However, everything else was exquisite.  It is such a simple plot that was executed so well, I think many filmmakers today could learn from Murnau.



Sources: FeminémaDaily PlasticIMDBRotten TomatoesReel ReviewsCombustible Celluloid

Street Angel (1928) Review | Jamie Daily


Street Angel (1928)
1st Academy Awards 1929
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Actress (Janet Gaynor).
Watched September 17, 2012.


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!



Sources: IMDBRotten TomatoesSenses of CinemaCinema SightsSilent Hollywood

The Patent Leather Kid (1927) Review | Jamie Daily

The Patent Leather Kid (1927)
1st Academy Awards 1929
4/5 Stars
Nominated for Best Actor (Richard Barthelmess).
Watched August 28, 2012.


I took a break from loving the 20s film movement, but now I’m back on board after watching The Patent Leather Kid.  One thing is for sure: Richard Barthelmess could teach today’s actors a thing or two about acting with nothing but their face.  For some who think that silent films are overacted, Barthelmess might be the one to change your mind.  His costar and love interest Molly O’Day falls into this trap on more than one occasion, but the Kid more than makes up for her excessive movements.


Barthelmess and the Kid are two cinematic characters of history that many of today’s actors are attempting to live up to.  One of two men nominated for the best actor award, I can see fully and completely why this is considered the best performance of his career.  A story that is typical these days, one should note that this is the story that it originates from–a cocky fighter who only thinks of himself and his career learns that life is more meaningful, and that his courage is only a front for the fear that hides beneath.


It is 1917 in New York and Curley Boyle (O’Day) is going to a fight with the wealthy Hugo Breen (Lawford Davidson).  Everyone is cheering for anyone but The Patent Leather Kid because he is so cocky.  We see immediately that Curley is a fiery personality.  A lone woman among men spectators, she heckles the Kid ruthlessly.  After knocking down his opponent, he shouts at her to meet him outside.  Driven by curiosity, she does, and a few minutes later he’s told her that she is his girl and no one else’s.  Their strong personalities, as well as a constant comedic tension between Curley and the Kid’s manager populate the first half of the film well.

As is a common theme among the early movies of the twentieth century, America goes to war.  This is when we see the true colors of the Kid.  He can be in the ring and knock down his opponents over and over, but the prospect of guns and bayonets terrifies him.  He refuses to salute the flag, and despises the love that Curley has for the men in uniform.  Finally, after Breen shows up as a Lieutenant, and the Kid’s trainers join the fight, Curley tells the Kid that she’s going to France to dance and nurse so that she can cheer up the boys.  Still, his fear rules him, and he only goes to war when he is drafted.


Inevitably, this is where he finally finds his courage.  Placed on the front lines, he is forced to overcome the walls he has constructed and pull off a rescue mission only the Kid could do.


Despite O’Day’s exaggerated movements, she plays her difficult character well and makes her witty gumption very powerful and endearing.  She is a fitting costar for Barthelmess, although I wish Janet Gaynor had played the role.


The only negative side of this beautiful film was its length–well over two hours, no matter which version you watch.  If you have the time and the patience (I watched it in two sittings), please add The Patent Leather Kid to your repertoire!


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A Ship Comes In (1928) Review | Jamie Daily

A Ship Comes In (1928)
1st Academy Awards (1929)
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award: Best Actress (Louise Dresser)


It seems that reviews are in short supply for this film, and it’s no wonder.  I’m sorry to anyone who has harbored a deep-seated love for this early 20th century flick, but I was very glad when the seventy minute film was over.  My third silent film on this journey and already I have lost my passion for it.  Maybe it is because when compared to “7th Heaven,” “A Ship Comes In” falls flat.


“A Ship Comes In” is another black and white silent film, and after watching this one, I have to be honest that I’m sort of dreading the rest of 1929.  “7th Heaven” was an incredible way to start out–I adore that film!  Although there were some impressive editing highlights in “A Ship Comes In,” I was very bored and unimpressed with the majority of it.


The film is about a family who immigrates to America.  The father, Mr. Pleznik (Rudolph Schildkraut), is incredibly optimistic, and eager to become an American citizen.  He gets a job as a janitor in a justice building and preciously tells his family that his boss is the emperor of America.  Five years later, he becomes a citizen, and directly afterward is entangled unfortunately in the crossfires of an anarchist’s hate crime toward the judge who gave him his naturalization papers.


Louise Dresser, who plays Mrs. Pleznik, was nominated for Best Actress and it is no wonder that she lost to Janet Gaynor, the star of “7th Heaven.”  The New York Times movie review states that “her actions, due to the direction, are far too slow,” and I would certainly agree.  She is set a difficult task–to communicate a loving mother of three who does not speak English, and after the happiness of her husband’s naturalization, is handed heartbreak after heartbreak.  Her performance does not meet the demands of her character.


If you are a genuine film noir advocate and love to spend your free time immersed in early 20th century films, then by all means see this film if you have somehow missed it.  But if you don’t fall into this category, I would not recommend it.

Sources: IMDBNew York Times

7th Heaven (1927) Review | Jamie Daily

7th Heaven (1927)
1st Academy Awards (1929)
5/5 Stars
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.

7th heaven

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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