Monday, January 02, 2017

Tonight's Movie: 7th Heaven (1927)

The next film to be reviewed from the list of 10 Classics seen in 2016 is the silent movie 7TH HEAVEN (1927).

7TH HEAVEN stars Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, who were wonderful in another silent film I saw in 2015, LUCKY STAR (1929).

In this film Gaynor plays Diane, a poor street urchin who is rescued by Chico (Farrell) when her sister (Gladys Brockwell) is at the point of beating her to death.

Later, to save Diane from being rounded up along with "bad women" like her sister, Chico tells the police that Diane is his wife. With a police inspection of his home pending, Diane moves in with Chico temporarily to protect him and his job. However, once the police are satisfied Chico has told the truth, Chico finds he doesn't want Diane to leave. The pair gradually fall deeply in love, only to have war intervene.

In other hands this story might be an over-the-top melodrama, but in the hands of director Frank Borzage and the luminous Gaynor, it's something else entirely, a lovely and inspiring work of art. Diane and Chico's transcendent love for one another crosses time and space...and in fact I'm still trying to understand the ending and whether to take it literally or as something happening on a higher plane.

There are several sequences which are pure movie magic. The first is the scene where Chico takes Diane to his upstairs apartment, climbing staircase after staircase, until they arrive at an attic apartment which seems to Diane to be pure paradise -- "7th Heaven." It's beautifully filmed and acted.

My favorite scene comes when Chico arrives home and presents Diane with a box containing a wedding dress; the brash yet somewhat inarticulate Chico initially has trouble asking Diane to marry him, letting the dress do his talking. Once the words start tumbling out, however, there is no greater romantic than Chico, who leaves Diane in no doubt of his feelings for her.

Gaynor won the Oscar for the combination of this film, SUNRISE (1927), and STREET ANGEL (1927), and having seen two of those films, the award was more than deserved. I plan to include STREET ANGEL in my 2017 "10 Classics" list.

Farrell is also outstanding as a man who is slow to come to terms with either his emotions or religion, ultimately embracing both love and faith. He and Gaynor work so well together it's easy to see why they were teamed multiple times.

Future director David Butler plays Gobin, Chico's neighbor and coworker. Marie Mosquini plays Madame Gobin. George E. Stone plays Chico's friend, the "Sewer Rat," and Albert Boul is the taxi driver. Emile Chautard is the kindly priest who gently encourages Chico's reawakening of faith.

7TH HEAVEN was filmed by Ernest Palmer and Joseph A. Valentine. The movie runs 119 minutes.

7TH HEAVEN won Oscars for Best Actress, Direction, and Writing Adaptation, with additional nominations for Best Picture and Best Art Direction.

It's available on DVD in the Murnau, Borzage and Fox boxed set. The collection is well worth the investment.


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