7th Heaven (1927)
Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Charels Farrell, Janet Gaynor
Oscars won: 3
Oscar Nominations: 5
The Third of three nominees for the category the Academy now considers “Best Picture”, 7th Heaven was directed by the great Frank Borzage who would win one of the first two Oscars for direction for this film. (They had two categories, one for drama and one for comedy.)
Janet Gaynor, who was, for the longest time, the youngest winner of the lead actress Oscar, won for her year’s body of work, including this film, Sunrise and Street Angel.
While I haven’t seen Street Angel, I have seen the other two, and Janet Gaynor is indeed a terrific actress. She plays well off Charles Farrell, the leading man. Gaynor plays Diane, a young girl who lives with her older, abusive sister. Their parents are not alive, and thus the two girls had to survive on their own. Any way they could. The two girls find out that their aunt and uncle have returned from the south seas, and are now rich. The aunt and uncle agree to take in the two girls. The uncle asks the girls if they have behaved themselves, and led a “clean” life. While the older sister lies, assuring her uncle and aunt that they have behaved, Diane cannot lie.
Disgusted, the uncle shuns his nieces, and leaves, telling them they are not welcome in his home. Diane’s sister flys into a rage, and starts to beat her with a whip. Diane runs out into the street, her sister in hot pursuit. In the street Diane’s sister tries to choke her to death. Charles Farrell plays Chico, a “remarkable” man who works in the sewers of Paris. He stops the brutal attack on Diane, saving her from her horrid sister. The police intervene, and Chico states that Diane is his wife.
Chico takes Diane to his home, the loft of an apartment building. Diane is in “heaven,” but Chico has other ideas. As the days go by, Chico and Diane fall in love. However, World War One breaks out and Chico is forced to the front lines, with Diane praying every day for his safe return.
7th Heaven was nominated for five Oscars, winning three. It was the first Academy Awards ceremony and they weren’t exactly sure what they were doing. It won for dramatic direction, lead actress, and what we would call adapted screenplay. It was also nominated for best picture and art direction. Janet Gaynor gives a fine performance, and carries the picture mostly by herself. Charles Farrell gives a decent performance, but nothing that stands out. In fact, he overacts much of his part.
While the story and acting are decent, I found the film difficult to watch. There is more acting and not enough intertitles to explain what is going on. The film is historically important, yes, and probably considered one of the better silent films. Frank Borzage’s direction is average, but he certainly didn’t go through what William Wellman went through to get Wings made. I would have given the Oscar to Wellman.
The edition of 7th Heaven I viewed was from the “Murneau, Borzage and Fox” box set. The picture, we are told, is from the “best possible materials,” and it shows. The film is in horrible need of restoration. It is not on Blu Ray, and unless the film is restored fully, it will never be available on Blu Ray.
The sound is decent, but a level of hiss is present throughout the entire soundtrack, and there are pops and other sound blemishes. To be fair, this isn’t totally a silent film; with less then five minutes left in the film, a woman starts to sing. As well, there are a couple of sound effects sprinkled throughout the picture, which do add to the film. A soundtrack and picture restoration is paramount.
The film 7th Heaven is historically important, and it if watching Best Picture Nominees is a must. But this isn’t a film to rush out and view. Save for Janet Gaynor’s performance, there isn’t much here. Chico may be remarkable, but the film certainly isn’t.