Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: 7th Heaven (1927)

And another entry in the Oscar Film Journal, here at Enuffa.com!

Going waaaaay back almost a century to the first trio of films nominated for the prestigious Best Picture award, today I'll be talking about one of the two runners-up that year, 7th Heaven, a silent era romantic drama/war picture directed by Frank Borzage and starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell.  Based on a stage play and set in France at the start of World War I, 7th Heaven starts by introducing Chico (Farrell), a lowly sewer worker who dreams of being a street cleaner and getting to toil all day in the sunlight as opposed to underground.  At the same time we meet Diane (Gaynor), a prostitute with a heart of gold, who lives in squalor with her abusive sister.  When their rich uncle offers to take them away to live with him as long as Diane can promise they've been wholesome young women, Diane can't bring herself to lie to him, and he rescinds.  Diane's sister chases her into the street and proceeds to beat her, when Chico comes to the rescue.  A policeman threatens to arrest Diane, but Chico lies and says she's his wife.  To keep up the pretense, Chico must let Diane live with him in his seventh-floor walk-up until the police can schedule a follow-up to confirm her residence.  Of course the pair inevitably fall in love, but just as they decide to get married, war breaks out and Chico must go off to fight.
The film is split almost evenly into three acts - the first establishes the two characters and their meet-not-so-cute, the second depicts their cohabitation, and the third the war and its aftermath.  Script-wise there's nothing revelatory here, but the cinematography by Ernest Palmer and Joseph A. Valentine (who would go on to direct photography on The Wolf Man and a few Hitchcock films) is lush and Expressionist, giving the action plenty of visual depth.  The most striking shot is a continuous upward track as Chico and Diane climb the seven flights of stairs to his loft.  The sets are also quite impressive, from the filthy sewers to the artificial Paris skyline outside Chico's window.  Also notable is the use of synchronized sound effects that pepper the film in conjunction with the music, such as the moment when Chico must say goodbye to Diane and go off to war.  Their romantic theme clashes with the trumpets of the marching volunteers in the street below, aurally symbolizing Chico's emotional conflict.

At the heart of the film though is the chemistry between Gaynor and Farrell, whose onscreen romance was so well-received they made eleven more films together.  Gaynor was the Academy's first Best Actress winner, for this film, F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, and Street Angel (At the first Oscars an actor or actress was nominated for their entire body of work during that year as opposed to a particular role), and she delivers a beautifully emotive performance, while Farrell is gallant and charming.  Their romance in the story is pretty stock material but the two actors make it work.

While 7th Heaven is certainly no Wings, it's a somewhat touching romance set against a backdrop of intricate, detailed sets, and featuring two very strong lead performances.  I wouldn't consider it a silent era masterpiece, and Sunrise was a far better Janet Gaynor film that year (Sunrise won the now-defunct Most Artistic Picture award), but this film isn't too shabby.

You'll want to view the copy Wikipedia has posted, as opposed to the abhorrent stock music-scored version on Tubi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7th_Heaven_(1927_film)

I give 7th Heaven *** out of ****.

Thanks for reading - subscribe to our mailing list, and follow us on Twitter, MeWe, Facebook and YouTube!

No comments:

Post a Comment