Initially released in 1927 as a silent film based on a play, “7th Heaven” was among the nominees for the first ever Academy Awards for Best Picture. While it didn’t win, it made it’s mark on cinematic history. Starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, who went on to become America’s Lovebirds, and directed by Frank Borzage, the film did score awards for Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Writing.
I should begin by saying the only silent film I can remember seeing is “Nosferatu,” which renders my expertise in this genre of movie completely nonexistent. I had no idea what to expect from a vintage story at 1:00 AM on a Monday, but as someone who enjoys the experience of a movie, I can say with certainty that there is a certain kind of magic here.
I watched Janet Gaynor’s petite and classically beautiful Diane live a miserable life at the hands of her abusive sister only to be left for dead when the devastatingly handsome Chico, played by Charles Farrell, intervenes. Like seriously, if you had told me I would be lusting for a man who has long since left this world, whose very existence I JUST learned about…well, I’d probably believe you! His tussled hair and strong face probably set many hearts aflame in the twenties! I’m assuming Diane and her bitch sister were “ladies of the evening,” based solely on a couple of vague context clues. Honestly, I’m unsure where they found money to live if they weren’t selling themselves in 1920’s era Paris. Either way, the slow buildup between Diane and Chico was touching, and the ending devastating, demonstrated by the large amounts of tissues I filled with the tears of my ugly sobs. My expectations were low, and to say this movie went above and beyond is an understatement.
Diane’s development from a timid waif to a strong willed person in charge of her own destiny was beautiful, and I found it very interesting that she was the one who inspired Chico to be okay with his feelings, and she was the one providing the backbone to this couple. Gaynor’s range of emotion for Diane is really something to behold. I genuinely can’t wait to see more of her acting. Chico also undergoes a character transformation. His first appearance shows him to be haughty, and proud of his disbelief in “Bon Dieu,” much to the chagrin of the local priest, but with a yearning to be more than a lowly sewer cleaner. It’s only through his relationship with Diane that he sees that there could be more to life than a bitter disregard for everything.
I am pretty sure there are a couple other Frank Borzage directed movies on my list, and if his eye for storytelling remains just as wonderfully paced and framed, I’m really in for a treat. My favorite, favorite scene has to be where Chico leads Diane up seven flights of stairs to his heaven, a rooftop apartment. Borzage’s set allowed the vertical use of a camera in order to shoot the ascension of the stairways in one take and it made such an impression on me. It was romance at its finest as Chico shows Diane the view, delivering an iconic line:
“I work in a sewer but I live near the stars.”
I would absolutely watch this movie again, if just to dream about star crossed lovers. I found the movie on YouTube, but it’s also available on DVD, unless you wanna spring for an expensive ass box set with a bunch of 1920’s films on it!
SCreenings is a series of movie diaries from our staff, currently being monopolized for the daunting task of watching every Oscar nominee by one of our editors