Wednesday, May 1, 2024

NFR Project: 'Seventh Heaven'


Seventh Heaven

Dir: Frank Borzage

Scr: Benjamin Glazer; titles, Harry H. Caldwell, Katharine Hilliker; Bernard Vorhaus (uncredited)

Pho: Ernest Palmer, Joseph A. Valentine

Ed: Barney Wolf

Premiere: May 6, 1927

110 min.

The romance is an underrepresented but important film genre. The tales of the travails of true lovers proved to be popular among adult viewers, and this film is one of the best early examples of that.

This film straddles the silent and sound eras, and won a few of the very first Oscars to boot. It’s the story of Chico, a street-cleaner in pre-WW1 Paris, and Diane, a poor waif Chico takes under his wing. Their love blossoms on the rooftops of the city, in Chico’s ramshackle garret seven floors up (the seventh heaven of the title). They are torn apart by war, but they survive their suffering and are reunited.

The principals are the previously unknown Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. Their combination proved so successful that Gaynor and Farrell were paired in a dozen more films over the next decade. Doe-eyed Gaynor won the first Oscar for Best Actress due to this film, along with her work in Street Angel and Sunrise as well. The script, based on a hit play by Austin Strong, won for Best Adapted Screenplay. Borzage won the Best Director Oscar as well.

The film is artful – despite its melodramatic leanings, it remains witty and upbeat. By the end of the silent era, acting had become much more naturalistic and relatable. Watching Gaynor’s character evolve from a victim to a proactive heroine is enheartening, and Farrell’s happy-go-lucky hero is a treat to watch.

While this film was being made, the transition to sound films began. As a result of the film’s success, it was reissued with a soundtrack of music and sound effects a few months later. In a time when many film careers came to an abrupt end due to the difficulties of sound, Seventh Heaven shows how to make the transition effectively.

The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: Stark Love.