7th Heaven (1927) Review

7th Heaven (1927) Director: Frank Borzage



Having just appeared in F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (which was not actually released for a few more months), 7th Heaven further bolstered Janet Gaynor’s career into the spotlight. This was to be the first of twelve major films in which she starred opposite Charles Farrell (three of which were directed by Frank Borsage), though today she is perhaps most fondly remembered for her starring role in 1937’s A Star Is Born. 7th Heaven won Oscars for Best Director (Frank Borzage), and Best Writing, as well as a nomination for Best Picture. Hollywood later attempted a remake of this film in 1937 starring Jimmy Stewart, but it never fully captured the same critical acclaim as the silent original.

Heavily influenced by German Expressionism and emerging styles of cinematography, 7th Heaven is Frank Borsage’s adaptation of a Broadway play by Austin Strong about a pair of lower-class people –one a Parisian sewer worker named Chico (Charles Farrell) and a disgraced young prostitute named Diane (Janet Gaynor). They both yearn to reach upward, toward a higher station in life –“never look down, always look up.” The film tells the story of their romance amidst the backdrop of the First World War as Chico is sent off to war while Diane works in the ambulance corps. A rumor reaches home that Chico has died in an explosion much to Diane’s sorrow, but in the end he returns home in a surprise twist, albeit now wounded and blind.

This slow-burn melodrama bears some striking moments, particularly the cityscape scenes of Paris –from the grimy sewers to the stone streets, as well as the French army marching toward war– however sadly this film, which was once considered the height of its craft, is somewhat forgettable to me now. It likely made my viewing list as the first of twelve films starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell (who were apparently dating at the time), as well as Frank Borsage’s Oscar for Best Director and Janet Gaynor’s Oscar for Best Actress.

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