Monday, January 5, 2009
Directed by: Frank Borzage
Starring: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell
Plot: Based on the 1922 play by Austin Strong, a French sewer cleaner saves a street urchin from her cruel sister. Over time, he falls in love with her and it's their love for each other that sees them through the horror of the first World War.
Thoughts: This was the first silent film I had ever seen that was any longer then 20 minutes and it was a good one. The characters were interesting and there wasn't too much of the overwrought physical acting normally found in silent films. Frank Borzage's use of multiple camera techniques and subtle symbolism enhanced Benjamin Glazer's screenplay, making it easy to see why it was hailed as a cinematic masterpiece at the time. I haven't been able to find much about the play the film was based on, so I couldn't verify if it was an accurate adaptation or not.
While the story centered mainly on the romance between Chico and Diane, there were several bits of humor as well as a few scenes of intensity (though relatively tame compared to the stuff of today). The still gallery and the screenplay on the DVD hint at a number of additional scenes that may have been filmed. Back in the day, it wasn't uncommon for a theater owner to cut a film in order to have more showings per day or excise material deemed unsuitable. Because of this, it's very difficult to verify on some films if a copy is complete or not.
Before last month, Seventh Heaven was rarely shown outside of scholarly circles. Fox brought the film to DVD as part of the Murnau, Borzage, and Fox collection on December 9, 2008. The film was remade 10 years later starring Jimmy Stewart as Chico, but good luck finding a copy of that.
While Seventh Heaven didn't take home Best Picture that night, it did help earn Janet Gaynor the first Best Actress award as well as Best Director, Dramatic Picture for Frank Borzage and Best Writing, Adaptation for Benjamin Glazer. Although nominated for Interior Decoration (the category that became Best Art Direction) for Harry Oliver's terrific set designs, that award went to William Cameron Menzies for The Dove and Tempest.