- One of the great romance dramas of the silent era- Frank Borzage’s 7th Heaven is indeed moving—but also features several stunning cinematic highpoints
- Opens on the streets of Paris just before the breakout of World War I. Charles Farrell is introduced working in the sewer (it isn’t Caligari but a great set design there with a light coming in on him that Borzage would pair with the final shot) quickly we’re introduced to Janet Gaynor as well (best known for Sunrise in the same year- the Oscar winner for best actress). It is a larger triumph for Gaynor than Farrell. For much of the film his character is oblivious to how she feels while she’s on an emotional rollercoaster the whole time. She has those sympathetic eyes. She’s touchingly moved to tears when she gets the wedding dress. She’s doing all the acting (and I mean that in a good way). Gaynor is 21 in 1927 and her and Farrell would go on to work together another 11 times after the success of this film
Charles Farrell is introduced working in the sewer—-it isn’t Caligari but a great set design there with a light coming in on him that Borzage would pair with the final shot
- She lives in this dilapidated house (the crazy askew floorboards are very expressionistic) with her wicked sister who drinks absinthe and beats her. This is similar to the Cinderella tale (they even have a colorful taxi driver/urchin character that drives them around like it is a carriage). It is a bit like a Chaplin street tramp story without the humor
- There are pages and pages of dialogue which is unfortunate—but the theme is set- Farrell’s Chico says “I’m an atheist—I walk alone”
- There is a great frame of the backdrop that serves as the streets of Paris featuring a street lamp- a simple wide shot—but very beautiful- painterly. This shot, the quick wide shot of him working in the sewer (not an accident that this film with a clear religious connotation starts him there), the final embrace with the light from heaven coming in—all great cinematic moments—but the greatest of all is the crane tracking shot– the ascent to the loft apartment.
There is a great frame of the backdrop that serves as the streets of Paris featuring a street lamp- a simple wide shot—but very beautiful- painterly
- At the 34 minute mark the camera behinds to track as Farrell brings Gaynor into his home. Borzage tracks from behind like the Copa shot from Scorsese in Goodfellas. The camera pauses when they hit the stairs and then moves through the floor as they ascent seven floors up (the title)—it is a dazzling 90 seconds of cinema. It is a jaw-dropper- one of the best shots of the silent era.
- Apparently they built a three story mock-up of a building and then half way through the shot Farrell lights a match in a darkened area to hide an edit and then they start again seamlessly. Miraculous film style
- The most famous line- a good one- “I work in the sewer but live near the stars”
- Another nice frame – Borzage uses a wide shot of Farrell’s apartment- there is a stove dividing the house in half and she’s on the right in bed and he’s being a gentleman and sleeping outside the window on the left
- A massive hit for Fox
- Much of the film they are charmingly playing house, pretending to be married (like they do in West Side Story) and falling in love.
- There’s a good parallel editing sequence when they announce that war has broken out. He tells her he loves her for the first time and they are interrupted often by the ambient noise (simulated for sound I believe) of an almost parade and ruckus on the street as people are excited about war. It certainly adds to the animosity and stress of their scene as we cut back and forth to them
- The war serves as backdrop for their love from afar—and Borzage is up to the challenge as the film scales into a war film. There are some big, loud set-piece scenes in the second half that are very strong. One includes tracking along the trenches as the 99 minute mark
- At the 114 minute mark he returns home— climbs up the stairs again. This time Borzage unfortunately chooses to cut it up so it isn’t one fluid take but you do get some really nice shots of him in the spiral staircase looking up.
At the 114 minute mark he returns home— climbs up the stairs again. This time Borzage unfortunately chooses to cut it up so it isn’t one fluid take but you do get some really nice shots of him in the spiral staircase looking up
- Their love (and his transformation as a non-believer) is complete- he is now blind, but can see—and there’s a great shot of the light pouring in on them from above (God)– just like the opening when he was in the sewer– great formal bookends
the formally satisfying and visually stunning final shot– ties with the narrative as well of course
- A Must-See film—top five of the year quality