best film:  Sunrise is capital “M” Masterpiece and amongst the greatest films of all-time. F.W. Murnau’s film is a stylistic tour de force. Janet Gaynor is Murnau’s face of innocence and purity.  Brilliant performances from a female actor in the top twenty (20) to twenty-five (25) films of all-time are rare of course- so this category is a strength for Gaynor.



Gaynor as “The Wife” in Murnau’s masterpiece




best performance:  Gaynor plays “The Wife” (opposite George O’Brien’s “The Man”) in Sunrise and this is Gaynor’s best work. Her work with Frank Borzage needs to be appraised here too – these are fabulous melodramas with meaty, dramatic roles for Gaynor. She is nominated for A Star is Born in 1937 and every cinephile knows that film’s story and how juicy that female lead role is  (though that version is not as good as George Cukor’s 1954 version in which Judy Garland surpasses Gaynor).



stylistic innovations/traits:   Janet Gaynor’s face in the boat in Sunrise is one of cinema’s great moments and indelible images. The Murnau masterpiece is a towering achievement, but the twin collaborations with Borzage help keep Gaynor from being a one-hit wonder if you will. Gaynor was born in Philadelphia. She has just those four archiveable films (but they make for a very respectable Mount Rushmore of a resume) and was really finished with cinema in 1938 at the young age of 32.



7th Heaven opens on the streets of Paris just before the breakout of The Great War. Charles Farrell is introduced working in the sewer (it is not Caligari but a great set design there with a light coming in on him that Borzage would pair with the final shot) and Borzage quickly introduces Janet Gaynor as well (the same year as Sunrise 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 is on an emotional rollercoaster the whole time. She has those warmly sympathetic eyes. She is touchingly moved to tears when she gets the wedding dress. She is doing all the acting (and that is meant in a good way). Gaynor is 21 in 1927 and her and Farrell would go on to work together another eleven (11) times after the success of this film.



directors worked with:   Frank Borzage (2) and then Sunrise with F.W. Murnau (1)



from Street Angel in 1928 – another strong collaboration with Frank Borzage – and this is just one year after 7th Heaven



top five performances:

  1. Sunrise
  2. 7th Heaven
  3. Street Angel
  4. A Star is Born



archiveable films

1927- 7th Heaven
1927- Sunrise
1928- Street Angel
1937- A Star is Born