7th Heaven (1927) + Vincent Peirani

7th Heaven
Director: Frank Borzage
Writer: Benjamin Glazer, Katherine Hilliker, H.H. Caldwell
Based on: Austin Strong’s play
Cast: Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Albert Gran, David Butler, Marie Mosquini, Gladys Brockwell, Emile Chautard, Ben Bard, George E. Stone
Part of: Film and Music Cycle
With music by Vincent Peirani, performed by Vincent Peirani, Émile Parisien, Federico Casagrande, Stéphane Edouard
Seen on: 12.1.2022

Content Note: domestic violence

Diane (Janet Gaynor) lives with her abusive sister Nana (Gladys Brockwell) in a rather destitute situation. After a plan to connect with some distant, rich relations falls through, Nana kicks Diane out and basically leaves her to die. Diane draws the attention of Chico (Charles Farrell), a young sewer worker with big plans. Chico doesn’t have time for Diane’s misery, but when he finds her about to get arrested with a group of sex workers, compassion gets the better of him. He claims that she is wife and frees her that way. But now the two do have to pretend to be married until the police comes to check on them. Bringing Diane to his apartment on the 7th floor, they settle into a routine and slowly become closer.

7th Heaven not only shows that the fake dating trope has long been a staple of the romance genre, but that it really works. With a charming cast, excellent camera work and wonderful music to accompany it, I enjoyed it immensely.

The film poster showing drawings of some of the characters in the film.

When 7th Heaven started, I honestly wasn’t sure whether I could grow to like Chico. I mean, Farrell is almost preternaturally pretty, but he was downright cruel in the way he believed in the “work hard and you will achieve everything” myth, and the dismissal of Diane that follows this belief. But they actually managed to turn things round and he grew as a character in the course of the narrative.

So it actually didn’t take all that long until I was absolutely rooting for Chico and Diane (Gaynor and Farrell have fantastic chemistry and I can understand why they made many more films together), and when the story takes quite a dark turn and Chico has to go to war, I was afraid that this entire thing would turn into a drama rather than a romance, and would keep the HEA from me. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, although things turn very melodramatic before we get to the good stuff.

Diane (Janet Gaynor) cutting Chico's (Charles Farrell) hair.

The music does a good job to underscore the often tongue-in-cheek tone of the film (despite the drama), and yet stay emotional. Peirani and the other musicians came to the concert a bit harriedly – their luggage was lost on the flight and the flight was delayed, but the humorous way in which Peirani talked about this in the beginning (to explain why they weren’t dressed up, quite to the contrary) also did its part to set the mood.

The film doesn’t just tell a good story though, I was also really impressed with some of its camera work, especially when it comes to Chico’s apartment building. Those are some really fascinating shots, especially considering that the film is almost 100 years old.

Overall, I just have to say that I can understand why it nabbed a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. I really loved it.

Diane (Janet Gaynor) looking timidly at Chico (Charles Farrell).

Summarizing: wonderful.

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