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7th Heaven Movie Review

Director: Frank Borzage

Starring: Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Ben Bard, Albert Gran, David Butler, Marie Mosquini, Gladys Brockwell, Emile Chautard, Jessie Haslett, Brandon Hurst, George E. Stone, Lillian West

Oscar Wins: Best Actress (Janet Gaynor), Best Adapted Screenplay

Other Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Director, Best Picture

Love conquers all. True love never dies. Love is patient, love is kind. The world is full of these lovey-dovey verses. They’ve become the backbone to every cheesy rom-com and melodramatic story in existence, and you have movies like 7th Heaven to thank for that.

Starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell in the first of 12 movies they would make together, “America’s Favorite Lovebirds” are cast as Diane and Chico, two social outcasts who embark on an unlikely romance in the midst of the First World War.

Chico (Farrell) is a lowly sewage worker in Paris whose greatest ambition in life is to be elevated to the level of street washer. Diane (Gaynor) is a young prostitute who is relentlessly bulled and beaten by her drunk sister, Nana (Gladys Brockwell). During one intense fight between the sisters, Diane runs outside looking for help before Nana pushes her down and begins choking her. Chico comes upon the brawl and throws Nana off, ultimately saving Diane’s life.

Though a “very remarkable fellow” in his own mind, Chico lacks religious faith, believing God has disappointed him to the point of becoming an atheist. He struggles against his own impulse to do good, acting callous towards Diane in front of his friends, but finding it in himself to save her not once, not twice, but three times.

When the police finally arrive on the scene, Nana is arrested. She convinces the police that her sister is also to blame, but Chico claims Diane is his wife, and the police let her go. However, Chico is warned that the police plan to make an unannounced visit to his home and, if he’s caught lying, he will be arrested as well (what is this rule?!). In an effort to keep them both safe, Chico invites Diane to live with him to keep up the ruse.

Thus it is there, in Chico’s 7th floor apartment, where the two “find heaven” and begin to fall in love. Diane is like a lovesick puppy for the man who saved her life, and Chico quickly realizes how nice it is to have a woman around to cook and clean for him. As their mutual bond grows stronger by the day, they agree to actually get married, just moments before Chico is shipped off to war. It’s a sweet moment – not unlike the Post-It exchange from Grey’s Anatomy – filled with ooey, gooey kisses and embraces that surely had ladies of the day reaching for those paper fans!

As a bonified “woman’s picture”, 7th Heaven opened to rave reviews. It was the first film to earn a Best Director Academy Award (Frank Borzage) and an award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Janet Gaynor also became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Diane.

In true romantic fashion, the movie ends as you might expect – with a ‘twist’ you can hear stomping up all 7 flights of stairs. Though it’s clearly meant to tug at the heartstrings, I think the ending really weakened this film. It lost the chance to stress the inhumanity and heartbreak of war, something the women of the audience knew all too well.


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