It’s snowy and gross outside and I don’t care, because I’ve been rewatching Frank Borsage’s 1927 romantic masterpiece Seventh Heaven. And that ending always turns me into a sobbing happy mess.
I used to be obsessed with silent movies, and while I am nowhere near as obsessed now, the very best of them never truly lost their pull on me. In a way, because there is little to no dialogue, they are able to clue in more directly to emotions, to the visual centers of the brain. Often, the best one feel more emotionally intense than any dialogue-driven movie can.
Anyway, on to Seventh Heaven, and why I love it so much. It was a huge hit in its day and helped net Janet Gaynor Best Actress oscar (they were awarded for all roles in a year back then). But that is not why it is so wonderful.
SH is a story of two outcasts - Chico, a sewer-cleaner, whose biggest dream is to be promoted to clean above the ground, and Diane, a horribly abused street girl, the pawn of her alcoholic older sister. They first meet when Chico prevents the sister from beating Diane to death, and then stops her when she tries to kill herself. He takes pity on her and lets her crash in his teeny garret on the seventh floor (hence the title). Chico is rough and gruff, but he is the first decent person Diane has ever met, while Chico is not used to having someone take care of him and doesn’t notice how he lets Diane into his heart - the bulk of the movie is how their cohabitation slowly turns to love. And then World War One comes calling…
I love this movie for about a billion reasons. Let me list some of them:
a. It’s gorgeously filmed (I own a Borsage DVD collection, which was pricy but worth it, and the restored version is sharp and does the cinematography justice).
b. Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor burn up the screen. Seriously. They were a hugely popular pairing back way when for a reason. Their contrasting physicality really helps (and hits all my kinks) - he is tall and brawny and she is tiny (a foot shorter!) and delicate, and it just looks so damn gorgeous together. Whenever he looks up at her despite his height, I die.
c. Character development - one of the biggest pleasures of the movie for me is watching Diane bloom into a strong and hopeful young woman. She goes from a broken-down, suicidal, hopeless wreck to a woman full of will and purpose - in fact she is the one infusing strength in Chico before he has to march off to war - Chico whose braggadocio is shown to hide insecurity and fragility. When he tells her “I am afraid” before going off to war, and she holds him - my heart! These are two people who have nobody except each other, who have decided to love each other despite their past and their shields and their fears, and they are so gorgeous together.
d. That ending. I don’t care how not realistic it is. If it ended any other way, I would have found and murdered Borsage. Yes, despite him being long dead already.