Every time I see Frank Borzage’s 7th Heaven (1927), I am struck anew by the greatness of the film. As I have said before, this would probably get my vote for the greatest silent film of all time after F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927). I suppose that’s not really all that surprising, as both films are from a brief but amazing period when one studio boss, William Fox, decided he wanted his legacy to be having produced the most artistic films ever known. Both films are also—to some degree—the result of the interaction between Borzage and Murnau, who fed off each other’s energy and creativity at this time. This is the more viewer-friendly of the two (certainly, it was the more popular), but that’s hardly a downside. It’s a simple tale of the romance between a mistreated prostitute (Janet Gaynor) and an egotistical but less-cynical-than-he’d-like-to-believe sewer worker (Charles Farrell). That may sound like improbable material, but in the hands of a sensitive artist like Borzage, it becomes a transcendent movie viewing experience of uncommon power—and no little cinematic wonderment (the traveling shot up seven floors is still a jaw-dropper). The fact that it’s a silent film (with synchronized music and sound effects) heightens its ability to create a completely separate world (and keeps us from hearing Farrell’s rather unfortunate voice). This is not a film to be missed.
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