In the William Fox screen version of Austin Strong’s play, “Seventh Heaven,” which was presented last night at the Sam H. Harris Theatre, you can once again meet those lovable characters—Chico, Diane, Papa Boule and Pere Chevillon—in that little patch of Paris within sight of the Eiffel Tower. This picture grips your interest from the very beginning and even though the ending is melodramatic you are glad that the sympathetic but self-satisfied Chico is brought back to his heart-broken Diane.
This is an exceptionally well-acted place of work and Janet Gaynor’s performance as Diane is true and natural throughout. This young woman was discovered by Winfield R. Sheehan, general production manager for the Fox Film Corporation. Never once does she falter in her difficult task of reflecting the emotions of the character she portrays. There is no effort to make her unduly beautiful with a halo over her head. She is winsome from the moment one beholds her countenance. She can cry and smile simultaneously and she impresses one by her depiction of faith when every day at 11 o’clock she “meets” her Chico, who is in the trenches. Sometimes Miss Gaynor reminds one of Lillian Gish and in other moods she resembles Lois Moran. Yet in her acting there is nothing imitative, but always an earnest and successful effort to impersonate the French girl who is rescued from hardship and cruelty by that “very remarkable fellow,” Chico.
Charles Farrell, who has already been seen in “Old Ironsides” and “The Rough Riders,” makes a splendid Chico. Sometimes he may seem to be a little too swaggering, but what ??? it? The actions suit the young man’s agreeable bombast. You find that you like him, possibly just as much as you do Diane. God owed him ???ten francs, he said, and all of a sudden half of this money appears to be repaid by Père Chevillon announcing that Chico is to be promoted from his labors in the sewer to do the work of a street washer. And you know, although Chico himself doesn’t then, that the other five francs is erased from the indebtedness by the discovery of Diane, whom Chico rescues reluctantly from her drunken sister.
One of the joyous notes of this film, a masterly bit, is where Chico first takes Diane to his Seventh Heaven. You see them nearing the dingy-looking buildings and then they trudge upstairs. They pass the premier ètage, and the camera follows them as if you could see through the walls of the building. So, without a halt, there the two are perceived mounting the second flight of stairs, then they are beheld a little more tired on the third flight, and so on until Chico proudly throws open the door of his garret, outside of which are the stars. He who works in the sewer chose to dwell as near heaven as he could get!
And the way in which Chico arranges for the comfort of Diane is beautifully pictured, here a tear and then a laugh, then another tear and then a smile.
It is obvious that this subject was admirably suited to the screen, but ??? should also be said that Frank ???Borsage in directing this production has ???ven to it all that he could put through the medium of the camera. There is Papa Boule with his taxicab that he ???lls Eloise, which happens to be one of those old vehicles that stood the ???est of the run to the Marne. Incidentally, it is a noteworthy sequence when the poilus are shown comman-???deering all motor-driven conveyances and trucks, piling into them, sticking their bayonets contemptuously at the meters on the taxicabs and then the stream of automobiles pouring along the narrow white roads to turn back the green-gray enemy hosts. This section of the film aroused considerable applause and it merited every handclap it received. It recalls the valiant effort made by France at her darkest hour of the war.
Mr. Borsage, who produced some passages of this production in the French capital, reveals no little imagination in his work and sometimes when it is least expected. He has a happy way of setting forth a touch of comedy at the psychological moment. Take the moment when Papa Boule’s dear Eloise explodes. All that is left of the taxicab is the old-fashioned horn, and Papa Boule, brushing away a tear, declares that Eloise died for France. You will always remember the bit where a poilu, a sewer companion of Chico’s, steals a chicken, and the officers in lieu of observing a roast fowl when the dish cover is raised observe to their chagrin nothing but a block of wood.
Albert Gran is capital as Papa Boule. In fact his portrayal is about as perfect as one could wish. Emil Chautard plays the rôle of Père Chevillon with sympathetic dignity. Gladys Brockwell is impressive in the part of Nana, Diane’s drink-sodden sister.
Prior to the screening of “Seventh Heaven,” there were several Movietone features, including Raquel Meller in her “Corpus Christi” recitation and song, and Gertrude Lawrence in one of her revue songs. These subjects were eminently successful.
Morduant Hall, NY Times, May 26, 1927
Language:Silent, English intertitles + English commentary