“For those who will climb it there is a ladder leading from the depths to the heights- from the sewer to the stars- the ladder of courage.”
From the earliest years of motion pictures there have been melodramas aimed to tug at the viewers’ hearts. Even today we still want to see a character who is down on their luck going through hell find their happiness with that special someone. In the silent film Seventh Heaven (or 7th Heaven depending on how you search for it) a young man and woman find true love through great hardships.
Chico (Charles Farrell) is a sewer cleaner in Paris. He wants to be a street cleaner out in the sun. Diane (Janet Gaynor) is a poor girl who lives with her abusive older sister Nana. A priest named Father Chevillon comes to their home telling the sisters that their aunt and uncle have returned from the South Seas and want to take them to their home. The aunt and uncle are very rich. The aunt takes Diane happily into her arms when they see each other. The uncle asks if they have kept clean he does not want any scandal coming into his house. Diane cannot lie and confesses they have not. The uncle walks out disgusted with his nieces, before he leaves he throws money for them onto the floor. Nana is furious with her sister and whips Diane mercilessly. Diane runs out of the apartment to the street. Nana chases after her with the whip. Diane falls and Nana jumps on top of her trying to choke her to death. Chico comes out of the sewer. He threatens Nana away from Diane. Chico does not know what to do with Diane he leaves her lying on the ground for some time. When helps Diane up he tells her she is afraid and he is not afraid of anything.
Chico sits with his friends to eat some bread and drink some wine. Diane lifelessly leans against the tire of a car. Chico talks about going to church and how he had spent ten francs on candles praying to become a street washer and to have a yellow haired wife and none of his payers came to be. After his speech Father Chevillon comes by with a card for an appointment for Chico to become a street washer. When Chico and his friends walk away Diane gets up and grabs the bread knife. Chico stops her. He asks her why she wanted to take her life. She tells him she cannot go on living without hope. He feels bad for her.
Nana is down the street being taken away by the police. She points to Diane that she is not better. The police officer goes to take Diane away. Chico saves her again by telling the officer Diane is his wife. When the officer walks away Chico is upset with himself for telling such a lie especially because the officer will be sending someone to his home to check to see if they are married. Diane comes up with the idea that she will come stay with him and leave after the police have investigated. Chico takes Diane back to his place. She becomes frightened of his walkway between the buildings that leads to his friend Gobin’s home. He tells her to never look down always look up and to not be afraid. That night he takes a pillow and blanket from his bed where Diane is sleeping and goes to sleep out on the balcony. The next morning Diane makes breakfast for Chico and helps him to get ready for work. They both try not to like and enjoy the breakfast and the help.
The police investigator comes to the apartment the following night. All he asks of Chico and Diane is if they are married and nothing more. The two say yes they are and the investigator leaves. Diane gathers her things knowing she must now leave. As she goes to walk down the stairs Chico calls for her, she can stay she does not get in his way.
After work the following day Chico comes home with flowers and a dress for Diane. The dress is a wedding dress. He wants to marry her now but he cannot say he loves her because he thinks it sounds silly. Instead Chico says he loves Diane in his own way.
The War comes. Chico and Gobin are set to leave with their regiment. Diane has put on her wedding dress. When he sees her he is worried about going. Chico tells Diane he loves her and he admits that he is afraid. As they kiss and embrace each other their time ticks away with the marching of the regiments through the street. Chico decides to give God one more try. He holds some saint medals in his hand and prays that a quick marriage there in the apartment both of them holding the medals will be a true marriage. When Chico walks out the door to join his regiment Nana comes walking in. She walks up to her sister and rips the medal off of her neck and begins wielding her whip. Diane begins to fight back and grabs the whip away from her horrible sister and whips Nana out of the apartment.
While Chico is away Diane gets a job working a munitions factory. A colonel keeps bothering her to go out with him instead of waiting for Chico. Every day at eleven o’clock Diane and Chico stop what they are doing, clutch their medals, and speak to one another.
Chico is hurt at the front. He tells Father Chevillon to give his medals to Diane and to tell her he died looking up. The colonel goes to Diane and shows her a list of men killed in action. Chico’s name is on the list. Diane does not believe the colonel she knows that Chico is still alive. Father Chevillon comes in with Chico’s medals. Diane breaks down. Gobin and his wife come in as well as another of their friends who proclaims the armistice has been signed. There are crowds and crowds of people cheering and celebrating on the streets. Chico fights his way through the crowds. He survived but has been blinded. Chico manages to climb the stairs to his home and to Diane.
Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell were perfect together. This was the first of ten film pairings for Gaynor and Farrell. They had great chemistry right from their first scene. Gaynor was fantastic. She would go on to win the Academy Award for her performance in this film. She really makes the audience want to see her character find her happiness in life.
Seventh Heaven is a very good film. I did not know what this film was about when I began watching it. I did not know that it would turn out to be a story dealing with World War I. I actually thought the ending with WWI was a bit uncalled for with the way the story was going. When that happened the story got melodramatic and less interesting to watch. There were some scenes and lines that were a bit cheesy as well but the acting was so good. Frank Borzage’s direction was incredible. There were scenes that had great light and shadow and he really captured the mindset of the two main characters and the whole horribleness of the First World War in just minutes. Seventh Heaven is a silent film I highly recognize watching.