Frank Borzage’s 7th Heaven, starring late 1920s lovebirds Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, was the 1927 Photoplay Magazine Medal of Honor winner and will thus be screened as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ “Summer of Silents” series on Monday, Aug. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The 7th Heaven screening will feature a restored 35mm print courtesy of 20th Century Fox and live musical accompaniment composed by Michael Mortilla, and performed by Mortilla on piano, Nicole Garcia on violin and Frank Macchia on winds. Film historian Janet Bergstrom will introduce the feature.
At 7 p.m., the comedy short Mighty Like a Moose (1926), starring Charley Chase, and a surviving fragment from Ernst Lubitsch’s 1928 lost film The Patriot, courtesy of Cinemateca Portuguesa-Museu do Cinema, will be screened as part of the evening’s pre-show festivities. The screening of The Patriot, which stars Emil Jannings, Florence Vidor, and Lewis Stone, is a special treat; the period drama won an Academy Award for Best Writing (frequent Lubitsch collaborator Hanns Kräly), and was “considered” – no official nominations were announced – in four other categories in the 1928-29 period: Best Picture, Best Actor (Stone), Best Director, and Best Art Direction (Hans Dreier).
Frank Borzage won the first (and only) Academy Award for Directing – Dramatic Picture for 7th Heaven (also frequently spelled as Seventh Heaven). Janet Gaynor, for her part, took home the very first Best Actress Academy Award (several years before it became known as “Oscar”) for her performance in 7th Heaven, in addition to Sunrise and Street Angel.
In all three movies, Gaynor suffers and suffers, but in 7th Heaven she suffers the most because it is the longest of the trio. Also, George O’Brien may have tried to drown her in Sunrise while fate dealt her one blow after another in Street Angel, but O’Brien’s biceps and fate’s whims are nothing compared to Gladys Brockwell in a bad mood.
I should note that the period 1927-28 was the only Academy Award year in which actors won for more than one performance. (Best Actor winner Emil Jannings took home – to Germany – his golden statuette for two films, The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command.) And for the record, the winner in the 1927-28 Directing – Comedy Picture category was Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights.
The tale of two young lovers in Paris at the time of World War I, 7th Heaven was remade as Seventh Heaven in 1937. Pert and pretty Simone Simon, a true French gamine, played Gaynor’s role. James Stewart was a poor, awkward replacement for Charles Farrell. The usually reliable Henry King directed, but something was missing from the melodramatic proceedings.
“Summer of Silents” features silent film classics from the 1920s, all of which received the Photoplay Magazine Medal of Honor, on Mondays through August 8. The Photoplay Medal of Honor was the first significant (US-based) annual film award. It was voted by the readers of Photoplay Magazine and given to the producer of the year’s winning film. Needless to say, it was never taken as seriously as future film award winners chosen by critics or members of various academies throughout the world.
Tickets for 7th Heaven are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with valid ID. For more information, call (310) 247-3600 or visit www.oscars.org.
Photo: Courtesy of AMPAS