July 23, 2015

Janet Gaynor, 7th Heaven

Won: Academy Award - Best Actress

In a lot of ways it seems like the character of Diane in 7th Heaven is the more fleshed out version of The Wife that I wished for in Sunrise. And Janet Gaynor's previously aforementioned ingĂ©nue innocence--exploited in effectively heartfelt spasms in Sunrise--is essentially put on total blast here, almost to a fault. Perhaps blame it on the hopelessly melodramatic screenplay, but I often found myself too exasperated by just how fragile Diane is in this movie. It's exhausting, seeing this woman on the verge of tears in practically every other scene she's in. But I'd be foolish if I said that Gaynor doesn't do it damn well! As trying as it may be to see this woman look as though she is one bout of bad news away from crumbling to bits and pieces, Gaynor's execution is wonderfully done as she navigates through Diane's two-hour emotional roller coaster ride. There's a good chance that this is the film that "won" her the Oscar--had the Oscars given its actors sole nominations, this one would surely be her ticket given the meat on the role and all the outward and inward turmoil the character faces (and that's a lot of turmoil; it's kind of like Gaynor's 1927-version of Precious, to be quite frank). Still, it's Gaynor's sense of soft fragility which makes this performance worthwhile; moments such as the look Diane gives when her uncle asks if she and her sister have been "clean and decent" are outstanding. I did get the sense that it was a smidgen one-note--whereas The Wife was limited, I felt as though she had a little more pop of characteristic flavor; Diane on the other hand is sad, sad, depressed, sad, happy, sad but hopeful, and sad. (to be fair, she does mention to Charles Farrell that she isn't used to happiness, to the point where feeling happiness physically hurts her!) But, monotonous as it may be, her autopilot acting is remarkable and I just can't fault that.


  1. I am very happy that you upgraded her a bit! :)

    As you can see in my current ranking, I love this performance and really think it is a wonderful example for the art of silent acting.

    1. Silent acting is tough to judge, but she's pretty swell here! Unfortunately I'm not nearly enough of an expert in silent film and performances to have much to benchmark her with!