12 June 2006 | evanston_dad
A Beautiful, Bittersweet Silent
This was my first exposure to Janet Gaynor, and I fell in love with her. She plays a poor, ragamuffin country girl who begins a timid romance with a wheelchair-bound WWI veteran (Charles Farrell), against the stern wishes of her mother, who wants her to marry instead a swaggering bully. Director Frank Borzage keeps the potential mawkish sentimentality at bay, and pulls achingly beautiful and naturalistic performances from his actors. When you watch Gaynor's face in this film, able to convey heaps of emotion (just get a look at her when she first realizes Farrell is confined to a wheelchair) with the most nuanced of glances, it's no surprise that she was able to make a successful transition to sound film and continue as a huge star and box-office draw throughout the 1930s.
The forbidden love storyline is the stuff of standard silent film melodrama, as is the suspenseful race-against-time finale that finds Charles Farrell willing himself to walk so that he can get to Gaynor before her husband-to-be takes her away forever. All of that is as silly as it sounds. But it's the quieter moments that give this film its gentle appeal: like the surprisingly erotic scene in which Farrell decides Gaynor needs a makeover and washes her hair with the yolks of a dozen eggs; or the beautiful bittersweet moment when Farrell gives Gaynor a gold bracelet that looks like an over-sized wedding ring.
A film center in Chicago is showing a festival of Gaynor and/or Borzage films, and I look forward to seeing more of both of them.