“Never look down; always look up!”
A French prostitute (Janet Gaynor) browbeaten by her abusive sister (Gladys Brockwell) finds comfort and transformation in the arms of a streetcleaner (Charles Farrell) — but when World War I descends, Farrell enlists and the newly married couple must sustain their love from afar.
In Alternate Oscars, Peary argues that Janet Gaynor’s popularity both “with the public and within the industry” helped land her the first ever Best Actress Academy Award, for “three good [but not great] performances” in 1927-28 — including her role here as a downtrodden young waif whose life is redeemed by a charitable former “sewer rat”. Despite solid direction by Frank Borzage, nice use of Expressionistic sets, and Gaynor’s sympathetic lead performance, the film unfortunately hasn’t aged all that well — primarily due to its overly simplistic storyline (based on a popular Broadway play), which doesn’t really have anywhere interesting to go once Gaynor is rescued from her sorry plight — speaking of which, Brockwell is a caricature of Evil rather than a three-dimensional character — and the young couple realize they’re in love. The imminence of World War I makes for a convenient narrative hitch — but Gaynor and Farrell’s promise to “come to each other” at 11:00 each day is simply sappy, and the utterly unrealistic ending will have your eyes rolling. Ultimately, this one is only must-see for diehard enthusiasts of silent films, and/or Oscar completists.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Janet Gaynor as Diane
- Lovely Expressionist sets
No, though it will be of interest to fans of Borzage, silent films, and/or Oscar winners. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.