“Seventh Heaven” (1937) starring James Stewart & Simone Simon

James Stewart is superb as Chico. He’s awkward, gruff, reluctant to get involved with other people…

It’s as if Stewart’s star quality is irrepressible. It’s as if his personal good character comes across better than the script can tell...

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

This was James Stewart’s first film in 1937; he was loaned out from MGM (the studio to which he was contracted) to 20th Century Fox. This is a remake of a silent classic that starred Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor (who won the first Best Actress Oscar). It was based on a play by Austin Strong that ran for 704 performances on Broadway (1922-1924). Some are going to think it’s odd that Stewart is playing a Frenchman, but it was common for American actors then not to attempt accents when playing foreign parts. I came across this movie on YouTube; it’s in the public domain.

In pre-WWI Paris, Chico (a late 20s Stewart) is sewer worker and atheist b/c his prayers were not answered. He wanted a better job and a beautiful, golden-haired wife. Though disappointed w/ his lot, Chico continues to do the right thing, but wonders why. A young woman, Diane (Simone Simon), is working for her abusive sister (a madam) in a small tavern (until she throws wine at a customer who violently kissed her). When that customer threatens to have the police close the tavern, Diane’s sister beats her all the way out to the street! Chico pops out of the sewer and saves her; he even claims that she is his wife when a policeman comes by. Several colorful characters join in the film w/ this pair, as they pretend to be married while waiting for the police to verify their claim. Chico’s flat is on the 7th (top) floor of the apt. building, hence the title.

In the late 30’s to early 40’s, Simon was a wanted actress by the studios. She’s petite, bouncy-haired, and adorable (reminding me of a more mature Shirley Temple). In 1936, Darryl F. Zanuck signed Simon to a contract at 20th Century Fox. She was launched with an expensive publicity campaign which accentuated her European allure, esp. her pout. Problems surfaced re: her command of English and also her limited singing skills. Dissatisfied w/ the roles she was given, she returned to France for a time. During the production of the cult classic Cat People (1942), Simon was under FBI surveillance (b/c of her relationship w/ a Russian MI-5 spy)!

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