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The Northwest Film Center tribute to Janet Gaynor

In the decade from 1927-1937 Janet Gaynor (1906-1984) emerged as one of Hollywood's great stars, immensely popular with the public for her portrayals as the sincere but spunky waif in a series of popular musicals, melodramas, and romantic comedies conceived especially for her at 20th Century Fox. Gaynor started out as an extra in silent pictures- Hal Roach comedy shorts as well as features-before earning her break with a small but crucial part in THE JOHNSTOWN FLOOD (1926). A long-term contract with Fox led to starring roles in several more studio movies that brought her to the attention of directors F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage. Gaynor made two films for Murnau, including the masterpiece SUNRISE (1927), and three with Borzage, who first paired her with leading man Charles Farrell in 7TH HEAVEN (1927). Her combined work in those films (along with Borzage's STREET ANGEL (1928), famously won her the first ever Academy Award for Best Actress. Gaynor and Farrell made twelve films together and crossed over successfully from silent pictures to the sound era. Gaynor remained a top box-office draw into the 1930s, peaking with an Oscar-nominated performance in A STAR IS BORN (1937). She retired from show business shortly thereafter. This series of archival gems and sparkling new prints reveal Gaynor's unique charm and a body of films that reflected the popular imagination of the era.

We thank the UCLA Film & Television Archive for organizing this touring exhibition, the Louis B. Mayer Foundation for supporting their effort, and the film archives mentioned in the series program notes whose preservation efforts have made possible the restored 35mm prints we are able to screen. Accompanying the series is a brochure published by the Archive that offers appreciation and insight into Gaynor's remarkable career.

DEC 1 FRI 7 PM
7TH HEAVEN
US 1927
DIRECTOR: FRANK BORZAGE
Frank Borzage auditioned a parade of major theater and movie stars before selecting Gaynor and Charles Farrell as the central couple in his magnum opus, 7TH HEAVEN. Based on the phenomenally successful Broadway play by Austin Strong, Borzage's tender and luminous film version features Gaynor as the vulnerable gamine who falls in love with Farrell's stoic Parisian street cleaner against the backdrop of WWI. The picture won a raft of awards, and Gaynor was praised for her ability "to combine ingénue sweetness with a certain suggestion of wide awake vivacity; to mix facial lyricism with a credible trace of earthiness."-NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE. Preserved by the Museum of Modern Art. (120 mins.)

DEC 2 SAT 7 PM
SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS
US 1927
DIRECTOR: F.W. Murnau
The great German director F.W. Murnau handpicked Gaynor to star in his first Hollywood feature. A masterpiece of silent cinema widely considered among the greatest films ever made, SUNRISE tells an elemental tale with virtuosic visual invention. The relatively simple story (based on "The Journey to Tilsit" by Hermann Suderman) revolves around a hard-working farmer (George O'Brien) torn between devotion to his virtuous wife (Gaynor) and desire for a seductive vamp from the city (Margaret Livingston). Gaynor's work here for Murnau, combined with her subsequent performances in Frank Borzage's 7TH HEAVEN and STREET ANGEL, famously earned her the first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1928. Preserved by the Academy Film Archive, the British Film Institute and 20th Century Fox.
(97 mins, silent with music track.)
WITH
PEP OF THE LAZY "J"
US 1926
DIRECTOR: VICTOR NOERDLINGER
Edmund Cobb's Pep O'Keefe is a down-on-his-luck cowpoke who saunters into the Lazy "J" ranch looking for work. Instead, he falls for missing heiress May Kennedy, who is accompanied by friend June Adams, played by the fetching 19-year old Janet Gaynor. This two-reeler makes up for its slight plot with all-out boxing matches and rousing horseback rescues. Preserved by the George Eastman House. (21 mins., silent)

DEC 3 SUN 7 PM
STREET ANGEL
US 1928
DIRECTOR: FRANK BORZAGE
In a bid to repeat the popular and critical acclaim of 7TH HEAVEN (1927), Fox reunited Borzage, Gaynor and Farrell in STREET ANGEL Even more mystical and visually ravishing than its predecessor, this stylized studio melodrama rings a few variations on Borzage's patented romantic formula. Gaynor stars in the title role as an impoverished Neapolitan waif running from the law who finds refuge in the arms of Farrell's vagabond painter. The least known of the three films for which Gaynor received an Oscar, STREET ANGEL was adapted from a novel by Monckton Hoffe and incorporates authentic details into an expressionistic backlot design surely influenced by the émigré genius Murnau. Preserved by the Museum of Modern Art. (117 mins.)

DEC 8 FRI 7 PM
LUCKY STAR
US 1929
DIRECTOR: FRANK BORZAGE
Gaynor's last collaboration with Borzage finds her once again playing opposite Charles Farrell in a melancholy melodrama about an embattled couple whose love for each other overcomes all odds. Set largely in a rural village, LUCKY STAR features Gaynor as an impoverished, willful young woman enamored of Farrell's wheelchair-bound WWI veteran. The misty fairy-tale-like milieu, fabricated entirely inside the studio, is vividly evoked via Borzage's trademark chiaroscuro lighting schemes and soft-focus camera style. American gothic in the most sincere, un ironic sense, the film entwines sentimental optimism with touches of terror, pathos and even lighthearted humor. Preserved by the Netherlands Filmmuseum. (86 mins. silent)

DEC 9 SAT 7 PM
DELICIOUS
US 1931
DIRECTOR: DAVID BUTLER
George Gershwin's first original screen musical starred the popular romantic duo of Gaynor and Farrell in an immigrant saga about a Scottish lass who falls in love with a wealthy New York polo enthusiast. Though Gaynor performs only one song ("Somebody from Somewhere"), she's the focal point of several major set pieces: the elaborate "Dream Sequence" that presages her welcome to the melting pot; and "New York Rhapsody," an impressionistic urban tour that captures Gaynor's fear and alienation as she wanders despairingly around Manhattan. DELICIOUS combines the best of Broadway musical comedy with the visual dynamism unique to the medium of motion pictures. (106 mins.)

DEC 10 SUN 7 PM
TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY
US 1932
DIRECTOR: ALFRED SANTELL
Fox conceived this remake of a Mary Pickford silent as another melodramatic vehicle for Gaynor and Farrell, their eleventh of twelve screen teamings. TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY stars Gaynor in the title part as the plucky daughter of an ornery skipper (Dudley Digges), while Farrell portrays the son of a dastardly local landowner on the seafaring coastline of the otherwise unnamed "Storm Country." Director Alfred Santell considerably softened the naturalistic, often brutal source novel by Grace Miller White in an effort to fashion an upbeat, affirmative and romantic film for Gaynor's legion of faithful fans. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. (75 mins.)

DEC 14 THUR 7 PM
SERVANTS' ENTRANCE
US 1934
DIRECTOR: FRANK LLOYD
Based on a popular Swedish novel-turned-film, SERVANTS' ENTRANCE was one among the immensely successful talkie vehicles Fox designed for Gaynor in the early '30s. Gaynor stars as an erstwhile rich girl who takes work as a maid in preparation for an impoverished future and falls in love with a handsome chauffeur played by Lew Ayres. The New York Times praised the picture as "an agreeable romantic comedy which should-and unquestionably will-find high favor with those who visit the cinema primarily in search of entertainment." Especially noteworthy is Gaynor's cartoon anxiety dream, an animated sequence produced for the film by none other than Walt Disney.
Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. (88 mins.)

DEC 15 FRI 7 PM
ADORABLE
US 1933
DIRECTOR: WILHELM DIETERLE
Gaynor again essays musical comedy in this delightful costume romp based on a popular German film from the same period. Set in a mythical European kingdom lavishly realized on the studio back lot, ADORABLE spotlights Gaynor as a rebellious princess with a penchant for partying incognito with the proles, including a suave delicatessen owner (Henry Garat) who is himself a lieutenant in disguise. This humorous tale of romance and mistaken identity is further enlivened by catchy songs added to the original German score and some positively whimsical flights of fantasy and cinematic legerdemain directed with great panache by the patrician German expat Wilhelm (aka William) Dieterle. Preserved by the Museum of Modern Art. (83 mins.)

DEC 16 SAT 7 PM
STATE FAIR
US 1933
DIRECTOR: HERNY KING
Gaynor and Will Rogers headlined this family comedy that celebrates the rustic rituals of the annual state fair. Directed by Henry King from the bestseller by Philip Stong, STATE FAIR gets big laughs out of farmer Rogers' struggles to prepare his prize hog, Blue Boy, for competition. Variety however preferred the film's charming love story to its broad humor, claiming the "chief interest is the debut of a new romance team in Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres." Critics hailed the actors-"Miss Gaynor here gives her best performance in talking pictures"-NEW YORK TIMES-while the film itself garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Preserved by 20th Century Fox and the Museum of Modern Art. (96 mins.)

DEC 17 SUN 7 PM
THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE
US 1935
DIRECTOR: VICTOR FLEMING
THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE features Henry Fonda in his big-screen debut reprising the role that originally won him acclaim in Frank B. Elser's the Broadway play. Fonda plays a soft-spoken farmer who falls in love with the feisty cook (Gaynor) aboard a working canal barge. Gaynor was a top box-office attraction of 1934 but felt she was fast outgrowing her ingénue period. Her forthright, spunky role in THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE enabled her to stretch her wholesome star persona into fresh territory. As Variety noted, "Gaynor is given a part which permits her to get away from her sometimes too sweet assignments." Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. (91 mins.)

DEC 21 THUR 7 PM
SMALL TOWN GIRL
US 1936
DIRECTOR: WILLIAM A. WELLMAN
Fox loaned Gaynor to MGM for this sophisticated romantic comedy originally intended as a vehicle for Jean Harlow. Gaynor plays a sharp young woman stifled by the limits of provincial life. Brain surgeon (and charming lush!) Robert Taylor sweeps her away to Boston after a quickie marriage, but their spontaneous union soon scandalizes snobbish urban society. Variety hailed the film as "a smacko assignment for Gaynor and she displays considerable authority in her performance." Based on a serialized novel by Ben Ames Williams, SMALL TOWN GIRL was directed with wit and energy by William Wellman. (90 mins.)

DEC 22 FRI 7 PM
LADIES IN LOVE
US 1936
DIRECTOR: EDWARD H, GRIFFITH
In her last film for Fox, Gaynor appears alongside Constance Bennett and Loretta Young in a romantic drama about three girlfriends sharing a deluxe apartment while they search for husbands in modern-day Budapest. Gaynor got top billing to play the sensible gal enamored of a dignified doctor (Don Ameche). The New York Times reported on-set friction between the leading actresses, claiming that "[e]ach of the young ladies is known for being temperamental and diplomacy has been called into use more than once." Based on the stage play Three Girls, the film's story line became a virtual template at Fox in years to come. (97 mins.)

DEC 23 SAT 7 PM
A STAR IS BORN
US 1937
DIRECTOR: WILLIAM A. WELLMAN
After leaving Fox, Gaynor starred in David O. Selznick's gimlet-eyed melodrama about the Hollywood movie colony. A STAR IS BORN traces the rise of an aspiring actress (Gaynor) to the heights of fame and fortune, while also charting the obverse trajectory of her matinée idol husband (Fredric March), whose own career nosedives as hers soars to even greater success. Nominated for numerous Academy Awards-including one for Gaynor's subtle, sympathetic lead performance-A STAR IS BORN became the biggest box-office hit of the year and provided Gaynor with her most famous line-and one of the most memorable last lines in movie history-"This is Mrs. Norman Maine."
Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. (111 mins.)

DEC 28 THUR 7 PM
THE YOUNG IN HEART
US 1938
DIRECTOR: RICHARD WALLACE
A witty, heartfelt screwball comedy from super-producer David O. Selznick, THE YOUNG IN HEART was also Gaynor's last released feature before her retirement from the movies-and marriage to famed fashion designer Gilbert Adrian-in 1939. Gaynor stars as the wily daughter in a family of high-class con artists intent on fleecing a kindly old widow (Broadway veteran Minnie Dupree in her show stopping screen debut) out of her vast fortune. An original downbeat conclusion, derived from the source novel, apparently tested so poorly in previews that Selznick reassembled the cast and shot a new, upbeat ending for the final cut of the film. With: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Paulette Goddard, Roland Young, Billie Burke. (90 mins.) Preserved by the Museum of Modern Art.

DEC 29 FRI 7 PM
THE JOHNSTOWN FLOOD
US 1926
DIRECTOR: IRVING CUMMINGS
Fox poached Gaynor from Universal with the offer of a supporting role in this proto-disaster movie, a period melodrama inspired by the actual catastrophe that struck the titular Pennsylvania town in 1889. George O'Brien stars as a prescient engineer who spots flaws in the local dam. Florence Gilbert is O'Brien's love interest, but Gaynor steals the show in the minor but crucial role of Anna Burger, a workman's daughter who rides through the valley on horseback to warn the people of the impending deluge. Gaynor's memorable performance earned her a five-year contract with Fox, effectively launching her meteoric career. Restored by the George Eastman House in collaboration with 20th Century Fox. (58 mins.)
WITH
THE SHAMROCK HANDICAP
(1926) Directed by John Ford
Gaynor got top billing in only her second feature at Fox. Directed by John Ford, THE SHAMROCK HANDICAP is a lighthearted racehorse drama set in Ireland. Gaynor plays the daughter of a kindly but destitute aristocrat (Louis Payne) forced to sell the bulk of his equestrian stable to a wealthy American. Romance blooms with the young jockey (Leslie Fenton) who rides her father's prize filly in a steeplechase to restore the family fortune. Ford displays earnest affection for the land of his forefathers and a knack for ethnographic detail in this breezy tale rife w Preserved by the Museum of Modern Art. (55 mins.)

Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum: 1219 SW Park Ave.
Admission Prices: $7.00 General, $6.00 Members, Students, Seniors

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