Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Guinn Williams, Paul Fix, Hedwiga Reicher
In 1929, the silent film was coming to an end. Really, it managed to go out in a blaze of glory with films like The Single Standard and The Kiss. Lucky Star was one of those final, glorious silent films. It’s also one of the quintessential Borzage films in terms of themes and style. It was his third film with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. But this point these two had become the ultimate Borzage pair: the troubled, hardened waif and the arrogant man who manage to soften each other’s hearts.
Mary (Gaynor) is a dirty rough farm girl who takes daily beatings from her mother and likes to steal and lie. Tim (Farrell) defends her one day when he thinks Wrenn (Williams) is cheating her out of money. When he finds out she was lying, her “gives her a lickin'”. Before Mary can get her revenge, war breaks out and Tim enlists. He’s injured on the front and comes home paralyzed. Knowing he’s back, Mary goes to his house to finally get her revenge, but the two end up talking and becoming friends, with Tim cleaning Mary up and teaching her to be decent.
While both Seventh Heaven and Street Angel were more Janet Gaynor’s films, Lucky Star definitely belongs to Charles Farrell. His performance is really quite heartbreaking. Early on, his spirits are surprisingly high for a man who’s been paralyzed. He wants to fix broken things since he doesn’t think he can fix himself. Mary becomes one of those broken things, and he soon sees the diamond in the rough and falls in love with her. It’s not until he discovers his love, and realizes the fact that he can’t be with her because of his condition, that it begins to weigh on him. In the end, though, that love only inspires him to try to learn how to walk again, however hopeless it might seem. Farrell was an extremely charming actor, and he pulled off those arrogant guy roles very well. He gives Tim so much heart that watching that heart break feels very real. This is truly a story of the triumph of the human spirit, and in the hands of a lesser actor, I don’t think that would come through as beautiful, or an such an inspiring way.
While the film certainly belongs to Farrell, Gaynor gives a very strong performance, as usual. In her earliest scenes, Mary is adorable in her immorality. This is kind of an essential thing, because it makes her development into the sweet,happy girl that Tim falls in love with believable. But her performance is also quite wrenching. She’s such a lonely girl, and there are moments with Tim that are so beautiful, where she just seems like she can’t believe someone loves her. These are two damaged misfits, and they end up fitting together and fixing each other absolutely perfectly.
Lucky Star doesn’t have quite the visual flair that Seventh Heaven and Street Angel have. Overall, it takes place in much more intimate settings. The two main sets are Tim and Mary’s simple houses. There are some beautifully filmed outdoors scenes, but Lucky Star is just a much more simple film, visually, than most Borzage efforts.
But its themes of transcendant love that overcomes all obstacles and makes people better than they were before come through crystal clear. Borzage was an undying romantic, and it shows through in Lucky Star, maybe better than it does in any of his other silent films.
By Katie Richardson