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Alec B. Francis
Mary, a poor farm girl, meets Tim just as word comes that war has been declared. Tim enlists in the army and goes to the battlefields of Europe, where he is wounded and loses the use of his legs. Home again, Tim is visited by Mary, and they are powerfully attracted to each other; but his physical handicap prevents him from declaring his love for her. Deeper complications set in when Martin, Tim's former sergeant and a bully, takes a shine to Mary. Written by
Dan Navarro <email@example.com>
LUCKY STAR (Fox, 1929), directed by Frank Borzage, follows the familiar pattern of sentimental love stories most associated with director and his young romantic team of Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. For their third screen venture together, following the success of SEVENTH HEAVEN (1927) and STREET ANGEL (1928), Borzage works wonders with them again in the story based on Tristram Tupper's "Three Episodes in the Life of Timothy Osborn" by which Farrell's character dominates the screen, but whenever together with Gaynor, they're quite equivalent. LUCKY STAR seems to be an odd title for the selected story in question since it's not one that takes place in Hollywood as did Gaynor's much latter success of A STAR IS BORN (1937). Regardless of what it's titled, as Gaynor's character would frequently say, "that's gran."
The scenario takes place in a rural setting on a farm where the widowed "Ma" Tucker (Hedwig Reicher)raises her four yungins, the eldest being Mary (Janet Gaynor). After driving her horse and buggy to town selling drinking items to electrical linemen for a nickel, she attracts the attention of Timothy Osborn (Charles Farrell) working on top of the telephone pole. Trying to cheat Martin Wrenn (Guinn Williams), the foreman, by acquiring an extra nickel from him with the indication she wasn't paid, Timothy comes to the girl's defense which starts a fight between him and Wrenn on top of the pole. The fight is interrupted with the news that war has been declared. Before Timothy enlists with Wrenn, he gives Mary a spanking for hiding the nickel thrown to her by his foreman. After two years in France at the war front, Wrenn returns home from the Army still retaining his sergeant's uniform while Timothy, having met with serious accident, is wheelchair bound, living alone in his cottage fixing broken things to keep busy. Still remembering the spanking, Mary (now 18) throws a stone through Timothy's window, but after meeting again, they soon become the best of friends, with Timothy affectionately giving Mary the pet name of "Baa Baa." When forbidden by her mother to have anything to do with the crippled Timothy, Mary passes Wrenn off as the escort who walked her home from the barn dance. Taking an immediate liking to Wrenn, Mrs. Tucker sees a great opportunity for a better lifestyle for all by arranging for Mary to marry Wrenn, regardless of her true love for Timothy.
With all the elements of an early D.W. Griffith rural melodrama, LUCKY STAR rightfully belongs to Borzage, through fine visuals and the re-inventing of certain aspects that played so well with SEVENTH HEAVEN. The World War is worked into the plot once again, but to a limited degree. However, poor Gaynor plays an abused urchin, substituting the whipping from her older sister to facial slaps from her oppressed mother. The one who gathers more sympathy turns out to be Timothy (Farrell), especially during the film's second portion as a handicapped war veteran rather. As much as Gaynor gathers much attention with her sympathetic charm and fragile round face, this time Borzage gives Farrell the opportunity with crucial scenes where, after hugging Mary, his facial expression, telling more than actual words, who, at that very moment, comes to realize how much he loves her; along with Timothy's struggling attempt to walk again by holding on to his crutches and falling off from them. Another scene worth mentioning, played more for laughs than tears, has Timothy washings Mary's hair with a dozen eggs, resulting to Mary's hair resembling that of Little Orphan Annie's. Scenes involving Farrell and Williams starts off in humorous fashion between two men as friends one moment and fist fighting the next. Their sort of friendship comes to a halt as Wrenn interferes with Timothy's romance. Other members of the cast include Paul Fix (Joe); Gloria Grey (Flora Smith); and Hector V. Sarno ("Pop" Fry).
Released at a time when talkies were dominant over silents, a few lines of spoken dialog were inserted into the story between the two lucky stars during its initial theatrical run. LUCKY STAR, which had been out of circulation since its initial release, was thought to be among the many missing from the silent era. However, the film was finally discovered, with talking sequences no longer available, restored by the Netherlands Film Museum, and unveiled in 1991, notably at the Telluride Film Festival and the Museum of Fine Arts with piano accompaniment by Bob Winter, and other revival movie houses before cable television broadcast on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: October 9, 2012).
Never distributed on home video, a long awaited release onto DVD became a reality in 2008 as part of the Frank Borzage collection for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The print not only contains newly inserted inter-titles, but a new but somewhat unsatisfactory musical score composed and conduced by Christopher Caliendo, making one long for recovery of the lost Movietone soundtrack that accompanied the film back in 1929. The rediscovery of LUCKY STAR, overall, gives film scholars and historians a rare opportunity viewing Gaynor and Farrell at their prime, thanks to the fine direction of Frank Borzage. (***)
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