Eye For Film >> Movies >> Lucky Star (1929) Film Review
Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite
Long thought to be one of the many lost films of the silent era, a print of the silent version (as opposed to the part-talking version, which remains lost) of Lucky Star was fortunately rediscovered in 1990, among the archives of the Nederlands Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. A real find this one, showcasing Borzage’s talent for evocative fairytale adaptation with a story which is part Cinderella, part Beauty And The Beast, and even a tiny, teensy bit Angela Carter in the dénouement, which highlights the transformational power of love.
Based on Tristam Tupper’s novel Three Episodes In the Life Of Timothy Osbourne, Lucky Star tells the fairytale story of warm-hearted electrical repairman Tim Osbourne (Charles Farrell) and farm-girl-cum-petty-thief Mary Tucker (Janet Gaynor). We begin with a sequence in which Mary sparks a fight between Tim and his philandering, selfish boss Martin Wrenn (Guinn Williams) by claiming that Wrenn hasn’t paid her for the milk which she has just given the workers. When Tim discovers her lie, he puts her over his knee and gives her “a good lickin”. An unlikely starting point for a romance, perhaps, but a start nonetheless.
The film begins at the moment of the United States' entry into the First World War and, immediately following this sequence, Tim and Wrenn are conscripted and sent to France. Mary, clearly influenced by her earlier encounter with Tim, begins to send him letters to the front, but, as so often in Borzage’s work, war is the catalyst for disaster. Whilst delivering supplies to the front, Tim suffers serious injury and returns home paralysed. Unable to walk, Tim finds a new lease of life by repairing other broken things around the home and revelling in the company of Mary, albeit with the knowledge that his injury is a huge obstacle any relationship between them.
The third pairing of Farrell and Gaynor, after the triumphs of 7th Heaven and Street Angel, and the formula for a Borzage-Gaynor-Farrell film was well-established by this point. Lucky Star doesn’t deviate too far from the path of these earlier films, following the pattern of an unlikely, fairytale romance blossoming between a man and woman who initially seem antipathetic towards one another, only for this initial spark to be severely tested by dramatic circumstances beyond the protagonists’ control.
What makes this particular romance so touching is the undeniable chemistry between Farrell and Gaynor and the excellent performances of the two leads, especially in the scenes which mark the growth of their affection towards one another. Tim gives Mary the nickname Baa-Baa, because of her slightly dishevelled appearance and lack of personal hygiene. Determined to prove that beneath this ugly duckling there is a beautiful swan, Tim helps Mary to achieve self-awareness and self-confidence. The scene in which he uses eggs to wash her is both funny and touching, as it reminds us of not only of the transformational process of their love, but also of the distance between them, in both age and circumstance.
Like all good fairytales our story needs a villain, and in this case he comes in the shape of the aforementioned Mr Wrenn, the type of thoroughly unpleasant character who gives men everywhere a bad name: handing out promises of marriage as though he’s giving out parking tickets, skiving away from his duty in the war (and thereby endangering others), and becoming a rival for Mary’s affections, by wheedling his way into the good graces of her mother (almost a wicked-stepmother type), who believes that herself and children have been dealt a raw deal in life and mistakenly sees Wrenn as some kind of salvation. Cue a tense finale, as Mary is torn between the demands her mother and her own heart, with time running out and circumstances conspiring against the path of true love…
Don’t expect anything too experimental or groundbreaking from Lucky Star, but if you’re looking for a good old-fashioned, sentimental romance with plenty of delicate touches, the odd directorial flourish and excellent lead performances, then this will be right up your street.Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2010