Sunday, October 20, 2013

Silent Sundays: Lucky Star (1929)


When most people think of silent films they either think of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton or Louise Brooks or actors and actresses being way too melodramatic. When I say I watch silent films I get stared at as if I have three heads. Someone usually says they cannot even stand watching black and white films let alone a film without talking. Before I go off on a tirade I have to think that six years ago I did not even like to watch Young Frankenstein because it was made in black and white. I think I have come a long way since then. When I think of the silent era I think of Greta Garbo in her performance in A Woman of Affairs, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, and Lon Chaney in HE Who Gets Slapped, John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman in Bardleys the Magnificent, The Cabinet of Dr. Calagary, Gloria Swanson in Sadie Thompson, and so many other films. Over the past several months I have begun to watch silent films that Janet Gaynor made. I adore her and the film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. I recently began to watch Gaynor’s films she made with Charles Farrell who she was paired with ten times. Now when I think of the silent era I will think also of Gaynor and Farrell. Of the pair’s films I have seen Seventh Heaven and Lucky Star.
            Mary Tucker (Gaynor) lives and works on a small farm with her mother and younger brothers and sisters. They all work the farm from the early morning into late in the day. One morning a few telephone line workers want milk from their farm. Mary goes to where the men are working. She sells a bottle of milk to a guy named Wrenn. Instead of handing the nickel to Mary, Wrenn throws it and it lands on the ground. Mary hides the nickel in the dirt and tells Wrenn that he did not pay her. Wrenn starts to get mad saying he did pay her. Tim (Farrell) is up at the top of the telephone pole. He yells down for Wrenn to pay Mary. Wrenn gets mad at Tim, he climbs up the pole and the two of them start fighting. The work phone rings. Tim answers it and gets the news that War has been declared. All the men run away from the sight to enlist immediately leaving Tim and Mary behind alone. As he climbs down the pole he sees Mary dig the nickel out of the dirt. When he gets down he grabs a hold of Mary and starts smacking her behind telling her she is a dirty low-down thief. She gets Tim back by biting him in the leg. On the way home Mary passes Tim leaving his house. He tells her he is leaving for the front. Mary asks Tim if he wants a ride into town and declines saying he has two legs that can take him there.
            Mary writes both Tim and Wrenn in Europe after she sees a sign asking people to write to soldiers overseas. Both men think they are special to her until they realize she wrote both of them. The night they receive their letters Wrenn, as sergeant, was supposed to take food to the men at the front. He begs off to go into Paris to find some women and gets Tim to drive the truck out. Tim’s truck is shelled. He is injured and the poor cook dies.
            A year later Mary is walking home when she happens to glance at Tim’s place. She sees he has returned home. She throws a rock at his window and accidentally breaks it. She runs away as quickly as she can. Tim is now in a wheelchair. He spent a year in the hospital after he was injured. Mary comes closer to the house. Tim tells her to come in. She is surprised to see him in a wheelchair. He makes her laugh by spinning the chair around and around. Mary asks Tim what he cannot use his feet. He tells her he is saving them for a special occasion. He asks her to stay for dinner. He gives her the nickname Baa-baa because he thinks of Mary as a black sheep. Before she leaves Mary apologizes for breaking the window but she got him back for the licking he had given her. Tim says he is not mad because he made a friend. He wants Mary to come over again.
            The next day Mary comes over to find Tim outside with a wash basin next to him. He heard that some people have washed their hair with eggs and want to try it out on her. Several eggs latter Mary’s hair is a big frizzy mess but Tim declares he did not know she was a blonde. He goes to wash the rest of her but then he asks how old she is and she replies she is almost eighteen. Tim makes Mary go wash herself up somewhere where he cannot see her.       
 
            While driving through town Mary sees a poster for a fireman’s ball and a dress in a shop window. That night she sneaks out to Tim’s house so she can get changed into her new dress. Before she goes Mary tells Tim she wishes he was going with her to the dance. When Mary leaves Tim tries to get up and walk on his own with the help of his crutches but he falls down. At the ball Mary runs into Wrenn. Everyone in town knows Wrenn’s reputation. One man tells another that Wrenn has no right wearing his army uniform because he was kicked out. Wrenn leaves the girl he had brought to the ball to go charm Mary. After the dance Mary returns to Tim’s house to change and Wrenn is with her to bring her home. Tim is furious with Wrenn because he knows that Wrenn’s intensions are not good. As soon as they get to Mary’s house Wrenn is trying to kiss her. She manages to get out of his clutches but she runs into her mother’s which are violent and angry. Her mother thinks Mary has been sneaking off for long periods of time to be with Tim and that she was with him that night. Wrenn hears the commotion and goes to the window. Immediately upon entering the house Wrenn is trying to sweet talk the mother by telling her how much he loves Mary and that he wants to marry and be good to her.
            Sometime later Mary goes to Tim to tell him her mother does not want her to see him. Her mother thinks it is not respectable for her to be seeing him because he is a cripple. Tim tells her he will make her mother understand he wants to go speak to her the following day. He gives Mary a bracelet with “BAA-BAA” engraved on the inside. Mary remarks that it is just like a wedding ring. Wren meanwhile applies all the butter he can to Mary’s mother. He lies to the mother by saying he has been made a Major in the army and he can give Mary a good home where she (the mother) and the kids can come and live with them and that the army will be paying for the wedding. When Mary comes home her mother beats her because she kept Wrenn waiting two hours. Mary tells her mother she does not want to marry Wrenn. Her mother tells her she just wants to see her with Wrenn so she will have a better life.
            On the day Tim is supposed to come Mary washes up her brothers and sisters. Her mother still does not approve of Tim. Mary waits all day for Tim to show up. She becomes worried and has the delivery boy check on him and to bring him over. The delivery boy sees Tim trying to get through the snow on his wheelchair but without success. He tries to help Tim and unfortunately there is nothing he can do. Tim says he will just have to wait until the storm lets up. All night Tim works on trying to stand and walk with his crutches.
            Mary is heartbroken the next day thinking Tim does not love her and that he did not come and rescue her. Now she has to go with Wrenn. Tim struggles through the snow on his crutches to get to her. By the time he gets to Mary’s house she is gone with Wrenn. Tim fights his way all the way into to town. Mary sees him struggling to make his way to her. She runs to Tim as he makes it to her using just one crutch. Wrenn comes out and the two men have a brawl and several other men come to break up the fight. Eventually with the help of the other men Tim gets Wrenn on the train he was supposed to leave on with Mary.
            Mary asks Tim if this was the occasion he had been saving to use his legs for.
            Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell were wonderful together. I love their pairing. I am not normally a fan of the rough and tumble guy falling for the sweet naïve young her girl but Gaynor and Farrell played their characters just right that I did not have a problem with the set up. You can see they had a nice chemistry together. It was not a sexual chemistry or strong loving chemistry it was a nice sweet chemistry, a kind of chemistry where you can see they truly just love being together in each other’s company. The scene where Tim tells Mary she should wash her hands before she eats was ridiculously adorable. Tim tells Mary to wash her hands and she replies she just washed them that morning. He says that was in the morning she has to wash her hands now to each. He goes over to the basin and washes his hands and she sheepishly looks at him. He grabs her hand and pulls her over to the basin. The scene was played so well it was adorable and perfect. Gaynor and Farrell were just equal in their acting ability. Yes, he was supposed to be the tough older man to her innocent young girl but they both had such a nice nature to their acting they did not overshadow each other.
            This is the last film that Gaynor and Farrell would make with Frank Borzage. Borzage made a wonderful film. Everything he filmed was just brilliant. He captured every expression and emotion of all the actors. He made you love and feel for all of them even the mother who wanted better for her daughter and for Wrenn who was an idiot. Borzage’s direction is like a work of art it is just beautiful and enjoyable.
            Lucky Star from beginning to end is wonderful. I have no complaints about the film whatsoever. The story is not earth shatteringly good and neither is the acting but the film is just fantastic. There was no passion or lust in the characters there was just love. Several silent films I have seen are like this and these are the ones I usually like the most. Lucky Star is a film I absolutely recommend seeing as soon as you can. Maybe even you will think of Lucky Star and Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell when you think to the silent era of film.
            Lucky Star is currently available to view on Youtube. It is not available on DVD.