Fairy Tales I

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Lucky Star

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 28, 2015

This Frank Borzage production is a perfect example of the heights that late silent films could and did attain, and it gives a real sense of why a lot of people were so upset at the coming of sound. This kind of delicate stylization really did have to be abandoned. And it’s such a loss!

The compositions—and situations!—here are as dynamic as ever, but I notice and appreciate the restraint of the direction here. This in comparison to Borzage’s previous two productions, 7th Heaven (1927) and Street Angel (1928). These milestones of late silent cinema, these emblems of its soon-to-be-eclipsed perfections, are astonishingly agile, positively athletic. Here, the camera doesn’t really start flying until the very end of the picture. (You’ll understand why when you see it!) If we were to use the terms of the times, this would be expressionism—inner states are rendered by external, visual means. Except that expressionism is supposed to be pessimistic and hysterical. What Lucky Star externalizes is love and hope and salvation. Sounds impossible. They do it.

A long time ago, before the re-circulation of some of these Borzage/Murnau titles, I had seen some early sound Charles Farrell performances. I had found him to be, shall we say, resistible. Now? I give up! He is amazing. His character has gone to war, and come back a paraplegic. Look at how Farrell portrays and enacts his disability. Utterly convincing, but without a trace of condescension, sentimentality or look-at-me actorly virtuosity. His character is crippled, and his crippled character utterly and absolutely adapts to his limitations. Sorrow, and you go on. As for the Janet Gaynor character, her transformation actually has Biblical weight and implication. From trash to angel, because of inherent human qualities that lie within her, and because of the simple, shattering kindness of a fellow creature. Then, at the end, that fellow creature—Farrell—learns that it was through these ministrations, and through her, that he is healed.

The conclusion to Lucky Star is medically impossible, as are a number of incidents you can find recorded in the New Testament.

Tweet Review:

Saw #Lucky Star. It’s Red Riding Hood! Note the magical, enchanted forest-like atmosphere. The wolf is a wolf, Red is neglected …

… and Granny is ready to sell her down the river. Meanwhile the woodsman, far from coming out of nowhere to the rescue …

… was there, faithfully, all the while. Gaynor and Farrell!!

#LuckyStar. So beautifully demonstrates, as did Street Angel before it, FB’s great conviction, and testimony. It’s famous …

… and properly: “Everywhere, in every town, in every street, we pass unknowingly, human souls made great by love and adversity.”

#LuckyStar. Like Chaplin’s The Kid, its emotional ending works …

… and only works …

… because of all the incremental, slow-moving, kindly interaction that preceded it.