screening of LUCKY STAR (1929) at UCLA. It was part of the Frank Borzage series which will be playing at UCLA for the next several weeks.
There was only one issue with tonight's screening of this wonderful film: the last reel hadn't been shipped to the theater! Needless to say, it was quite a disappointment when the movie abruptly shut off, especially as I was enjoying it tremendously.
Fortunately the movie is currently on YouTube, and so I was able to watch the last 10 minutes of the movie as soon as I got home without having to wait to catch it on a DVD!
Other than that unexpected issue, seeing LUCKY STAR was simply a magical experience, all the more so thanks to live piano accompaniment by Cliff Retallick; he did a terrific job.
Gaynor plays Mary, a poor young farm girl who gradually establishes a friendship with Tim, a wheelchair-bound WWI veteran. Mary's mother (Hedwiga Reicher) pushes her to marry the smooth-talking Martin Wrenn (Guinn "Big Boy" Williams), thinking he'll save Mary from their hand-to-mouth lifestyle, but Wrenn has no intent of marrying Mary once he gets her off to the big city. And Mary doesn't want to marry Wrenn at all, as she has gradually come to realize that her heart is with Tim.
Gaynor and Farrell are, in a word, luminous. I've enjoyed Gaynor in a few other films, including the silent classic SUNRISE (1927), but I'd only seen Farrell in THE BIG SHAKEDOWN (1934). He's simultaneously handsome and deeply moving. I'm looking forward to exploring the rest of the many films pairing Gaynor and Farrell.
LUCKY STAR is completely absorbing, with its fairy tale feel accentuated due to most of the film being confined to two main sets, Mary's farmhouse and Tim's house. The sets look soundstage-fake at first, yet eventually that's forgotten as the viewer becomes completely wrapped up in the characters and their world, which is necessarily a small one due to disability and lack of money. The sets simultaneously manage to be both unrealistic and beautifully evocative; at times the characters look as though they're walking through paintings. The movie was filmed by Chester Lyons and William Cooper Smith.
The cast includes an impossibly young Paul Fix as a delivery truck driver, with Jack Pennick part of the WWI sequence. Delmar Watson plays Mary's little brother.
LUCKY STAR was believed lost for many years until a print was found in Holland in the late '80s. The silent version had been distributed to foreign markets, while a "talkie" version which was shot simultaneously and screened in the U.S. continues to be on the "lost" list. It would be fascinating to see the movie with dialogue, although one has to think it would not have quite the same magical haze with the characters speaking.
For those who'd like to read more, Janet Maslin reviewed the then recently rediscovered film for the New York Times in 1991, calling it "a vibrant piece of film history and an innocent delight."
LUCKY STAR has been shown on Turner Classic Movies. It's available on DVD.