Lucky Star (1929)

21 02 2009

Now this, on the other hand, is a full out masterpiece. I’ll admit immediately that there are a few sequences that are more than a little bit ridiculous (the ending in particular) but for the most part, it’s an extremely moving tragic would-be romance, the kind that became almost a genre in early American cinema. Thankfully, this is closer to being a Murnau film along the lines of Sunrise or Tabu than to Griffith’s poetic yet oh-so-dated True Heart Susie. Outside of our protagonists, the characters are drawn rather crudely and one-dimensionally, but such elements should go with out saying for a film like this.

It’s the sort of thing that really shouldn’t have an impact on my overall impression of a film, but man, Janet Gaynor is extremely cute here. She’s charming enough to make you break down and fall on the floor, which is exactly what Charles Farrell does. Gaynor plays Mary Tucker, a poor farm girl. She appears to be the oldest child in her family, only her strict mother acts as her superior. Farrell plays Timothy Osborne, who has an encounter with Mary the day before war is declared. He, like his friends, enlists almost instantly. Unfortunately, he returns home in a wheelchair, incapable of using his legs. He begins to pursue a relationship with Mary, but there’s something physically and emotionally in the way.

The two maintain a friendship, but both are conscious of the fact that something romantic can exist between them. One night, Mary meets Sgt. Martin Wreen at a local dance. He’s the man indirectly responsible for Tim’s injury, and the stud of the town. He immediately takes a liking to Mary, who is a little bit indifferent. He takes her home and makes a convincingly charming case to her mother, who wants the two to get married as soon as possible.

Even though a lot (if not all) of the film was made in a studio, it does have a very laidback and natural small town feel to it, not unlike the tone of John Ford’s Judge Priest. Borzage manages to pull more than a few really impressive sequences. The look isn’t consistently expressionistic, but the frequency of gorgeous shots is greater than it is in Lazybones. I can’t quite but my finger on why this is true, but the visual tone perfectly compliments the tragedy of the story, as well as Janet Gaynor’s own physical beauty. Watching the whole thing unfold is rather remarkable, if occassionaly silly. The ending is pretty, well, goofy, but I can’t criticize the relentless romanticism of this picture. It’s not always realistic, but it always manages to illustrate the intimacy of the events.

Lazybones (1925)

21 02 2009

It might just be the presence of the charming Buck Jones, but this small-scaled early Borzage picture plays out a little bit like a continuation of Ford’s own Jones production, Just Pals. This is 85 minutes of funny, yet bittersweet moments featuring Jones constantly getting his heart broken. It’s not a big artistic achievement for Borzage, but it doesn’t seem like he wanted it to be in the first place. Instead, it’s a nice way to spend a little less than an hour and a half.

While the content here is viewed in a very “light” manner, it doesn’t really dilute the overall sadness of the scenario. Jones plays the title character, a lazy young man in the middle of a relationship with Agnes. Unfortunately, her mother does not approve of him. Meanwhile, Agnes’ sister, Ruth, is set to marry a man of her mother’s choosing. However, her mother is unaware of the relationship she shared with a recently deceased fisherman and their child. She dumps the child in a nearby river and attempts suicide. Lazybones manages to rescue both Ruth and her child, who he adopts and names Kit. Time passes quickly (as it often does in these sort of films) and Kit is already an attractive young woman. Lazybones returns from the war and falls in love with his adopted daughter.

Buck Jones channels Buster Keaton a lot here. Fortunately, for my sake, there is very little of that physical comedy that defines Keaton’s work, and more realistic situational comedy. The whole story would be pretty heartbreaking if Borzage hadn’t handled it in such a downbeat, deadpan manner. Borzage also manages to add some of his (eventually) trademark expressionistic touches. No one should approach this film and expect a breathtakingly visual experience, but with that said, the film does look very nice. If there’s any problem, it’s that it feels too nice and insignificant, but that’s a big part of its charm.