Turner Classic Movies is doing a series on disability on film this month. It’s really an interesting look at how its been portrayed and social feelings towards people with different abilities. Tonight they showed a rare find restored by the Netherlands Filmmuseum, “Lucky Star” (1929).
“Lucky Star” is a silent film directed by the prolific Frank Borzage, about what happens after a man who returns to his rural town after being injured while fighting in WWI. In this poor town, Tim (Charles Farrell) returns to his town in a wheel chair and befriends local girl Mary (Janet Gaynor), the one person who doesn’t seem to think twice about his new wheels. Their relationship starts as sort of mentor-student with Tim guiding Mary from dirty child to a young woman with increasing self-respect. As they grow closer their interactions slowly change, much to the chagrin of Mary’s mother who doesn’t want her “wasting her time on a cripple.”
For me the most engaging thing about the film is Farrell’s portrayal of Tim. He is fully self-sufficient with a drive and ambition, perhaps even more so than the other people you see in his rural town. The reactions of other people only bother him in their leading to his loneliness. Only after Tim’s feelings towards Mary change towards romantic interest do you see his pain, and Farrell really helps you understand the emotional and physical struggle. But Tim’s absolute determination and Mary’s love see the film through the end.
Farrell’s acting and Borzage’s direction make the film’s social commentary effective while keeping it a bit more on the subtle side. “Lucky Star” is an engaging and interesting melodrama that’s definitely worth a watch.