I mentioned earlier that Lucky Star is a simple film. The set is basically constructed of two houses with a winding path in between. Mary (Janet Gaynor) is a bloody-knuckled teenage farmhand playing the role of husband and son to her widowed mother, and Tim (Charles Farrell), is a young, foppy-haired, ethical and honest cutie who works for the utilities company. Their paths cross when Mary brings Tim and his co-workers some milk but they kind of hate each other at first like star-crossed lovers always do. WWI comes between them, and when Tim gets back, he's in a wheelchair and Mary has matured (almost). Her idea of a first reunion is to go schoolyard on Tim's house by slinging a stone through his window. But Tim shrugs it off, or, rather, in his loneliness, welcomes it like a angry kiss. Mary and Tim are inseparable.
The rest of the film mixes through classically romantic and melodramatic images that have been parodied away in the eighty years since Lucky Star's release, but it is validation of Borzage's talent (and Gaynor and Farrell's as well) that the onscreen moments between the two lovers retains a passionate sincerity. It's difficult for me to pinpoint how. The explanation probably lies somewhere in the intangibles of a great director, the invisible genius you can't capture or teach, but just admire from afar and in wonder over nerd-circle discussions.
I'll take my shot in naming at least one definitive, however. Key to Lucky Star's brilliance, I think, is Borzage exploiting his cinematic limitations. Yes, this was the silent era, so directors were without a cloud of reference that included sound, color, tracking shots, etc., but Borzage still exhibited a tremendous amount of confidence in his actors by letting his camera sit on a scene for an extended take. Take, for example, the scene where Tim attempts to walk on his crutches for the first time. The still frame simply holds Tim, his wheelchair, the crutches, a dresser, a window, and a door, yet the moment is like a mini-movie in itself. We know Borzage is letting it roll, so we settle in and tell ourselves stories about Tim's struggles. It's the ultimate in image-to-eye transference of information, and it rings like anything but silence in my head.
**The image of Janet Gaynor was found on DVD Beaver.