Lonesome (1928) is part silent, part talkie, and all movie, in that the inquisitive, restless camera of director Pal Fejos is almost always in motion. Bold in its naked simplicity and uncompromising in its determination to reveal story and character through detail and incident, the movie (despite three brief sound sequences shoehorned in at the last minute) is one of the final examples of what silent films were capable of achieving.
The movie’s tissue-thin story is the most literal take imaginable on the “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” plot. Part 1: Jim and Mary (living in adjacent apartments, unaware of one another) go through their morning activities and then put in a day at work, Mary as a telephone operator and Jim as a punch press operator. Part 2: Jim and Mary go to the beach after work, meet each other, and fall in love. Part 3: Jim and Mary are separated at an amusement park. They search for one another without success, return alone to their apartments, but ultimately are reunited.
Lonesome shares a number of thematic and visual similarities with both The Crowd and Sunrise (films to which it is invariably compared), but it differs in its presentation of the couple at the center of the story. Refusing to reduce Jim and Mary to symbols in the service of a larger message or to pump up their story with melodramatic action, director Fejos accepts the simple plot and everyday characters, employing a kind of anything-goes visual strategy to bring them to life on the screen.