Classic Film Guide

Sunrise (1927) - full length review!

Directed by F. W. Murnau, this silent classic is a visual marvel, even the dialogue pages are artistically done! It's the story of a farmer (George O'Brien) who's tempted by a city woman (Margaret Livingston), who meets him on her vacation and has an affair with him, to attempt to murder his sweet wife (Janet Gaynor), with whom he has a young child. The film won an Academy Award for Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production, and helped Ms. Gaynor (along with 7th Heaven (1927) & Street Angel (1928)) earn Best Actress honors the very first year that such awards were given. Charles Rosher and Karl Struss, who would go on to receive 8 more nominations, including Rosher's win for The Yearling (1946), between them, took home the Cinematography award for their work on this film. Rochus Gliese’s Art Direction was also nominated.

Things are not going well for a young farming family; the man (O'Brien) is sneaking out at night to have an affair with a vacationing city woman (Livingston) while his wife (Gaynor) stays at home with their infant and creditors slowly take the assets from their farm. The neighbors gossip about his downfall and their ruin. After one particularly passionate night, when the city woman describes the wonders of the city to the man, she uses her influence over him to convince him to murder his wife. She even tells him how to do it, by drowning her. He returns home with plans to do so then, after a night's sleep, asks her to take a trip with him across the lake. She is thrilled, and dances with their maid (Bodil Rosing) who will care for the child during their absence, because she assumes he's finally come to his senses and returned to her.

Once they are out on the lake, though he can't go through with it, she has read his intentions. She cries uncontrollably and then flees him when they get to the other side. She seeks refuge on a trolley car which he's barely able to catch, having chased her through the woods apologizing. Though he insists he won't harm her, once the trolley stops in the city, she exits without him and wanders across the busy street seemingly not caring if she's killed in its traffic. He catches up to her and ushers her safely across the street. Finally they end up in a church, where a wedding is taking place. When he hears the wedding vows, he begs her forgiveness and cries as she comforts his head on her lap. They leave the church oblivious to all else, walking blissfully across the street as if they're in a beautiful field back home. Of course they are not, and the honking, stopped traffic brings them back to the present.

The couple then experiences the wonders of the city together, visiting a barber (Ralph Sipperly), a photographer (J. Farrell MacDonald), who catches them "on paper" in an embrace, and dancing together. Each is gently "tempted" by another, he by a manicure girl (Jane Winton), she by an obnoxious man (Arthur Housman), but both of these characters serve only to show each's concern for the other. They return home by moonlight, sailing across the very same lake together, when a storm causes interrupts their journey and capsizes their boat. Has fate conspired to make the earlier, evil plans a reality?

*** SPOILERS ***

Of course not! No, this one's not spoiled by such a tragedy. Though the man leads the townspeople on a desperate search for his wife, coming to believe that she perished in the lake, a wise seaman (Eddie Boland) from the community saves her. But, not before the mourning man is approached by the city woman and nearly strangles her in anger. The sunrises over the small farming community to find the man and the woman happily together, with their child, in wedded bliss once again.

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