Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Genre: Drama, Romance
Running Time: 94 min.
Release Date: November 4th, 1927
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: F.W. Murnau
Actors: George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston
"This partly expressionistic masterwork is often considered one of the greatest of all silent films"
Nothing seems to be quite as poignant and touching as simplicity. Simple comedy is very humorous and simple romance is particularly charming. While Sunset came at a time when silent films had done just about all they could, preparing for the onslaught of talkies, F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece of human emotions is an undeniable highlight. With convincing characters, plenty of humor and grand drama, Sunrise garnered a special Academy Award for artistic creativity – the only one of its kind ever awarded.

A vacationing woman from the city (Margaret Livingston) stays in the country to steal away a man (George O’Brien) from his wife (Janet Gaynor). The unnamed couple used to be happy, carefree and always laughing, but the presence of the city woman makes the man long for something new. But what to do with his boring wife? “Couldn’t she get drowned?” asks Livingston, drumming up a plot for the man to capsize his boat, solving the little predicament.

Sunrise A Song of Two Humans Movie image
Sunrise A Song of Two Humans Movie image
It’s an unintentionally humorous portrayal of infidelity, perhaps because of how horrible the deed is – as the man embraces the city woman on a moonlit grassy field, the wife is at home, distraught and caring for her baby. With so few words (or almost nonexistent title cards), the imagery is spectacular: A silent ride on a trolley to reconcile a nearly irreparable fear of her husband after an attempted attack; an offering of food and flowers not quite doing the trick; the witnessing of a quaint wedding; and showy dancing at an energetic party. The expressions and actions speak more loudly than words as the couple is welcomed by further temptations – of the comically romantic sort.

There’s slapstick and plenty of laughs, including a pig getting tipsy on wine, but not all of the sight gags are effective. Rediscovering true love with a day in the city isn’t nearly as moving as the return journey home in which tragedy strikes and Gaynor is swept overboard. The similarities to A Place in the Sun (made years later, based on a novel by Theodore Dreiser instead of a theme by Hermann Sudermann) are unmistakable, although Sunrise focuses more on reform than the murder setup. With lots of creative cinematography, superimposed shots and special effects (as well as flashbacks before they became stale in cinema), and outstanding music that elegantly narrates the character’s thoughts and emotions, this partly expressionistic 1927 masterwork is often considered one of the greatest of all silent films.

- Mike Massie

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