Sunrise – A Tale of Two Humans (1927) – F.W. Murnau


Following on the tail of Pandora’s Box, this recommendation from Great Movies – 100 Years of Film,a splendidly filmed silent movie, is a moving and involving drama, that follows two characters on their rediscovery of their love for one another, and the threat of its loss.

Set in a small village, frequented by city dwellers, a man (George O’Brien) is succumbing to the temptation of the Woman From The City (Margaret Lvingston), leaving his Wife (Janet Gaynor) neglected, and letting his small farm fall into disrepair, and being stripped by money lenders.

When the city woman proposes that the two of them flee to town, he asks what should be done about his wife, though his young child is never mentioned, and she suggests that his wife drown, and that he bundle some bull rushes together for himself, to use for buoyancy, so he can survive the boat tipping.

Trudging home, he tumbles into his bed, where his wife, lovingly tucks him in, she still feels strongly for him, despite the turn their lives have taken. The next morning he suggests the two of them go out on the water and spend some time together away from everyone. The wife is delighted, seeing this as a chance to find their way back to one another, and rediscover their love.


Unfortunately, out on the water, he rises menacingly above her, and lumbering towards her like some melancholy Frankenstein prepares to toss her to her death beneath the waves. He stops, rethinking, and begs her not to be afraid of him, but as the boat brushes the shore, she leaps out, and races away, climbing onto a city bound tram.

He follows her, and slowly begins to win her back against the backdrop of all the things he thought he wanted.

Instead, he realizes all he wants is right there in his arms, and the two of them learn to love and laugh again… but there is still the journey back across the water to come.

I was quite wrapped up in this one as I viewed it, and loved the way Murnau would juxtapose images, superimposing the temptation of the City girl, or the various busy images of the city, as opposed to the singular shots for the quiet village.

This film could have gotten away without the use of any title cards at all, because the pictures tell everything, and tells it well.


Gaynor’s Wife is loving, patient and affectionate, and when the two of them come back together, there are some very wonderful moments between the two of them as they wander the city, lost in one another’s eyes.

The film won 3 Oscars, one for cinematography, one for Juliet Gaynor’s performance, and one for Best Picture – Unique and Artistic Production (a category I’d never heard of before…).

For my money, I enjoyed this one much more than I Pandora’s Box, and am looking forward to seeing what other treasures will be revealed to me as recommendations for this title.

What did you think of it?


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