Cast & Crew
F. W. Murnau
J. Farrell Macdonald
The Woman, an alluring temptress from the city, decides to extend her holiday in the bucolic countryside after enticing The Man, a married farmer, into having an affair. One night, The Woman, dressed in high-heeled shoes and a slinky dress and smoking a cigarette, saunters past The Man's window and signals him to meet her. The Man, restless and guilt-ridden, sneaks out of the house, leaving his guileless, loyal wife behind with their baby. As The Wife sobs alone at home, The Man trudges through the marsh to meet The Woman. While The Man and The Woman make passionate love in the moonlight, The Wife tearfully comforts her baby. After asking if he really loves her, The Woman urges The Man to sell his farm and come with her to the city. When she suggests that he drown his wife and make it look like an accident, he becomes outraged and tries to strangle her. His assault culminates in an erotic embrace, after which the woman entices him with images of the dazzling, vital city. Walking further into the marsh, The Woman gathers some bulrushes and tells The Man to use them to keep afloat after capsizing his boat. Returning home with an armload of bulrushes, the man hides them in the barn and climbs into bed and falls into a fitful sleep. In his dreams, he is haunted by images of a murky, menacing body of water. His wife tenderly covers him up with a blanket, and the next morning, he wakens with a start, imagining that the bulrushes have been discovered. While his wife feeds the chickens, he fantasizes that The Woman is caressing him. He then approaches his wife, takes her hand and proposes they go on an outing in his rowboat. As she happily changes her clothes and tells The Maid that she and her husband are taking a trip across the water, her husband envisions pushing her overboard. While he lumbers down to the water, the bulrushes concealed under his arm, she bounds onto the boat after entrusting their baby to The Maid's care. As they commence their journey, the husband grimly rows while glaring at his wife. When he stands up and looms threateningly over her, she cowers in fear. The sound of a bell interrupts his train of thought, and, after throwing his arms across his face, he sits down and begins to paddle again. Once they reach the other side of the water, the wife jumps out of the boat and races up the embankment with her husband in pursuit. When she trips, he catches up to her and beseeches her not to fear him. Pulling away from him, she boards a street car and he follows, and, as the trolley takes them into the city with its bustling crowds, he tries to reassure her. Upon reaching the city, The Wife, still shaken, runs into the street and is nearly hit by an oncoming car. After rescuing her from the onrushing traffic, The Man takes her to a café and contritely offers her a plate of cakes. She gingerly takes a piece, then begins to sob uncontrollably. He escorts her out of the café and buys her a bouquet of flowers. As they pause on the sidewalk, they see a bride and groom ascend the stairs to a church and follow them inside. When the minister admonishes the groom to protect his bride from all harm, The Man becomes overwhelmed with emotion and, as he wordlessly repeats the wedding vows, his wife comforts him. As the church bells peal, they exit the church, walking arm in arm. While embracing in the middle of a busy city street, their imaginations transport them back to the idyllic countryside. As The Wife clutches her flowers as if they were a bridal bouquet, they pass the window of a photography studio that is filled with photos of loving, married couples. After The Man gets a shave and haircut, they return to the studio where the photographer snaps their picture as they steal a kiss. Meanwhile, in the country, The Woman, plotting to sell The Man's land, circles real estate advertisements in the newspaper. From the studio, The Man and The Wife proceed to a carnival where The Man plays one of the park's games while The Wife longingly eyes couples dancing. Later, after sharing a dance and a drink, they leave the park, and as they depart, fireworks explode in the sky overhead. After sweeping his wife up into his arms, The Man puts her onboard the trolley and they return to their boat. As they glide across the moonlit water, she falls asleep and he tenderly draws her shawl over her. A sudden storm shatters their calm, awakening The Wife. While The Man struggles to steady the boat, a bolt of lightening illuminates the sky, awakening their baby at home. Retrieving the bulrushes he has hidden in the boat's hull, The Man ties them around his wife to keep her afloat. The boat then capsizes, sending them spilling into the water. Once the storm subsides, The Man swims to shore to discover that his wife is missing. Awakened by the sound of the villagers scrambling to search for The Wife, The Woman follows them and perches above the shoreline to observe the rescue effort. When The Man sees some scattered bulrushes drift ashore, he becomes convinced that his wife has drowned. Inconsolable, he returns home, kneels beside his wife's empty bed and buries his face in the covers. At that moment, The Woman comes to the house to claim The Man as hers. In a rage, he chases her into the road, and as he begins to strangle her, word comes that his wife has been found. After releasing The Woman, The Man runs to his wife's bedside. As the sun rises, The Woman leaves the village for good while The Wife awakens and kisses The Man.
F. W. Murnau
J. Farrell Macdonald
H. H. Caldwell
H. H. Caldwell
Edgar G. Ulmer
Unique and Artistic Production
Best Art Direction
The Essentials - Sunrise
In the countryside where city dwellers vacation, a woman of the city has lingered in the quaint village for weeks. She is having an affair with a man who is going behind the back of his wife. The man tells the city woman that he is hers, completely, and she tells him to drown his wife and come with her to the city. The man convinces his wife to go with him on a day trip across the water so that he can drown her on the way and say it was an accident but will he go through with it?
Director: F.W. Murnau
Producer: William Fox
Writer: Hermann Sudermann (original theme "Die Reise nach Tilsit"), Carl Mayer (scenario), Katherine Hilliker and H.H. Caldwell (titles)
Cinematography: Charles Rosher and Karl Struss
Art Direction: Rochus Gliese
Assistant Art Directors: Alfred Metscher, Edgar G. Ulmer
Editing: Harold D. Schuster
Assistant Director: Herman Bing
Original Music: Willy Schmidt-Gentner, R.H. Bassett (Los Angeles premiere), Carli Elinor (Los Angeles premiere), Erno Rapee (New York premiere), Hugo Riesenfeld
Special Effects: Frank Williams
Cast: George O'Brien (The Man), Janet Gaynor (The Wife), Margaret Livingston (The Woman From the City), Bodil Rosing (The Maid), J. Farrell MacDonald (The Photographer), Ralph Sipperly (The Barber), Jane Winton (The Manicure Girl), Arthur Housman (The Obtrusive Gentleman), Eddie Boland (The Obliging Gentleman).
Why SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS is Essential
Sunrise isn't just an essential silent film; it is, in many ways, the essential silent film. Helmed by German director F.W. Murnau and brought to life by actors Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien, Sunrise represents, at once, both the pinnacle of artistic cinematic quality in the silent form and the end of an era as well. It was as if silent film reached such a height with Sunrise, that is was impossible to go any further so the world may as well usher in sound. That's a bit of an overstatement but only by a little. Murnau brings so much invention and effortless blending of realism and expressionism to the fore that most other films, silent or otherwise, pale in comparison.
Sunrise is filled with Murnau's signature optical overlays in which depth is built by adding layer upon layer to the scene until that which stands at even the remote ends of the screen are not only important but just as vital to the scene's power as that in foreground. From the first frames, Murnau begins his work. A poster of a train station advertising "Summertime" as "vacation time" dissolves into the train station itself, only this is no ordinary station. The trains in the foreground are miniatures, overlaying a station platform below, bustling with passengers, which looks out via a glass wall to the world outside, also alive and moving, as far the eye can see. Suddenly, we see a train race across the countryside, to the right, while another shoots up from a tunnel as if rocketing towards the sky, to the left. Murnau then contrasts this with a second shot of the vacationers themselves, at the crowded public beaches on the right with a shot of a ship, presumably a luxury cruise liner, to the left, overlayed upon a cityscape. Next, the screen fades to black and opens to a point-of-view shot from the stern of a ferry leisurely making its way across a scenic lake, filled with sailboats and dinghies. Aboard the ferry are urban dwellers, signaled by their tweed vests, walking sticks and boaters, heading for the shoreline where greeters await amongst the farms and cottages. Importantly, there are no optical overlays here. The countryside is presented as is. Murnau has taken the viewer on a journey from one place to another but also from one state of mind to another, all in less than two minutes of screen time.
After that extraordinary setup, the movie informs the viewer by way of inter-title that a woman from the city has lingered long after all the other vacationers have returned to their urban lives. When we fade in on her rented room in a cottage, her clothes are strewn about, a pair of high-heeled shoes rest atop a trunk and she bounces into the room sporting a bob and lighting a cigarette from the candle on a desk. From this slovenly room we cut to the owners of the cottage, downstairs in the simple, clean and bare dining room, eating their soup until the woman comes in, stares at the lady of the house, then at her shoe until the lady of the house leaves her dinner to polish the city woman's shoes. Finally, we cut to the outside as Murnau now takes the final step in this masterpiece of exposition. From the frenetic, multi-cut, multi-layered shots of the city, to the un-layered yet still multi-cut scenes of the lake, we now follow the woman walking from the cottage down the road, past some villagers to a small farmhouse, all in one, steady, uncut tracking shot. Murnau has wound everything down to this moment, both literally and figuratively, when the woman calls on her married lover and sets the story in motion. In all, from train station to farmhouse, about four minutes of screen time have been used and yet, in that four minutes, Murnau has accomplished more than most film makers do in their entire careers.
It is precisely this kind of artistry that was lost in the first years of sound as cameras were battened down and the movies were more concerned with filming two people talking - often awkwardly - than visually telling a story. By the mid-thirties, much of the visual fluidity of the late silent period had found its way back into film but telling the story solely through pictures was lost. Sunrise stands as the last great achievement of silent cinema before sound took over and silent film was relegated to a handful of masterworks by the great Charlie Chaplin, who stood fast against the advent of sound for years.
But Sunrise is essential for more prosaic reasons, too. It holds a place in film history unmatched by any other in that it won the first, and still only, Oscar® for Unique and Artistic Production. Another nominee in that category, King Vidor's monumental The Crowd (1928), stands with Sunrise as one of the best films from the silent period. The other award, for Outstanding Picture (later renamed Best Picture), went to Wings (1927), directed by William Wellman. Janet Gaynor would also win the first Best Actress for it (her award actually specified three films: Sunrise, Seventh Heaven and Street Angel, 1928). Murnau was not nominated for a directing award for his extraordinary work but its artistic success marked a bold debut for Murnau in America.
by Greg Ferrara
The Essentials - Sunrise
Pop Culture 101 - Sunrise
Its win of Best Unique and Artistic Production in contrast to Wings's win for what would become known as the Best Picture award has caused Sunrise to be used as a symbol of how awards favor commercialism over art, made plain by the immediate eradication of the Artistic award.
A remake of Sunrise entitled Die Reise nach Tiltsit was made in Germany in 1939 by Veit Harlan, the director of the controversial anti-Semitic film Jud Suss (1940). Frits von Dongen and Kristina Soderbaum played the married couple, portrayed in the original film by George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor. Harlan has said: "I did my version in Memel, where the story takes place. Murnau's Sunrise was a poem, but, if you'll excuse me, mine was a real film."
by Greg Ferrara
Pop Culture 101 - Sunrise
Trivia - Sunrise - Trivia & Fun Facts About SUNRISE
Janet Gaynor said that Sunrise was the best film she ever made.
Murnau had done The Last Laugh (1924) using only one title card. He wanted to do the same for Sunrise but Fox Film Studios over-rode him. It was felt inter-titles were needed for American audiences. Murnau and Charles Rosher thus made the titles work for each use as if they belonged visually to the scene. For instance, when the vamp suggests drowning the wife, the title card "melts" into the black, as if liquefying and sinking into water.
Sunrise, though silent, had a fully composed score recorded onto the film itself using the Fox Movietone Sound-On-Film system. Sunrise was the first film to use this system.
Although the credits list the characters as merely "The Man" and "The Wife", the names Ansass and Indre were used on the set, and in the scenes where George O'Brien calls out to her, at the end, the astute lip-reader can make this out.
William Fox was so happy to have acquired F. W. Murnau, he introduced him to everyone as "the German genius."
Georges Sadoul in Dictionary of Films wrote that, "Sunrise was a financial flop from which Murnau never recovered; his remaining two films for Fox were entirely controlled by the studio. His independently made Tabu (1931) was his last film before his death."
The Oxford Companion to Film noted that "The film's visual distinction is greatly enhanced by using Panchromatic stock: it was the first commercially made film to do so. The remarkable city set gave Murnau the opportunity for unusual action shots; these, together with back projection and other special effects, demonstrate a masterly combination of the technical resources of Germany and Hollywood."
Memorable Quotes from SUNRISE
Opening Title Cards: This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at any time. For wherever the sun rises and sets, in the city's turmoil or under the open sky on the farm, life is much the same; sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.
Title Card: Among the vacationists was a Woman of the City. Several weeks had passed since her coming and still she lingered.
Village woman: They used to be like children, carefree... always happy and laughing... Now he ruins himself for that woman from the city - Money-lenders strip the farm - and his wife sits alone.
The Woman from the City: Sell your farm... come with me to the City.
Man: And my wife?
The Woman from the City: Couldn't she get drowned?
Wife: We're going for a trip across the water. I may not be back for quite a while.
Man: [to wife] Don't be afraid of me!
Arcade Barker: Hit the hole... make the little piggy roll!
Compiled by Greg Ferrara
Trivia - Sunrise - Trivia & Fun Facts About SUNRISE
The Big Idea - Sunrise
Fox brought Murnau to America with the intention of having him make an expressionist film like the kind he made in Germany. Murnau himself wasn't about to argue. He wrote in 1928, "I accepted the offer from Hollywood because I think one can always learn and because America gives me new opportunities to develop my artistic claims."
For Murnau's first American movie, the director turned to Hermann Sudermann's Lithuanian Stories and with his writer from The Last Laugh, Carl Mayer, chose the story The Journey to Tilsit. The story concerns a peasant named Ansass and his wife, Indre. The two have a happy marriage until Ansass is smitten with a young servant girl who, wanting to be with Ansass, plots to kill his wife by drowning her. Ansass and Indre travel across the river to Tilsit and while there, renew their love for each other. Upon returning across the river (when Ansass had planned to murder Indre), the currents of the river overturn their boat. Ansass dies but Indre lives.
Mayer and Murnau took this basic framework and created the more expressionistic, symbolic Sunrise. By making the peasant girl a seductress from the city and making the rural area where the man and wife lived a hotspot for urban vacationers, Mayer and Murnau were able to form a full circle of give and take that makes the story of Sunrise so complex while remaining simple on the surface. The countryside attracts the woman from the city who falls for the country man. In turn, she wants to take him back to the city where she is in her element and out of the prying eyes of the villagers. The city initially means danger, seduction and sin but, in fact, once the man and wife actually go to the city, their love is renewed by the vitality of the city and all that it has to offer. Sunrise does not condemn one lifestyle over the other but rather, sees them both working together to mold the characters' ideals.
Finally, both Mayer and Murnau agreed that the ending of Sunrise should be different. They wanted the movie not to end with tragedy but with moral resolution. The vamp would return to the city and the man and woman would return to their home, alive and together as the sun rises. In this way, they felt, the countryside and the cityscape would take back their own. The world would once again be in balance and that balance, in the end, would be the resolution.
by Greg Ferrara
The Big Idea - Sunrise
Behind the Camera - Sunrise
For Gaynor's character, in particular, the actress recalled that Murnau told her, "I was to be the spiritual type, but not coldly spiritual. I was to be the kind of woman who is every man's dream of a good wife."
For the shooting of the film, sets had to be constructed from scratch. At Lake Arrowhead, in California, the rural village was built with gables so sharp and rising so high, they evoked a touch of the expressionism of early German silent cinema. To get the couple from the country to the city, trolley car track was laid down and a trolley car (one built to operate more like a car since there was no actual electrical trolley system on the set) brought in. It provides one of the film's most startling moments when the wife is running from the lake, terrified of her husband who has just tried to kill her, and in the middle of this idyllic environment, a modern day conveyance emerges from nature. It is this modern device that will serve to transition the story from the simple rural environment to the complex city, a city fully constructed for Sunrise.
Much of the city was constructed using false perspective. The film's cinematographer, Charles Rosher, explained that the floors "sloped slightly upwards as they receded" and that the light bulbs hanging from the ceiling were "bigger in the foreground than in the background. We even had dwarfs, men and women, on the terrace." Everything was done to make the city appear overwhelming including, of course, Murnau's use of dizzying optical overlays.
Every detail had to be perfect, so when the rain machines turned on early as the storm hits the city, and the set flooded before the dust could be seen kicking up, Murnau had everyone go home for three days until the set dried and they could shoot the dust kicking up first. It cost a fortune, but it was done Murnau's way and it worked.
The Fox producers, who were signing the checks for the Sunrise shoot, were none too happy that such money was being spent on sets and models that were being used for very short scenes, many of which didn't even contain the stars. A beautiful transition from the vamp looking at real estate ads back to the city by way of a swirling shield cuts to an entrance hallway that used real perspective as the camera moves down the long hall until it opens up to an elephant giving rides underneath carousels and roller coasters (the roller coaster was, however, a model using perspective tricks). The shot is short and cost a fortune but remains one of the most stunning shots in the whole film.
by Greg Ferrara
Behind the Camera - Sunrise
Released in 1927, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans represents the artistic pinnacle of the cinema as a purely visual medium, before the sound revolution changed the way films were made. Everson explains, "It is a textbook illustration not only of what the silent film could achieve despite the lack of dialogue, but, on the contrary, what it could achieve because of it."
George O'Brien stars as a rural farmer adulterously involved with a vacationing city woman (Margaret Livingston). Under her vampish influence, he sells off the family farm and conspires to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor). When he is unable to drown his trusting spouse as planned, he follows her to the city. There, the naive couple rediscover their love as they explore the decadent pleasures of the teeming metropolis. During their trip back to the countryside, a storm capsizes the reunited couple's boat and the young wife is lost. The city woman and the townsfolk begin to suspect that the husband may have committed the foul deed.
The project began when William Fox invited German director F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu , The Last Laugh , and Faust ) to America to make a project of his choice, with almost total creative control. It was common practice for Hollywood studios to recruit the finest actors and filmmakers from other countries' film industries, but it was highly unusual to essentially hand a director the keys to the studio. Murnau was also allowed to bring a handful of German artists to collaborate on the project, and what resulted is a fascinating synthesis of the German visual sensibility with American technical bravado.
The novella upon which the film is based, The Journey to Tilsit (from Hermann Sudermann's Lithuanian Stories, 1917) was a naturalistic fable, but Murnau and screenwriter Carl Mayer (The Last Laugh, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari ) chose to transform it into a modern-day fairy tale. The location became indistinct. Murnau wrote in 1927, "It is neither French nor German nor Italian. It might be called modern, yet it does not comply with the modern standard of any particular nation." The characters were symbolic figures (The Man, The Wife, The Woman from the City) rather than individual personalities. Gaynor remembers how Murnau described her role, "He said that I was to be the spiritual type, but not coldly spiritual. I was to be the kind of woman who is every man's dream of a good wife."
"I'll never forget that first day when he called the three principals together," Gaynor recalled, "and outlined to us his plan for the picture. He was so terribly sincere, as he sat there trying so hard in his halting, though very perfect English, to make his meaning plain. He said Sunrise was to be a study of the melody of life and that the melody was to be expressed by emotion. He wanted to take all the emotions -- the loves, the hates, and the hungers, and even the little whimsical tendernesses -- and blend them all together into one big rhythm."
A crucial component of this fairy tale vision of human emotion was the visual style. Production designer Rochus Gliese created a series of drawings (heavily influenced by German Expressionism), and the filmmakers endeavored to faithfully recreate these stylized sketches on film. This involved the construction of settings tailor-fitted to the camera's perspective.
Although uncredited, Edgar G. Ulmer served as an assistant production designer on Sunrise and later discussed with Peter Bogdanovich his collaboration with Murnau. "Our sets were built in perspective, with rising or sloping floors; everything was constructed through the viewfinder. So what happened was, if you had a room, you could only take one shot in that set. If there were ten shots of it, you built ten sets of that one room; because the one camera eye was the point of the perspective -- the furniture was built in perspective. That's where the great look of the pictures came from; it gave you, of course, a completely controlled style."
In the scenes within the peasant cottages one can find beautiful examples of the stylized perspective and custom-built sets that Ulmer describes. The floors are steeply ramped in the background so actors' feet are visible, and the beds and tables in the foreground are constructed at oblique angles so their surfaces are visible to the camera. In order to have a lamp appear in the extreme foreground of one shot, an oversized prop had to be constructed. Such unusual tasks became a challenge to the Fox Studios prop department. "We found obstacles that my associates had not been called upon before to meet," said Murnau in 1927, "When we needed a smaller or larger wheel than the average we had to make it. When we required a bed that was not constructed according to the specifications of any special period, we had to make it. When we wanted a lamp that was not of the usual proportions, the technical department had to produce it."
This expensive approach was not limited to interior scenes. Swamps were constructed, cityscapes erected and, perhaps most impressive of all, a variety of sets at an amusement park, with the rides and attractions swirled together in unbelievably complex constructions (combining full-size sets and miniatures).
Cinematographer Charles Rosher recalled a scene in the metropolitan cafe, "All the sets had floors that sloped slightly upwards as they receded, and the ceilings had artificial perspectives; the bulbs hanging from them were bigger in the foreground than in the background. We even had dwarfs, men and women, on the terrace. Of course all this produced an amazing sense of depth."
"We forced Winnie Sheehan [head of production] to accept the idea and do all the sets in perspective," Ulmer said, "They had to buy Fox Studios in West L.A. because we didn't have enough space down on Western Avenue."
In one sequence, Murnau wanted to show a dust storm buffeting the amusement park just prior to a rain shower, but in shooting the scene, the rain machine began to pour before the wind machine had finished its job. Rosher recounted the episode to author Lotte Eisner: "'That doesn't matter,' said Sol Wurtzel, of Fox, 'we can do without the sequence where the dust heralds the storm.' But Murnau, whom William Fox had given carte blanche to spend all that he needed to make a spectacular, was implacable: he must have a dust storm first! 'But we've got three thousand extras waiting.' cried Wurtzel. 'Let them go home and come back in three days, when the sets and stands are dry,' answered Murnau. And he wouldn't budge. It cost Fox an enormous amount of money."
In time, Murnau's perfectionism began to test the patience of the studio. Gliese recalled that "Our producer took the precaution of staying with the company in New York for nine months, to undo the damage we did by overspending the budget. Otherwise we wouldn't have been able to finish the film."
In the end, the effort and expense were worthwhile. Sunrise was a huge critical success, and the film was awarded Oscars® for Most Unique and Artistic Production (there was not yet a Best Picture category), as well as Best Cinematography. Janet Gaynor won the Academy Award for Best Actress, for this film as well as her work in 7th Heaven (1927) and Street Angel (1928). Afraid that their luck might not hold out with another high-stakes gamble, Fox restrained Murnau's extravagance in his subsequent films, to the point that Murnau ultimately left the studio system and shot a film in the South Seas with documentarian Robert Flaherty (Tabu, 1931).
Producer: William Fox Director: F.W. Murnau
Screenplay: Carl Mayer, based on the novella The Journey to Tilsit by Hermann Sudermann Cinematography: Charles Rosher and Karl Struss
Production Design: Rochus Gliese, assisted by Edgar G. Ulmer and Alfred Metscher
Music: Hugo Riesenfeld
Cast: George O'Brien (The Man), Janet Gaynor (The Wife), Margaret Livingston (The Woman from the City), J. Farrell MacDonald (The Photographer).
by Bret Wood
Critics' Corner - Sunrise
It also received the Kinema Junpo Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1929. The Kinema Junpo awards derived from the Japanese film magazine of the same name, started in 1919.
Sunrise has also been regularly considered one the greatest films ever made and in 2002, was ranked in the top 10 of the Sight and Sound critic's poll.
The Critics' Corner on SUNRISE
"Sunrise is a distinguished contribution to the screen, made in this country, but produced after the best manner of the German school. In its artistry, dramatic power and graphic suggestion, it goes a long way in realizing the promise of this foreign director in his former works, notably Faust ... Murnau reveals a remarkable resourcefulness of effects; the playing of George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor and their associates is generally convincing, and the story unfolds in settings inexpressibly lovely... Murnau has a knack or a gift or a genius for broad effects. He can convey subtle meanings by trick photography or by treatment of backgrounds.... All of these things lay upon a story as simple as it is human." Variety, September, 1927.
"Superlatives grow pale... I lack the ability to describe the beauty, the poignancy, the happiness of this exquisite film. It moves, from beginning to end, a perfectly co-ordinated piece of drama - a heart-searing, ironic picture of life, love, and laughter done to brutal perfection by F. W. Murnau." New York Herald Tribune, December, 1927
"The principals in this gripping subject are George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor, who both give inspired performances... This picture is exotic in many ways for it is a mixture of Russian gloom and Berlin brightness...Miss Gaynor, guided by the genius of Mr. Murnau, gives a strangely sympathetic portrait of the Wife. Her hair is braided into a coil at the back of her head, and her big, bright eyes are never like those of the usual Hollywood actress. Margaret Livingston impersonates the City Girl with feline like watchfulness and purring caresses. There is not a weak spot in any of the performances and the incidents are stamped with genuineness and simplicity. You find yourself thinking now and again that it is just the sort of thing farm people might do on going to Tilsit...Mr. Murnau proves by Sunrise that he can do just as fine work in Hollywood as he ever did in Germany. A film Masterpiece." Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times, September, 1927.
"Although my admiration for Ernst Lubitsch is great - some would say 'excessive' - the title of the World's Greatest Director, according to my personal rating, is no longer held by him. It is applied to F. W. Murnau. Sunrise, to my mind, is the most important picture in the history of the movies." Robert Sherwood, Life, 1927
"Not since the earliest, simplest moving pictures, when locomotives, fire engines and crowds in streets were transposed to the screen artlessly and endearingly, when the entranced eye was rushed through tunnels and over precipices on runaway trains, has there been such joy in motion as under Murnau's direction." - Louise Bogan, The New Republic
"A near masterpiece...The story is told in a flowing, lyrical German manner that is extraordinarily sensual, yet is perhaps too self-conscious, too fable-like for American audiences." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies
"I think the film was a stepping-stone, and Murnau was dead before he could touch ground. The art direction - by Rochus Gliese, Gordon Wiles, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Alfred Metscher - is phenomenal, and from a far more sophisticated film. The lighting (Charles Rosher and Karl Struss) and the camera movement are glorious. There are entire sequences here that see the medium altering. But the song of the humans is much harder to take and it stays obstinately in place. It's the scenario that is the problem: by Carl Mayer from a novel by Hermann Sudermann. What Sunrise needs is a grasp of character as subtle as the mise-en-scene. That would not come for years yet, and you can argue that it came in France and Japan more than in America. But don't doubt the impact of Sunrise on Hollywood - these are the first modern camera movements, carrying us toward desire." - David Thomson, Have You Seen...?
"If, on the verge of the sound era, the cinema needed a film of great plastic beauty to emphasize its visual heritage, then Sunrise was that film...Sunrise endures as a poem in pictures, the beauty and fluidity of which more than mitigate the essential kitsch of the story..." - Peter Cowie, Eighty Years of Cinema
"Murnau's most perfect film, though made in Hollywood, is entirely Germanic in style. Its style is dominated by fluid camera movements that are so masterfully handled that they also seem invisible." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films
"I can recall no other film in which the honest emotion of love has been conveyed so beautifully, and no other film that is such a beautiful entity in itself. Even the titles, which are infrequent, have a simplicity and beauty that parallels the film itself, and often they are presented in strikingly dramatic fashion." - Classics of the Silent Screen: A Pictorial Treasury by Joe Franklin
Compiled by Greg Ferrara
Critics' Corner - Sunrise
Murnau, Borzage and Fox - An Epic 12-Disc DVD Set
To date. In late 2008, Fox followed up Ford at Fox with an even more eclectic release designed to satisfy the most ardent cineaste: Murnau, Borzage and Fox. Comprised of twelve DVDs (twelve feature films and a feature-length documentary) and two oversized books of photographs, it explores a fascinating and unique chapter in American film history: when one Hollywood studio made a conscious effort to reach the pinnacle of artistic achievement. MGM may have mastered the market in masterful storytelling and technical polish, but studio head William Fox had higher aims. He cultivated a stable of visionaries who were encouraged to deviate from the factory-production model and open up the boundaries of cinema.
At the forefront of Fox's crusade was F.W. Murnau, who had been recruited from the Ufa studios, where he had made such influential films as The Last Laugh (1924) and Faust (1926). Once Murnau arrived at the Fox lot and began work on his film Sunrise: A Song of Two Human (1927, winner of the first Academy Award for "Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production," and commonly regarded as the greatest silent movie ever made), Fox encouraged other directors to observe Murnau and follow his example. He allowed them the freedom and the resources to pursue masterpieces of their own.
Prominent among these other filmmakers were Frank Borzage, John Ford, and Howard Hawks. Great directors in their own right, they didn't merely imitate Murnau (though at times they did), but learned the degree to which an intimate drama could unfurl into something cinematically transcendent.
Economic difficulties eventually forced the studio to adopt a more modest approach to art-making, but for a time, Fox was a place where certain directors were allowed to indulge their greatest creative fantasies. The films collected in Murnau, Borzage and Fox allow viewers to experience that short-lived, once-in-a-lifetime situation in meticulously-prepared DVDs.
The set is the perfect companion piece to the monumental Ford at Fox. It may contain fewer discs, but the fact that it represents the work of lesser known directors, and focuses on a particular moment in Fox's evolution makes it a more daring collection than its acclaimed predecessor, and one that film history enthusiasts will find even more satisfying.
The films are preceded by disclaimers, stating they were mastered from "best surviving source material available." The quality of film material varies greatly, but on the whole the films are at or above the technical standard for films of this vintage and obscurity. Anyone who watches silents on DVD will be pleased with the quality of presentation. Some digital cleanup could have been performed on some of the more obtrusive blemishes (particularly in 7th Heaven ) but one musn't quibble. A backlash against digital restoration (some call it tampering) has been building for some time, since it alters the integrity of the surviving film element. I personally have no complaints if a studio chooses to present a film in the condition in which the actual print/negative exists, but those who desire flawless image quality are hereby forewarned.
The cornerstone of Murnau, Borzage and Fox is, of course, Sunrise, Murnau's brazenly artsy tale of a rural man (George O'Brien) who is tempted to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor) by a big-city seductress (Margaret Livingston). "The Man" falters, and travels to the city with "The Wife," where their relationship blooms unexpectedly. Sunrise is presented as a dual-sided disc. Side A presents the film almost identically to Fox's 2002 DVD release The "Best Picture" Collection (theatrical trailer, audio commentary by director of photography John Bailey, 1927 Movietone score, 2002 score composed by Timothy Brock, outtake footage, etc.). The material pertaining to Murnau's lost film 4 Devils (1928) has been removed from the Sunrise and relocated on the disc of City Girl (1930).
The only significant improvement over the old DVD of Sunrise is the inclusion, on Side B, of a print of the film held by the Narodni Filmovy Archiv in Prague. It is unclear whether the side B version -- referred to as the "European silent version" -- is comprised of different footage from the familiar "Movietone version" on Side A (as international release versions sometimes were). However, the image quality is substantially improved over the standard edition, with a clarity and range of contrast that has never been seen in the U.S. since its initial release. The only drawback is it is presented with Czech intertitles, so it is something that should be reserved for second-viewings (after one has experienced the film with the original, sometimes animated, English intertitles). One authoring glitch to beware of: there is no on-screen menu option for English subtitles -- only French, Spanish and none. The English subtitles usually appear beneath the Czech intertitles by default. However, when viewed on my particular Blu-Ray machine, the English titles did not automatically appear, and had to be manually located via remote, with some difficulty.
Most people are not buying this pricey and lavish boxed set for a new edition of Sunrise. They are seeking the lesser-known films that have either circulated in poor-quality bootlegs or been locked within the Fox vaults for decades. Such a film is Murnau's City Girl. Often overlooked because it survives in a version that was edited without Murnau's involvement, City Girl is a breath-taking rediscovery -- and deserves to have the asterisk removed from its reputation. It does not include the camera pyrotechnics of Murnau's earlier work. Instead it is a more delicate, low-key drama which, curiously, appears to have been influenced by the Borzage films (which had been inspired by the Murnau films). As a result, it has a depth of feeling and emotional maturity that is often lacking in Murnau's work (where characters feel more like symbols, rather than flesh-and-blood beings).
Charles Farrell (who starred in virtually all the Borzage high-art films) plays Lem Tustine, a Minnesota wheat-farmer's son who has been sent to the big city to sell the year's crop. He meets and falls in love with a lonely waitress (Mary Duncan) and takes her home to the folks. Upon their arrival, Kate discovers that Lem is controlled by his domineering father (David Torrence), who rejects her as a gold-digger from before the moment he meets her. Lem and Kate's relationship further crumbles when a band of rowdy laborers (led by Richard Alexander) arrive to harvest the crop, and begin flirting with the worldly woman whom fate has dropped onto the joyless farm. An approaching hailstorm pushes the workers to their physical limits, and puts an emotional strain on the Tustine family that seems destined to break them apart or, possibly, bind them together
City Girl survives in better condition than any other film in the collection. Its image quality is exceptional and virtually without blemish. The 2008 score, by Christopher Caliendo, is airy and bright. This generally suits the film well but is so cheerful that it tends to diminish the air of tragedy that lingers about the plot, from the very beginning.
Murnau's second American film, now lost, is 4 Devils, which is represented in script material and photos recycled from the previous DVD release of Sunrise. New in this collection, however, is a lavish book of photographs from the film, which serves to further whet our appetites for a film we are, unfortunately, unlikely ever to see.
Murnau and Borzage responded to the Fox windfall in different ways. Murnau had a more European approach. he designed every shot for the effect it would have upon the eye, and tuned every visual element -- production design, costume, camera movement, performance -- for heightened artistic expression. Borzage, on the other hand, was more American in his style, focusing his energy on storytelling, using the Fox resources to provide a rich and realistic canvas -- for heightened emotion.
The 1925 film Lazybones, made prior to Murnau's arrival on the lot, helps illuminate the degree to which Borzage's visual style was influenced by the emigre. Borzage is in full command of the emotionally complex characters and moments of bitter pathos that highlight his "prime" work, but it lacks the visual eloquence that Murnau brought to the studio. Cowboy star Buck Jones is Lazybones, a thoroughly unmotivated rustic bachelor who fatefully rescues from drowning a suicidal woman, Ruth Fanning (Zasu Pitts), who is despondent over revealing her infant child to her family. Lazybones agrees to not only protect Ruth's secret, but to raise the child until her family is ready to accept her. Unfortunately, little Kit remains an outcast from the intolerant Fanning clan, and Lazybones continues to father the pitiful waif, watching her grow to womanhood, ignorant of her own parentage.
The emotional texture of Lazybones is remarkable for a film of 1925, and it would surely stand alongside Borzage's best-known works, were it not for a misguided turn in the final reel, when Lazybones falls in love with his adoptive daughter Kit (Madge Bellamy), who has just come of age. The sudden shift from paternal affection to sexual desire derails our identification with the hero, and makes us aware of the filmmaker trying to pile more pathos onto the story than its narrative framework can support.
7th Heaven was made just two years after Lazybones but, stylistically, they are worlds apart. One immediately sees what effect carte blanche and a visionary mentor such as Murnau had upon a director who might have otherwise been nothing more than a capable dramatist.
7th Heaven stars Janet Gaynor as Diane, a Parisian waif abused by her absinth-crazed sister (Gladys Brockwell) and driven by whip into the streets, where she is rescued by Chico (Charles Farrell), a sewer-cleaner who aspires to advance above-ground to street-sweeper. When Diane is threatened with arrest, Chico claims she is his wife, and they are suddenly thrust into a relationship. To satisfy the police, Diane moves in to Chico's spartan seventh-floor apartment, the walk-up paradise of the film's title. In spite of the seedy milieu, Diane and Chico are a couple of innocents, who inevitably warm to one another. At the very moment when Chico finally professes his love for Diane, war breaks out and he is swept off to battle, leaving her to work in a munitions factory. Years pass and the war deals the lovers a fateful blow, and Diane faces the news that Chico has died in battle. Will she accept the truth -- or find some way of prolonging the delicate happiness she found in Seventh Heaven?
One of the most deluxe discs in the collection, 7th Heaven (1927) is loaded with significant extras. The "final shooting script" is presented in its entirety, typeset in the style of silent-movie intertitles. Without chapters or an index, however, paging through the hundreds of menu cards in one setting is a time-consuming task. Other bonuses include an exhaustive collection of production stills, and brief notes by music historian Miles Kreuger on the Movietone score by Erno Rapee that accompanies the DVD presentation. The most enlightening special feature is by far the audio commentary track. Unlike the typical supplemental audio comprised of obvious observations and free-associating filmmakers, the track of 7th Heaven is dense with historical and technical information provided by writers Anthony Slide and Robert Birchard. Even when they wander into speculation about Borzage's creative process, the insights are meaningful, the anecdotes amusing, and supported with an astonishing array of statistics and factoids.
The visual quality of 7th Heaven is below studio standards, grainy and scratched throughout, sometimes dupey. This is not the fault of the DVD producer, but a studio that did not hold silent films in high enough regard after the arrival of sound to more carefully preserve them (and Fox is by no means the only studio that took this stance).
On the flipside of 7th Heaven is a reconstruction of Borzage's The River (1929), which exists in fragmentary form, missing, "the beginning, two intermediary scenes, and the final reel." There remains enough of The River to see that Borzage could make a delicately observed romance in the mold of 7th Heaven and Lucky Star without Janet Gaynor in the lead. Farrell stars opposite City Girl's Mary Duncan in a delicate romance set in the Rocky Mountains near the site of a dam under construction. Of particular note is a brazenly erotic sequence in which Duncan discovers Farrell swimming in the nude.
The reconstruction was compiled from multiple of source elements, of varying quality. The missing scenes are represented in a collection of titles and stills that appears to have been compiled on film some years ago. The quality of these passages is not very good (seeming to come from an outdated analog video master), with considerable grain, "noisy" blacks, and an unstable image. Once we get to the surviving footage, the image quality appreciates considerably. The restoration, conducted by Herv Dumont on behalf of the Swiss Film Archive, includes all the surviving footage held by 20th-Century Fox, as well as a rediscovered scene located by Swedish film censors. It is backed with a surviving Movietone score, presumably the one composed for the film. Originally released at 84 minutes, the reconstruction of The River runs 56 minutes, 40 seconds, and includes an extensive gallery of production stills.
It should be noted that The River was released on DVD in early 2008 in PAL on the Filmmuseum label, along with Borzage's pre-Fox two-reelers The Pitch o' Chance (1915), The Pilgrim (1916), and Nugget Jim's Pardner (1916), which do not appear in Murnau, Borzage and Fox.
One of the most underrated romances of the silent era (partly because for decades no prints were known to exist), Lucky Star is another variation on the Farrell/Gaynor sensitive he-man/neglected waif story. Although it recycles numerous ingredients from the previous Farrell/Gaynor romances, it still manages to strike notes of exquisite emotional richness. Farrell is Tim Osborn, a rugged member of a power line crew, and Gaynor is a rural farmgirl who frequently interferes with their progress. Sent off to war, Tim's legs are crushed when his horse-drawn cart is struck by an artillery shell. Confined to a wheelchair, Tim returns to his mountain cabin. He maintains his good spirits, in spite of his isolation. He welcomes troublesome Mary's visits, and nicknames her "Baa-baa" because she is the black sheep of her family. Tim takes her under his wing, gives her gifts, washes her hair, and inevitably falls in love with her (echoing the surrogate father/daughter love story of Borzage's Lazybones). Childlike Mary is blind to his feelings and, in one of the most poignant scenes, scampers off to attend a Fireman's Ball, looking radiant in a cheap white dress, while Tim must remain behind in his chair. Circumstances cause Mary to become engaged to the local bully (Guinn Williams, who appears in a number of Borzage's films). Tim struggles for a way to intervene and stop the wedding but cannot steer his chair in the heavy snow. It seems that only a miracle will be able to reunite the deserving lovers and keep "Baa-baa" out of the goon's clutches.
Lucky Star has all the earmarks of a Fox specialty picture. The production design -- landscapes sculpted within a studio, constructed in forced perspective -- is particularly amazing.
In terms of source material, Lucky Star is among the best-looking films in the Borzage, Murnau and Fox collection. The 35mm film element was recovered by the Nederlands Filmmuseum of Amsterdam. Dutch intertitles have been replaced with English title cards, the content of which has been derived from historic records. The film is accompanied by a modest score composed by Christopher Caliendo, performed by a small orchestra, presented in 2.0 stereo and 5.1 stereo surround.
When Murnau, Borzage and Fox reaches the sound era, we suddenly discover the degree to which technology inhibited the visual expressiveness of cinema. One would hope that the dawn of sound would have provided Borzage with a new array of artistic opportunities. Regrettably, this was not the case. His first talkie, They Had To See Paris (1929) is completely lacking the emotional texture and aesthetic beauty of his recent silent films. It is not as wooden as some early sound pictures, but the sluggish pace, the stiff formality of the actors, the lack of visual richness, the reliance on stock footage, and the clumsy plotting make it the most unpleasant viewing experience of the entire collection. No film could provide a better example of the extent to which sound technology hamstrung some of Hollywood's finest directors.
Will Rogers stars as Pike Peters, a garage-owner in the small town of Claremore, Oklahoma. When oil is struck on his property, he becomes wealthy, and his wife Idy (Irene Rich) insists on raising the family's cultural awareness by taking them all to Paris. Some of the highjinks that ensue are amusing for a moment -- Pike befriending a stuffy Grand Duke (Theodore Lodi), Pike getting caught in the boudoir of a beautiful songstress (Fifi D'Orsay) -- but their pace so leaden that they are drained of life before they can conjure any chuckles.
Were it not for the opening credits, one would never believe They Had To See Paris was made by Borzage, at the top of his craft. The credits include a few names from The River, but the only significant contributor from the salad days of 7th Heaven is production designer Harry Oliver. Clearly, his creative input was severely limited, as the sets are consistently two-dimensional (like a stage backdrop) and without the expressive design of the prime films. Seeing Borzage and his crew being bridled by the demands of sound technology and studio politics is a heartbreaking thing to behold. Borzage could have made an expressive sound film. The same year, Rouben Mamoulian made the extraordinarily visual talkie Applause (1929). But Mamoulian had the support of the studio (Paramount), whereas Borzage was caught in a tightening of the belt at Fox as economic factors choked off the stream of self-indulgent art films that he, Murnau, and John Ford had been allowed to undertake.
Important to note that one of the screenwriters was Owen Davis, a playwright. Many studios made the fatal error of handing over the task of screenwriting to playwrights, under the simple assumption that they had superior skills at writing dialogue, not realizing the enormous difference between writing for the screen and writing for the stage. Instead of lingering on the expressive eyes of Janet Gaynor and the soulful gaze of Charles Farrell, Borzage let the story be told by Will Rogers, whose folsky witticisms occasionally warrant a nod of appreciation, but do nothing to engage the viewer in the storyline.
In terms of DVD quality, the 35mm film element of They Had To See Paris shows imperfections typical of a film of this vintage (watery stains that appear to be the early stages of nitrate decomposition), the overall look of the master is quite nice and sharp. The audio is very thin and at times difficult to decipher, but is an accurate representation of the early sound film experience. The disc includes a gallery of production stills and promotional artwork.
Liliom (1930) offered Borzage something of a return to the more stylized films of the late 1920s, being an intimate romance backed by high-concept production design. Based on the play by Ferenc Molnar, it centers upon a womanizing carnival spieler (Charles Farrell) who woos a young working girl named Julie (Rose Hobart). When Liliom and a friend (Lee Tracy) attempt to rob a factory clerk, he commits suicide rather than fall into the hands of the authorities. After death, his body is whisked away on a bizarre celestial locomotive (that recalls Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  and Winsor McCay's The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend , while foreshadowing the style of Dr. Seuss). After being dispatched to hell for a decade (aboard a rocket-powered train), Liliom is allowed to return to earth to see Julie and his nine-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Will he be capable of performing one good deed to redeem himself -- or is he the foul brute all Julie's friends said he is?
Though a step back in the direction of prime Borzage, Liliom is hardly a return to form. His regular production designer, Harry Oliver, was given more resources than in the previous couple of films, but clearly not as much as he wielded on a film like 7th Heaven. The film has forced-perspective miniature sets, distorted trees, and low-key lighting, but the end result is stagy and flat (the design compares unfavorably with Fritz Lang's dark and moody version of Liliom, shot in France in 1934). Though not as rigid as, say, They Had To See Paris, Liliom's camera (commanded again by Chester Lyons) maintains too much distance from the actors -- giving the film a stiff theatrical tone it can do without. And there is very little movement from the actors, who stay mostly immobile so as not to wander too far from the boom microphone. The intentionally artificial sets would have worked much better if the viewer didn't spend so much time looking at them. The film's fatal flaw is its glacial pace. Borzage seems to have coached the cast to slowly enunciate every line and allow at least four seconds of silence after each character speaks.
The image and sound quality of Liliom are exceptional (though the Fox disclaimer appears yet again at the the beginning). Borzage manages to blend music with dialogue quite well (at a time when most directors considered it an either-or proposition). It is interesting to hear Farrell speak, after so many commanding silent roles -- and disappointing to find his voice is thin and high -- not at all what one imagines the burly farm-owner of Sunrise sounding like. The DVD includes a satisfying photo gallery.
Bad Girl (1932) earned Borzage an Oscar for Best Director, and the DVD is discussed at length in a review by TCM's ------- (HYPERLINK). After the Fox Studios had been forced to take a more conservative, formulaic approach to filmmaking (owing to the Great Depression and some ill-timed acquisitions made by Fox), Borzage worked on a number of projects that took him away from his area of expertise, and required that he expand his repertoire beyond the poignant, intimate romance.
After Tomorrow (1932) is an urban drama of an office worker (Charles Farrell) and his girlfriend (Marian Nixon) who seek happiness in spite of economic challenges, as well as a variety of family issues (examples). At times, we see flashes of Borzage's brilliance shining through, but screenwriter Sonya Levien did not bring the film very far from its origins as a stage play (by Hugh Stange and John Golden).
In Young America (1932) Ralph Bellamy stars as an unconventional juvenile court judge who tries to keep neglected boys from being victimized by a rigid legal system. At the behest of is wife (Doris Kenyon), Jack Doray (Spencer Tracy) takes troubled teen Arthur Simpson (Tommy Conlon) under his wing, but bad luck (and social intolerance) threaten to stand in the way of Arthur's long-term happiness. Young America is a Depression-era social conscience film of the type First National (Warner Bros.) specialized in, but this film lacks the pace, wit and edge of the films of William Wellman, Mervyn LeRoy, and Roy Del Ruth. It shows that when Borzage was assigned a "programmer," he was often unable or unwilling to raise it to the level of engaging drama or impressive art (They Had To See Paris is a previous example, and there would be dozens more later in Borzage's career).
The final disc in the collection contains Murnau, Borzage and Fox (2008), a 105-minute documentary that spans the entirety of William Fox's career, from his early years as an exhibition entrepreneur (defying the monopolistic Edison Company), technical innovator (with the Movietone sound-on-film process and the 70mm widescreen Fox Grandeur process), artistic visionary (offering carte blanche to Murnau and encouraging his stable of filmmakers to challenge themselves visually), to his professional decline. Directed by John Cork and Lisa Van Eyssen, the documentary is rich in detail, and illustrated with a treasure trove of archival clips and photographs. Curiously, the documentary is much more detailed than the book, which is oriented more toward photographs than information. The only criticism is that -- being narrated by about 30 historians, experts, and descendants (who are infrequently identified) -- it is impossible to know who is speaking about 85% of the time. Furthermore, the cutting-and-pasting together of all these perspectives is brisk and incessant, leaving the viewer fairly exhausted by the end of the piece. But, in its own way, this suits the collection, which is all about packing as much content as possible into one DVD collection.
To say the set is handsomely packaged is an understatement. It is probably the most elaborate yet tasteful DVD packaging ever released. The discs are fitted into the cardboard pages of a faux-leatherbound album Within the covers of this album are fitted oversized paperbound books: Murnau, Borzage and Fox and 4 Devils: The Lost Film by F.W. Murnau. All of this slides into a sturdy box with a lid that is shaped to fit the contours of the nameplate on the exterior. The box and lid are also inlaid with photographs (of Sunrise and 7th Heaven).
The book Murnau, Borzage and Fox is one of the weaker elements of an otherwise breathtaking collection. While it showcases 128 pages of production stills and advertisements on high quality paper stock, it includes no studio documents related to the films (such as set design sketches, script pages, memos, etc.). The publicity photos offer little insight into the methods by which the films were made. Nor is the brief essay, by Janet Bergstrom, particularly insightful. The essay devotes most of its attention to Sunrise, and the manner in which Fox encouraged other directors in his stable to welcome Murnau's influence. Once Murnau leaves the picture (for Tahiti, to independently produce Tabu ) and Borzage resumes a more modest visual style in his films, Bergstrom's interest seems to wane, and she devotes no more than a cursory paragraph to such programmers as Young America and After Tomorrow that are nevertheless worthy of a bit more attention.
Viewers unfamiliar with Murnau and Borzage's work will no doubt welcome the historical context Bergstrom provides, but there is not much in the way of fresh observations and data to satisfy the silent film enthusiast reasonably well-versed in the topic (this admittedly narrow demographic will nonetheless comprise most of the purchasing public for the set).
As the epic length of this review suggests, Murnau, Borzage and Fox is a monumental DVD collection. It raises the bar high, demonstrating the degree to which a studio's video label can pay tribute to its own history, resurrect the neglected films of its past, and prove itself dedicated to the ongoing preservation of the moving image.
For more information about Murnau, Borzage and Fox, visit Fox Entertainment. To order Murnau, Borzage and Fox, go to TCM Shopping.
by Asa Kendall, Jr.
Murnau, Borzage and Fox - An Epic 12-Disc DVD Set
The original negatives of the film were destroyed in a fire in 1937.
Fox studio's first ever feature film with a recorded score.
The scenes in the city were not filmed on location. They were filmed on a vast and expensive set, built especially for the movie.
In the opening onscreen credits, the literary source credit reads "from an original theme by Hermann Sudermann". In Sudermann's original story, the husband was named "Ansass" and the wife was named "Indre." These names were eliminated from the film. After the opening credits, the following written prologue appears onscreen: "This song of The Man and his Wife is of no place and every place. You might hear it anywhere at any time. For wherever the sun rises and sets, in the city's turmoil or under the open sky on the farm, life is much the same: sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet." The film opens with the following written title: "Summer time, vacation time." In the intertitle in which "The Woman" suggests that "The Man" drown his wife, the word "drown" melts and slides down the screen as if it were sinking. In the original program from Sunrise, contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library, the credits of Katherine Hilliker and H. H. Caldwell read "edited and titled by." The onscreen credits list only "titles by," however.
According to materials contained in the Sunrise Collection at the Louis B. Mayer Library at the AFI, the shot at the beach in the film's opening was filmed at Coronado Beach, California. The scenes of village were filmed at Lake Arrowhead and an artificial city was built in Fox Hills outside the Fox Studio in Hollywood for the exterior shots of the city. In an interview with the film's cinematographer, Charles Rosher, reprinted in a modern source, Rosher noted that because wide angle lenses did not exist at the time Sunrise was filmed, he had to construct a sense of depth using only 35 and 55mm lenses.
In the café sequence he created an artificial sense of perspective by creating sets in which the floors sloped slightly upwards as they receded. The bulbs hanging from the ceilings were bigger in the foreground than the background, a technique that also created a false sense of perspective. In addition, adults were placed in the foreground of the scene, while the middleground and background space was peopled by children and dwarfs dressed as adults. These techniques were repeated throughout the film to create a sense of depth. In a letter quoted in a modern source, production designer Rochus Gliese noted that the marsh scene was filmed in the studio by a camera on a rail that was fixed to the ceiling. Gliese also wrote that the vision of the drowning shot was shot in speeded-up motion at the studio. The boat was suspended from a crane that hung from the studio rafters. Two acrobats doubled for the actors, and the woman fell into a net outside of camera range.
Sunrise was released in 1927, the first year of The Academy Awards, and won the award for Best Cinematography and an award for Best Unique and Artistic Picture, a category that was discontinued after the first year. Janet Gaynor won the Best Actress Award for her body of work, which included this picture as well as 7th Heaven and Street Angel. Rochus Gliese was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Interior Decoration. The film marked the American film debut of German director F. W. Murnau.
Modern sources credit Alfred Metscher as assistant art director. Modern sources also add Phillips Smalley, Gino Corrado, Barry Norton and Robert Kortmann to the cast. The 1939 Tobis Flmkunst production Die Reise nach Tilsit directed by Veit Harlan and starring Kristina Söderbaumm and Philip Dorn (then known as Fritz von Dongeo) was also based on Hermann Sudermann's story.
Released in United States 1927
Released in United States 1973
Released in United States 2012
Released in United States March 1985
Released in United States 1927
Released in United States 1973 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Great American Films) November 15 - December 16, 1973.)
Released in United States 2012 (Guest Artistic Director - Bernardo Bertolucci)
Selected in 1989 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States March 1985 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Hollywood Tributes - Janet Gaynor) March 14-31, 1985.)