AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Director: F. W. Murnau (Dir)
Release Date:   4 Nov 1927
Premiere Information:   New York premiere: 23 Sep 1927
Production Date:   mid-Sep 1926
Duration (in mins):   90 or 95
Duration (in feet):   8,729
Duration (in reels):   10-11
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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)  
    Sidney Bracey (Dance hall manager)  
    Sally Eilers (Woman in dance hall)  
    Gibson Gowland (Angry driver)  

Summary: 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.

 

Production Company: Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Fox Film Corp.  
Director: F. W. Murnau (Dir)
  Herman Bing (Asst dir)
Producer: William Fox (Pres)
Writer: Carl Mayer (Scen)
  Katherine Hilliker (Titles)
  H. H. Caldwell (Titles)
Photography: Charles Rosher (Photog)
  Karl Struss (Photog)
  Stuart Thompson (Asst photog)
  Hal Carney (Asst photog)
Art Direction: Rochus Gliese (Prod des)
  Edgar G. Ulmer (Asst art dir)
Film Editor: Katherine Hilliker (Film ed)
  H. H. Caldwell (Film ed)
  Harold Schuster (Cutter)
Music: Hugo Riesenfeld (Synchronized score)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Loosely based on the short story Die reise nach Tilsit by Hermann Sudermann in Litauishce Geschichten (Berlin, 1917).
Authors: Hermann Sudermann

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Fox Film Corp. 12/6/1927 dd/mm/yyyy LP24070 Yes

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Si: Sd eff and mus score by Movietone

 
Genre: Melodrama
 
Subjects (Major): Farmers
  Infidelity
  Marriage
  Murder
  Rural life
  Transformation
  Vamps
 
Subjects (Minor): Amusement parks
  Boats
  City-country contrast
  Churches
  Photographs
  Streetcars

Note: 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 the village were filmed at Lake Arrowhead, and an artificial city was built in Fox Hills (later called Movietone City) in West Los Angeles for the exterior shots of the city. Sunrise was one of the earliest films to be shot at Fox Hills. 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 (see above). 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. Sunrise was ranked 82nd on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films.
 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Exhibitor's Herald-World and Moving Picture World   21 Jul 1928   p. 53.
Film Daily   2 Oct 1927   p. 148.
Moving Picture World   1 Oct 1927   p. 312.
New York Times   24 Sep 1927   p. 15.
New York Times   29 Jan 1928   Sec. VIII, p. 6.
Photoplay   Dec 1927   p. 52.
Variety   28 Sep 1927   p. 21.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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