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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)


  • FW Murnau, Director

  • Carl Mayer, Screenplay

  • Hugo Riesenfeld, Score

  • George O'Brien as The Man

  • Janet Gaynor as The Wife

  • Margaret Livingston as The Woman From the City

  • Bodil Rosing as The Maid

  • J. Farrell MacDonald as The Photographer

  • Ralph Sipperly as The Barber

  • Jane Winton as The Manicure Girl

  • Arthur Housman as The Obtrusive Gentleman

  • Eddie Boland as The Obliging Gentleman


  • Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans was released on September 23, 1927.

  • Sunrise would win the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Picture at the 1st Academy Awards in 1929. It was the first and only film to win the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' (AMPAS) 'Best Picture' award in the category of "Artistic Quality of Production" (or "Unique and Artistic Picture"). This was the only year that this award was ever given out.

  • Janet Gaynor won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in the film (the award was also for her performances in 1927's 7th Heaven and 1928's Street Angel).

  • Sunrise would also win for Best Cinematography and was nominated for Best Art Direction.

  • The film's legacy has endured, and it is now widely considered a masterpiece and one of the greatest films ever made. Many have called it the greatest film of the silent era.

  • In 1989, Sunrise was one of the 25 films selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry. The Academy Film Archive preserved Sunrise in 2004.

  • The 2007 update of the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American films ranked it number 82, and the British Film Institute's 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll named it the fifth-best film in the history of motion pictures, while directors named it 22nd.

  • Sunrise was included on AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions at No. 63, and "The Woman from the City" was a Nominated Villain on AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains.

  • Although the original 35mm negative of the original American version of Sunrise was destroyed in the 1937 Fox vault fire, a new negative was created from a surviving print.

  • Sunrise currently holds a 98% among critics on RT, a 95 score on Metacritic, and a 4.2/5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: When you're in a relationship for a long time, you sometimes forget in the monotony of everyday life why you're with someone. This is a story of how extraordinary events led to two people to remember why they loved each other.

Plot Summary: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" is a silent film masterpiece directed by F.W. Murnau, released in 1928. The film is known for its innovative storytelling, groundbreaking cinematography, and emotional depth. Set in a rural village, the story revolves around a married couple known simply as The Man and The Wife, played by George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor.

The Man is seduced by a mysterious Woman from the City, played by Margaret Livingston. The Woman convinces The Man to murder his Wife and run away with her. He ultimately cannot bring himself to go through with it due to his lingering love for his Wife. The Man becomes remorseful for his intentions and seeks forgiveness from his Wife. Later the Man saves his Wife from drowning during a storm; symbolizing his redemption and their renewed commitment to each other.

"Sunrise" explores themes of love, temptation, redemption, and the contrast between rural simplicity and urban allure. The film is renowned for its expressionist visual style, using intricate camera work, creative lighting, and innovative special effects to convey the characters' emotions and the story's themes.

Did You Know:

  • F.W. Murnau hated to use title cards in his films, so in Sunrise (1927), the title cards become more and more infrequent as the film progresses and virtually non-existent by the end.

  • Many of the superimpositions throughout the film were created "in the camera." The camera would shoot one image at the side of the frame, blacking out the rest of the shot, then expose the film. They would put the exposed film back into the camera and shoot again, blocking out the area that already had an image on it.

  • Janet Gaynor, who had long flowing hair in real life, wore a rigid wig in the film, to remove any sense of alluring sexuality about the Wife.

  • Although well-received critically, this film did not do well at the box office, which led to the studio "reining in" F.W. Murnau creatively for his next several films.

Best Performance: FW Murnau (Director)

Best Secondary Performance: Janet Gaynor (The Wife)

Most Charismatic Award: Charles Rosher and Karl Struss (Cinematographers)

Best Scene:

  • The Woman from the City

  • On the Lake

  • Going to Church

  • Taking Pictures

  • Barber Shop

  • At the Carnival

  • The Storm

  • The Search

Favorite Scene: The Search/Day in the City

Most Indelible Moment: The Woman from the City/On the Lake

In Memorium:

  • Ron Cephas Jones, 66, American actor (This Is Us, Luke Cage, Mr. Robot), Emmy winner (2018, 2020).

  • Terry Funk, 79, American Pro Wrestler, Stuntman, and Actor (Over the Top, Roadhouse, Rocky 3 and 4)

  • David Jacobs, 84, American TV writer (the creator of CBS primetime series “Knots Landing,” “Dallas” and “Paradise”). Two Emmy nominations as the Executive Producer of “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and “Homefront".

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Title Card: 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 Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 5.75

Impact/Significance: 7.25

Novelty: 8

Classic-ness: 5.75

Rewatchability: 2.75

Audience Score: 8.95 (87% Google, 92% RT)

Total: 38.45

Remaining Questions:

  • Is this the best silent film ever made?

  • Does having sound for a film enhance or detract from the filmmaking or filmgoing experience?

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