Sunday Telegraph 'DVD of the Week'
SUNRISE won the very first Oscar in 1927, just before the introduction of sound, but it was a special award never repeated: it was not named best film but honoured as a "unique and artistic picture".
Even today, it's as masterly and moving as ever, with a magnificent performance by Janet Gaynor. It was directed in America by FW Murnau, a German better known for the vampire movie NOSFERATU. The source was a German novel by Hermann Sudermann, but the action is shifted to the United States and the ending changed, perhaps to its advantage.
The plot is potentially melodramatic. A rustic farmer, infatuated with a vamp from the city, plans to murder his wife in a boating accident. But on the lake his resolve crumbles and the rest of the film depicts his efforts to make amends.
It's a cinematic masterpiece thanks to the superlative use of misty, atmospheric photography and Expressionist lighting, while the acting goes straight to the heart.
Janet Gaynor won the first ever best actress Oscar for her work in this exquisite silent feature, subtitled A SONG OF TWO HUMANS.
Emigre director FW Murnau has reduced a tale of threatened marriage to its bare essentials, as George O'Brien's farmer falls for visiting city girl Margaret Livingston.
It is hard to convey briefly the wonder of imagery on display here, as Murnau both wittily and stylistically uses every aspect of visual storytelling, even making imaginative use of the back projection itself.
Perspective design and stunning photography (by Charles Rosher and Karl Struss) help immeasurably. The tale is timeless, the setting nameless and the mood resolutely central European, though it was filmed in America.
O'Brien brings a distinctively American presence to the romantically tortured hero, and Gaynor is perfection as his wife.
Adapted, by Carl Mayer, from Hermann Sudermann's novel DIE REISE NACH TILSIT.