10 Classics to see in 2014.
SUNRISE, directed by F.W. Murnau, is a deceptively simple tale, told with great beauty. It depicts 36 hours in the life of a farmer (O'Brien) and his wife (Gaynor).
The struggling farmer is tempted by a "woman from the city" (Margaret Livingston) who convinces him that if he'll just drown (!) his sweet wife, he can run away from his cares and enjoy a life of passion with her in the big city.
The man actually considers going through with it, then regains his senses, but his wife realizes what he had planned and is devastated by his betrayal.
Over the course of a day in the city, the couple gradually have a moving reconciliation and a courtship of sorts as they rediscover their love for one another. But bad weather on the trip home may part them forever after all.
That's all there is to it, told in 94 minutes, but what a sensitively acted and lovingly filmed movie. Janet Gaynor was the very first Best Actress winner for this film, but O'Brien is equally good as her guilt-ridden husband. The scene where he awkwardly guides her into a tearoom as he tries to regain her trust was very touching, as was the moment he fell apart and begged forgiveness in church. Although the plot at first seemed disturbing, ultimately it was quite an uplifting experience.
I liked the fact that there were relatively few narrative cards interrupting the action. The movie flowed beautifully, with the story so clear and expressively acted that there weren't many cards needed to fill in the blanks.
Karl Struss and Charles Rosher (who years later filmed the lovely SCARAMOUCHE) won the Oscar for Best Cinematography.
While WINGS (1927) won BEST PICTURE that year, SUNRISE received its own Best Picture award for "Unique and Artistic Production."
SUNRISE is available on a limited edition DVD in the Fox Cinema Classics line. It's also available on Blu-ray.