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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS






I went to see this brilliant 1927 silent movie the other night. It won three Academy Awards and I can quite see why. It is haunting and enchanting at the same time.

Basically, it is a morality tale about a young woman from the city, played by Margaret Livingstone, who has an 'affair' with a farmer, played by George O'Brien. She persuades him to drown his wife, played by Janet Gaynor. When it comes to it, he cannot, for he realises that he loves his wife. Yet she fears him and runs off to the city with him in pursuit. They rediscover their feelings for one another (which had almost gone after the hard work of scratching a living on the farm) and after a wild day full of romance, partying and adventure they head for home.

I will say no more, lest I spoil the movie. Suffice to say that there is much more and it is worth seeing.
George O'Brien and Margaret Livingston

We saw it in at the  Grand Theatre and Opera House in Leeds  and enjoyed live music specially composed to accompany it, provided by pianist Joanna MacGregor  and jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard.

The movie was directed by F W Murnau, an exponent of German Expressionism. 

and the cast was as follows:

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 Manicurist

Arthur Housman as The Obtrusive Gentleman

Gibson Gowland as The Obliging Gerntlemen


Janet Gaynor

The cast list suggests that there are scenes that are comedic against the backdrop of the romance, the drama and the potential tragedy. There are and they work well.


The three Academy Awards were given at the Ist Academy Awards in 1929, for the movies of 1927 and 1928. These are therefore the best of the first batch of Academy Awards.


  • Best Actress in a Leading Role to Janet Gaynor. She was superb as the wife. The Oscar was given for three films she made in 1927, since the 1st Award was for the body of work in the year. The rule would be changed for the 2nd Academy Awards, so that it would be given for one film only.
  • Best cinematography - Charles Rosher and Karl Struss
  • Best Unique and Artistic Production - this was the first and only time that this particular Award was made at the Academy Awards.

George O'Brien (1899 - 1985) was a successful movie actor of the silent era, who went on to become a successful Western actor in the talkies. He had been decorated during the Great War and was light heavyweight champion of the Pacific Fleet.



Margaret Livingston (1895-1984) was successful in both the silent era and the talkies, making another twenty movies in the talkies era. She married the band leader Paul Whiteman and retired from acting in 1934.

Janet Gaynor (1906-1984) was successful in both the silent and the talkie era, but semi-retired from acting in 1939.

If you love the movies of the silent era, then this is gem worth seeing.

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