AFI's Top 100 Movies Movies

A Review of “Sunrise” (AFI Top 100 #82)

This movie was released in 1927, and while it is easily the oldest movie I’ve ever seen it’s not the oldest movie on the AFI Top 100 Movies list. Since it’s almost 84 years old, I’ll not worry about spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

The description is precisely accurate, “A married farmer falls under the spell of a slatternly woman from the city, who tries to convince him to drown his wife.” Yup, that’s what happens. Slatternly is my new favorite word by the way, so consider yourself warned.

Along with womanly wiles, as hubby accused her of using against the simple Farmer, the City Woman briefly performs a bizarre and herky-jerky dance that had her “girls” flying around. This is apparently what finally convince him to go along with her plan for him to murder his wife, sell the farm and move to “the City” with her. Clearly, the Farmer is imbalanced as he attacks the City Woman when she suggests the murder, then later moves to kill his wife, then acts threateningly to a man in the barbershop, then attempts to choke the City Woman to death. The only time he does not stop himself is the last time, when he only stops because he is interrupted with the news that his wife survived a near-drowning during a storm. Can you say irony?

The actors in this silent film do a wonderful job of expressing their emotions and inner struggles, and the director does an equally spectacular job showing us what is going on beyond the action. For instance, the ghost images of the City Woman as the Farmer is trying to decide whether or not to kill his wife beautifully convey both his imbalance and inner conflict.

Yes, some of the more emotional scenes are over-acted, but that is to be expected in a silent film much the same as theater actors must exaggerate their movements more than film actors to convey the scene because of the distance from the action to the audience.

We watched Side A, which was the “Movietone Release.” Side B was the “European Silent Version.” We compared the two briefly, and the only two differences appear to be that the text cards are in English or German (?) and the European version has music and effects over the opening credits while the Movietone version does not.

What I learned from this movie? A plate of bread does not heal all pain. At least, not in this movie. Had it been made after the low-carb/no-carb diet craze, the Farmer may have won his wife back even earlier.

1929 Academy Awards®
  • Best Actress: Janet Gaynor (Farmers Wife)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Art Direction nominee

The next movie is Spartacus, which is another movie I’ve been avoiding.