I was both excited and a little sad when I started to watch Sunrise as it is my last F. W. Murnau film of the month; on the other hand, this is his American film debut and unlike most of his previous films, this was classified as both a romantic comedy and a drama. To no surprise, I loved this touching, personal story.
The opening intertitles of the film reads: "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 film opens on a rural lakeside town and focuses on three unnamed characters: the conflicted adulterous husband, The Man; the lonely Woman from the City who seeks to make The Man her man; and the demure, neglected wife, The Woman. The mistress convinces the husband to sell his farm, move to the city with her, and, most disturbingly, to drown his wife while making it look like an accident. The Man seems like he'll follow through with this unjust cruelty, but quickly discovers that he cannot bring himself to harm his wife. When The Woman flees in fear and disappointment, the story seamlessly goes from melodrama to rom-com.
Janet Gaynor, who portrayed The Woman, won the very 1st Academy Award for Best Actress and it was truly well deserved; her performance in Sunrise drove me to tears. I could feel her anguish, the pain of her husband's betrayal. The Man begs his wife to not fear him and tries to assuage her with gifts of flowers and cake, but nothing works... Until the couple stumbles upon a wedding in a nearby church. Inside, when The Man hears the priest ask the groom if he will love and protect his bride The Man breaks down, ashamed of his actions, and he begs for his wife's forgiveness. It's sort of sweet, if perhaps a tad unrealistic, that after a sharing such a harrowing experience they find comfort and solace in each other's presence. They leave the church to the sound of the wedding bells, symbolizing a renewal of their marriage vows and of their love.
After this reconciliation, the couple has a fun-filled adventure in the city that's reminiscent of their joyful days as newlyweds, and they were absolutely adorable together. The film certainly got a few laughs out of me, but it also reminded me that the Woman from the City was still out there, waiting for her lover to return sans wife, and I waited to see what ills could possibly befall this sweet couple. Murnau takes audiences on a suspense-filled ride with the ending, which I won't spoil for you here. I will say that I was at the edge of my seat, all choked up and fearing that the worst and most ironic of tragedies has come to pass.
Sunrise is considered one of the greatest films ever made and it is both narratively and technically impressive. Murnau was back to his old tricks of the "unchained camera" and there were double exposure special effects galore. As usual, intertitles were sparingly used, but when they were used, scenes would fade in over the text, something I hadn't seen before, and this was also the first film to use animals (other than a horse) as "actors," with roles to play in the story. There was the family pup as well as a carnival piglet who, hilariously, got drunk on some spilled wine.
All in all, Murnau, once again, did not disappoint. Although I won't be seeing anymore of his films this month, I doubt my affair is over just yet.
I had intended to watch Lon Chaney don one of his 1,000 faces, but what I didn't know was that no copy of the film exists. It was lost in the MGM vault fire of 1965. The only version of the film available is a restoration commissioned by Turner Classic movies using the original script and still photographs. I tried to watch this restoration and... it's not the same. It's difficult to judge things like an actor's performance and special effects with only still images, so my movie-watching experience would be massively incomplete, which is a shame because this film looks decidedly creepy. Sad as it is, I have no choice to skip this one. At least I have you, creepy version of Lon Chaney with sharp teeth...
This is, if you can believe it, my very first Alfred Hitchcock film. How I have gone my entire adult life without seeing even one Hitchcock film is baffling and an egregious sin. But there are many movies in the zeitgeist that I have never seen before and the whole point of this undertaking is to expose myself to all those movies I've never seen before but probably should have. So, here's to my first Hitchcock flick. Cheers.
The Lodger is, if you don't know, Hitchcock's first commercially successful film. It's about a hunt for a serial killer called "The Avenger" with an obsession for golden-haired young women. The film opens with the murder of The Avenger's latest victim and witness describing the killer as "tall with a scarf covering the lower part of his face." The female lead of the movie, Daisy Bunting, is a model and a young blond, so of course, audiences immediately fear for her life, but Daisy seems unbothered by these murders. Or rather, she doesn't seem to think she could ever be a victim, and so she goes home to her parents and her policeman sweetheart, Joe. That same evening, a man appears at the Bunting's home requesting to rent the available room. Right away, I am suspicious because this newcomer heavily resembles the description of The Avenger but also he has now become the title character, The Lodger. Could this be our killer? I said to myself it was unlikely because it was too obvious, but the film goes to great lengths to paint the lodger (whose name is never stated in the movie but is credited as Jonathon Drew) as so clearly the serial killer. And for a while, I think I believed it because nothing else made sense and, hell, he even goes out in the middle of the night and we're practically (although not quite) shown the killing of the next victim. But, in typical Hitchcock fashion, The Lodger is revealed to not be the killer after all.
Apparently, Hitchcock intended to leave it ambiguous as to whether or not The Lodger was, in fact, the serial killer, but when actor Ivor Novello was cast in the role, the studio demanded that the ending of the film be rewritten. According to Hitchcock, "They wouldn't let Novello even be considered as a villain. The publicity angle carried the day, and we had to change the script to show that without a doubt he was innocent." This isn't surprising since, in those days, the life of contracted actors were heavily controlled by the studios they worked for. There seem to be this belief that actors personal lives reflected the moral standing of the studios. I've heard many stories of such controlling studio heads and the "publicity angle" Hitchcock spoke of on You Must Remember This, the podcast that started me on this journey. I, for one, love ambiguous endings and I think it would have made for a better film. But, alas.
The Lodger has been called the first ever "Hitchcock movie" because it has all the director's call cards: masterful suspense building, red herrings galore, and the recognizable innocent man on the run. Starting with this film, Hitchcock was on his way to shaping the thriller genre. The Lodger was not very remarkable in any one sense, though. I was hooked by the narrative, of course (cases of who-done-it always do) and I recognized it as the first film of it's kind, much like how Metropolis was the first of it's kind. Technically speaking, The Lodger was not much of a stand out, but Hitchcock did employ some unique camera angles, like the over-the-shoulder shot or the shots that were well above eye-level, as though you were a spectator within the world of the film rather than without. These are camera angles I've seen used in many modern horror and thriller films and it's definitely the first film I've seen so far to get creative with camera angles. I'm sure this won't be my last Hitchcock film and I look forward to seeing how his directorial style grows increasingly more bold.
Join me next time as I watch The Cat and the Canary, another German Expressionist horror film, and The Passion of Joan of Arc, a French film based on the historical trail of the titular saint. See you then!
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