(Janet Gaynor, the good wife; George O'Brien, the farmer husband)
F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927) is a great film. If he had been ruled by politically correct views about the portrayal of women, he never could have made Sunrise, in which "The Man from the Country," is torn between his virtuous wife, "The Woman from the Country," and the evil "Woman from the City." (The characters do not have names.)
The city woman is sexually voracious and completely immoral. She urges the Man to drown his wife and come to the city with her. At one point he almost murders her. A Dr. Jeykyll and Mr. Hyde character, he, like the women, is bound by a stereotype. Then why don't these characters pall? Perhaps because the film is so visually entrancing.
Margaret Livingston, in silk stockings, bobbed hair, close-fitting cloche hat, plays the seducer with vampire-like passion. In one scene, she appears like a ghoul under a full moon. (Murnau was also the director of Nosferatu.)
Janet Gaynor is perfect as the wife in simple peasant dress, bun, endlessly affectionate to her infant child. Girlish, sunny, she wilts little by little because of her husband's betrayal, and then is terrified of him. As they sail out on the lake, she suspects he will try to drown her.
He comes close to killing her but stops at the last moment. Eventually they find their way to the city and are reconciled in a series of delightful scenes: restaurant, dance hall, photographer's studio.
Murnau has been called 'an Expressionist film-maker, so I've included the ghoulish "Portrait of Dancer Anita Berber," 1925 by the Expressionist Otto Dix, one of a group of "degenerate" artists banned by Hitler.
So what are we to do now? Make the best art we can! If we worry too much about political correctness, won't we freeze up and not take chances? Please tell me: What do you think?