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In the opening onscreen credits, the literary source credit reads "from an original theme by Hermann Sudermann". In Sudermann's original story, the husband was named "Ansass" and the wife was named "Indre." These names were eliminated from the film. After the opening credits, the following written prologue appears onscreen: "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 with the following written title: "Summer time, vacation time." In the intertitle in which "The Woman" suggests that "The Man" drown his wife, the word "drown" melts and slides down the screen as if it were sinking. In the original program from Sunrise, contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library, the credits of Katherine Hilliker and H. H. Caldwell read "edited and titled by." The onscreen credits list only "titles by," however.
According to materials contained in the Sunrise Collection at the Louis B. Mayer Library at the AFI, the shot at the beach in the film's opening was filmed at Coronado Beach, California. The scenes of village were filmed at Lake Arrowhead and an artificial city was built in Fox Hills outside the Fox Studio in Hollywood for the exterior shots of the city. In an interview with the film's cinematographer, Charles Rosher, reprinted in a modern source, Rosher noted that because wide angle lenses did not exist at the time Sunrise was filmed, he had to construct a sense of depth using only 35 and 55mm lenses.
In the caf sequence he created an artificial sense of perspective by creating sets in which the floors sloped slightly upwards as they receded. The bulbs hanging from the ceilings were bigger in the foreground than the background, a technique that also created a false sense of perspective. In addition, adults were placed in the foreground of the scene, while the middleground and background space was peopled by children and dwarfs dressed as adults. These techniques were repeated throughout the film to create a sense of depth. In a letter quoted in a modern source, production designer Rochus Gliese noted that the marsh scene was filmed in the studio by a camera on a rail that was fixed to the ceiling. Gliese also wrote that the vision of the drowning shot was shot in speeded-up motion at the studio. The boat was suspended from a crane that hung from the studio rafters. Two acrobats doubled for the actors, and the woman fell into a net outside of camera range.
Sunrise was released in 1927, the first year of The Academy Awards, and won the award for Best Cinematography and an award for Best Unique and Artistic Picture, a category that was discontinued after the first year. Janet Gaynor won the Best Actress Award for her body of work, which included this picture as well as 7th Heaven and Street Angel. Rochus Gliese was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Interior Decoration. The film marked the American film debut of German director F. W. Murnau.
Modern sources credit Alfred Metscher as assistant art director. Modern sources also add Phillips Smalley, Gino Corrado, Barry Norton and Robert Kortmann to the cast. The 1939 Tobis Flmkunst production Die Reise nach Tilsit directed by Veit Harlan and starring Kristina Sderbaumm and Philip Dorn (then known as Fritz von Dongeo) was also based on Hermann Sudermann's story.