Way Down East (1920)

Way Down East


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Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

It was not until great directors of the silent era like D. W. Griffith began exploring the medium of film that its possibilities as an art form began to be taken seriously. New York's Museum of Modern Art obtained a set of prints of Griffith's classic 1920 movie Way Down East and restored them, helped along by the rediscovery of the film's original musical score by Louis Silvers and William F. Peters. Major films of the silent era like this one not only had piano scores, but in bigger cities … More

Rating: Unrated
Genre: Drama, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Joseph R. Grismer, Anthony Paul Kelly, D.W. Griffith
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 28, 2004
Kino Lorber



as Anna Moore

as David Bartlett

as Lennox Sanderson

as Squire Bartlett

as Mrs. Tremont

as Diana Tremont

as Her Sister

as The Eccentric Aunt

as Mrs. Bartlett

as Martha Perkins

as Seth Holcomb

as Reuben Whipple

as Hi Holler

as Kate Brewster

as Professor Sterling

as Maria Poole
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for Way Down East

All Critics (17) | Top Critics (4)

With the gathering together of a relatively small cast and less than half a dozen stellar film artists, D.W. has taken a simple, elemental, old-fashioned, bucolic melodrama and milked it for 12 reels of absorbing entertainment.

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

[Lillian Gish's] virtuoso performance makes the heroine's growth from gullible innocence to bitter experience credible.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Through his star, Lillian Gish, Griffith gives the story an emotional power that lifts this 1920 silent feature to the level of a folktale; it becomes something simple, strong, and timeless.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

What's amazing is that so much of Gish's tough, funny, intuitive performance, particularly in the film's middle section as she bears her illegitimate child, transcends time, place and technology.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Washington Post
Top Critic

Justly celebrated for the climactic sequence where Gish, drifting unconscious on a raft of ice in a storm, is rescued by Barthelmess, the film offers many less obvious moments that are just as memorable.

Full Review… | August 12, 2014
Radio Times

Spectacular to look at, emotionally engaging and with a conclusion that still sends a shiver down the spine.

Full Review… | August 19, 2013

Audience Reviews for Way Down East

This was a pretty good movie. It has an interesting story, it's very melodramatic and the actors do a fine job, but I didn't really care much for it.

Aj V

Super Reviewer

A rake seduces a woman into a sham marriage then leaves her pregnant to fend for herself.
Politically and ideologically, I am diametrically opposed to D.W. Griffith, but when a borderline feminist message about positively treating women began Way Down East, I was briefly optimistic. Then, as I watched the plot unfold, I realized that Griffith's message was confined to not socially ruining women by rakish behavior; the social conventions that confine women remain secure and intact. Women should still be brood mares for the state and men.
Griffith's anti-intellectualism is also on display as the mawkish principal dances like an epileptic who doesn't have a roadmap and won't ask for directions.
And I don't understand why this man is revered, but his film is so diegetic. Almost incessantly we get title cards judging the characters and introducing the action we're about to see. The captions don't lead us into the scene or make up for the lack of sound; rather, they tell the story twice, once in images and once in text. This is especially true of the unnecessary horse stuck in the road scene.
Lillian Gish, Griffith's stalwart champion, does a fine job, but I couldn't help but wonder if she realized how her arch conservatism meant was so tied to a sexist agenda in this film that even if she upheld these values, they would eventually bring her down.
Overall, during Way Down East I found myself delighting in watching old silent films because I could be sure that all of the people who worked on it were dead -- even the kitty cat.

Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

Is D W Griffith sexist? No he's not! Reading the many misconceptions on here and on imdb is quite astonishing. Way Down East is a beautiful story of Anna, a young girl who has been wronged and seeks a means of escape. I'm not sure if it was intended as a women's rights statement, I think it was a story that suggested, like many of his other films, that before you understand, you must first listen. Everyone needs help from time to time and for anyone to suggest it is sexist due to the 'Damsel in distress' situation towards the end could say the same about thousands of films made since. They would also be overlooking one of the most impressive bits of cinema of all time, the breaking ice scene is unforgettable and truly brilliant! One of my favourites of all time - by far my favourite by Griffith.

Anthony Lawrie

Super Reviewer

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