Way Down East (1920)
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as Anna Moore
as David Bartlett
as Lennox Sanderson
as Squire Bartlett
as Her Mother
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
Critic Reviews for Way Down East
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.
[Lillian Gish's] virtuoso performance makes the heroine's growth from gullible innocence to bitter experience credible.
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.
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.
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.
Audience Reviews for Way Down East
I thought that 2 h 30 minutes will be too long watching this silent romantic drama directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. But this adaptation of the melodramatic 19th century play Way Down East by Lottie Blair Parker is for sure the best ever of the four made! There were two earlier silent versions, as well as one sound version from 1935, starring Henry Fonda. D. W.Griffith's version is particularly remembered for its exciting climax in which Lillian Gish's character is rescued from doom on an icy river. Some sources, quoting newspaper ads of the time, say a sequence was filmed in an early colour process, possibly Technicolor or Prizmacolor. I wish I could see that! Mine was all black and white. The melodramatic story of the handsome rich playboy Lennox (Lowell Sherman) who is exceptionally selfish and think only of their own pleasure, and his victim Anna (Lillian Gish), a poor country girl whom Lennox tricks into a fake wedding. When she becomes pregnant, he leaves her. She has the baby, named Trust Lennox, on her own, but the baby dies... she wanders until she gets a job with Squire Bartlett (Burr McIntosh) and David (Richard Barthelmess), Squire Bartlett's son, falls in love with her! Obviously, at that time the institution of marriage was considered as a suitable environment for the growth of love, not as a killer of love which usually is in reality. D.W. Griffith bought the film rights to the story that was elaborated by Joseph R. Grismer. Grismer's wife, the Welsh actress Phoebe Davies, became identified with the play beginning in 1897 and starred in over 4000 performances of it by 1909 making it one of the most popular plays in the United States. Although it was Griffith's most expensive film to date, it was also one of his most commercially successful. Way Down East is the fourth highest grossing silent film in cinema history, taking in more than $4,500,000 at the box office in 1920. Clarine Seymour had appeared in four previous Griffith films, and was hired to play Kate, the squire's niece. However, her role was given to Mary Hay, and Seymour's footage reshot, when Seymour died after surgery. Mary Hay was a worthy replacement! Worth watching not only as a part of the cinematic history, but as an art work of exceptional value.
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.
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.
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