Way Down East

Way Down East

Director: D.W. Griffith Cast: Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Lowell Sherman


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"I'm not a bad businessman," filmmaker D.W. Griffith once protested, "Honestly I'm not!" Yet industryites were certain that Griffith had taken leave of his financial senses when he paid $175,000 for the screen rights to the old Lottie Blair Parker stage play Way Down East. Considered out of date even in 1920, the play told the story of Anna (Lillian Gish), the efficient yet secretive serving girl for a large farm family. Anna falls in love with David Bartlett (Richard Barthelmess), the family's son, but feels unworthy of him due to her checkered past. It seems that, years earlier, Anna had been duped into a sham marriage by city slicker Lenox Sanderson (Lowell Sherman). When she became pregnant, Sandson walked out on her. Shortly afterwards, her newborn child died, and Anna was shunned by her home community. These facts come to surface when Sanderson returns to Anna's life as the local squire. David's prudish father orders Anna out of the house and into a blinding snowstorm, but David, after settling accounts with the duplicitious Sanderson, goes after Anna and claims her as his bride. In adapting Way Down East for the screen, Griffith fleshes out the characters of Anna and Sanderson by adding a prologue, which included one of those poignant scenes ever filmed: Anna's tearful insistence that her dying baby be baptized. He also injected the weary old property with a jolt of sheer showmanship, added a "last minute rescue" sequences wherein Anna, lying exhausted on an ice floe, is rescued by David seconds before plunging over a precipitous waterfall. Even today's audiences, armed with the foreknowledge that Lillian Gish enjoyed 73 hale and hearty years after the completion of Way Down East, invariably gasp in fright and urge Richard Barthelmess to "hurry! hurry!"during the climactic scene. Far from becoming Griffith's Folly as predicted, Way Down East was a huge moneymaker. There is no better of Griffith's artistry than the fact that the 1930 talkie remake of Way Down East, though directed by the formidable Henry King, failed to match the pathos and power of the 1920 version. Our own quibble: why did Griffith retain so much of the original play's wheezy comedy relief, and why did he put that relief in the hands of the relentlessly unfunny Creighton Hale?

Product Details

Release Date: 04/18/2016
UPC: 0660845447660
Original Release: 1920
Source: Grapevine Video
Sound: [silent]
Time: 1:45:00
Sales rank: 48,501

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Lillian Gish Anna Moore
Richard Barthelmess David Bartlett
Lowell Sherman Lennox Sanderson
Burr McIntosh Squire Bartlett
Creighton Hale Prof. Sterling
Kate Bruce Mrs. Bartlett
Mary Hay Kate Brewster
Emily Fitzroy Maria Poole
Edgar Nelson Hi Holler
George Neville Reuben 'Rube' Whipple
Florence Short The Eccentric Aunt
Porter Strong Seth Holcomb

Technical Credits
D.W. Griffith Director,Producer,Screenwriter
Billy Bitzer Cinematographer
G.W. Blitzer Cinematographer
Anthony Paul Kelly Screenwriter
William Frederick Peters Score Composer
Rose Smith Editor
Hendrik Sartov Cinematographer
Charles Osborne Seessel Art Director
Louis Silvers Score Composer
James Smith Editor
Herbert Sutch Asst. Director
Frank Walsh Asst. Director

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4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just happened to watch this movie while I was reading Thomas Hardys Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and by the end it had hit me that the film was loosly bassed off of this classic novel. Sure, lots of things are changed and it is made a bit more wholesome from the version of the nowel we see today. However, the origional publications of the 1891 novel had to be edited from the origonal, what we read today. This version of the story involves a fake marriage rather then a rape and thus a slightly more inocent figure of Tess. This is what the film plays on and. The more that I think about it, the more it is the same. I mean at the begining, Lillian Gish's character Anne, basicly Tess, goes to get some money from rich relatives to help the family farm, and is tricked into a fake marriage which results in pregnacy. Anne's baby dies too, and she even baptizes it in just the way that Tess did. Then Anne goes to work on a religious squires farm where she falls inlove with the angelic son, David. Anne refuses marriage repeatedly and then her secret is dramaticly revealed and she is forced off the farm in the middle of a snow storm. Since it is 1920, of course there is a happy ending, but the mood of the film is the same as in the book. There is even a Mercy chant figure in the form of Davids cousin, whom his parents want him to marry. A very nice film and an interesting subject for Hardy fans. Any one who has read the book may find this story a rather butchered adaptation, but it is not trieing to be the exact story and thus should be veiwed sympatheticly. I do recomend this to those who have read the book though, just for fun.