Way Down East

Way Down East

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


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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 Considered out of date even in 1920, the play told the story of Anna (Lillian Gish), the efficient yet secretive serving girl for a large farm family.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: 11/22/2011
UPC: 0738329083724
Original Release: 1920
Source: Kino Lorber
Time: 2:29:00
Sales rank: 22,444

Special Features

Music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; Gallery of Images from the original souvenir program book; ; Notes and excerpts from the play by Lottie Blair Parker; ; Photo of William Brady's 1903 stage production; ; Film Clip: The ice floe sequence of the Edison Studio's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903)

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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