In what may have been his most brilliant surprise, D.W. Griffith transformed an archaic melodrama about a wronged woman into a transcendent love story of redemption. Lillian Gish plays an innocent New Englander seduced by ... more »an urbane charmer (Lowell Sherman), who arranges a mock marriage and then abandons her when she's pregnant. When the baby dies from illness, Gish leaves the city and changes her identity. She finds herself reborn in the pastoral splendor of a farming community, catching the adoring eye of a young idealist (Richard Barthelmess), only to have the past come back to haunt her. Griffith made two kinds of films: spectacles and love stories. It's the tremulous love stories such as Way Down East that have endured the best. This 1920 film is a triumph of humanity over cruelty, a work that brilliantly conveys emotion through environment. The famous climax on the floating river of ice is still amazing--especially since it uses no special effects. --Bill Desowitz« less
Actor:Lillian Gish Genres:Classics, Drama Sub-Genres:Silent Films, Drama Studio:Alpha Video Format:DVD - Black and White - Closed-captioned DVD Release Date: 09/28/2004 Release Year: 2004 Run Time: 2hr 6min Screens: Black and White Number of Discs: 1 SwapaDVD Credits: 1 Total Copies: 0 Members Wishing: 0 MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated) Languages:English See Also:
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 02/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In order to truly enjoy a film like Way Down East it is necessary to try to perform the seemingly impossible task of transporting yourself back into the 1920's. It is very easy to be critical of the moralizing, the melodrama and the attitudes. It is easy to find a film like this primitive in its techniques and its acting. But this is to miss the point and prevents a viewer from having a great silent film experience. This film carries the viewer along with the intensity of the emotion that is portrayed, especially by Lillian Gish in what is perhaps her best performance. Certain scenes have become archetypes, such as the `leave my house' scene. Some people may criticise the so-called comic relief scenes in this film. But it must be remembered that they are not intended to be funny in the sense of Keaton or Chaplin, for this would make the film fantasy rather than drama. They are supposed to be light relief, nothing more. The best thing about this DVD is that it shows the film complete. The colour tinting, which should always be reproduced if at all possible, is subtle and greatly adds to the mood of each scene. The print shows some damage in places which at times is quite serious, but does not detract from the enjoyment of the film. We must accept that sometimes it is not possible to restore a film to perfection. It is better to have a few damaged frames than to have them missing. The original music for a 1928 reissue is reproduced and sounds fine. Finally this DVD includes extensive sleeve notes which are informative and well written. Griffith, as far as I am concerned, will always remain one of the greatest of directors and Way Down East is one of his finest films."
Required Gish Viewing
Randall | New York | 12/02/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This and Broken Blossoms are the defining moments in Lillian Gish's career. Watch and you'll be hooked. I pretty much bestow all the same accolades as everybody else about this film. Griffith was not quite a master of slapstick, but the moments here are not much different from other comedies at the time. The key of course is Gish's mesmerizing performance and a simple plot (this is 1920 of course). What a treat it is to own this movie and other silents on DVD. The picture quality is virtually perfect. The music score is a recording of an original score. It's scratchy but authentic. My only gripe with this edition is the title cards. The letters look like they came from the Sunday comics. One small quibble in an otherwise remarkable DVD."
Another Great Gish Performance
gishfan | Texas | 02/01/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Way Down East, although technically imperfect by the over-exacting standards of modern-day audiences (who are used to expensive computer-generated special effects which rarely serve to truly augment a film and often serve as a cover for woefully deficient plots), is nothing short of a masterpiece. As usual, Lillian Gish's acting is superb, and the ice floe sequence near the end is truly riveting even with a couple of continuity problems. Richard Barthelmess shines through as David Bartlett, turning in another fine performance. Way Down East is another of Griffith's masterpieces, and this release features the full-length version mastered at the correct film speed, complete with original tints, and the original score, recorded on Vitaphone discs for the film's 1930 reissue, making for an outstanding evening's entertainment. Excellent!"
Bobby Underwood | Manly NSW, Australia | 04/22/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The world had already begun to lose some of its innocence after the Great War when film pioneer D.W. Griffith took this long and romantic look at the mores which would eventually destroy his own career, outdating the type of stories he told. "Way Down East" is, like many of Griffith's films with Gish (Broken Blossoms, True Heart Susie, etc.), a story of love's virtue overcoming circumstance. Though Lottie Blair Parker's play was somewhat dated even as Griffith began filming this, our nation's innocence, and that of the entire world, was still fresh in the minds of many, making this early silent one of his greatest and most enduring masterpieces.
Baby-faced Lilian Gish portrays Anna, sent from her poor home to the big city by her mother in an effort to procure financial help from rich relatives. It is there that she will meet playboy Leroy Sanderson, however, and the sweetly naive Anna will be misled into a mock marriage so that he may take what is most precious to her. When she is found to be with child, Sanderson reveals the ruse and offers her money to go away and hide her tender secret. Anna refuses, humiliated and shamed, and returns home to her mother, who shortly dies. It is quite moving as Gish's Anna hides her baby in shame, baptizing it in secret herself, so that no one knows. It is also moving when Anna holds her sick baby in her arms, unaware that it no longer resides with her.
Wandering and trying to find a place for herself, she is taken in by the rigid Squire, who is ignorant of her past. It is on the farm that she will prove her worth and unknowingly win the love of young David (Richard Barthelmess). Gish is beautiful with her hair down, by the river, when David begins to speak of what is in his heart. But Anna cannot let him love her, no matter how she may ache to, because of her hidden and shameful past. Griffith contrasts their plight with the more charming and awkward courtship of a nerdy professor and Kate, creating greater empathy for Anna and David.
Though this somewhat overlong film doesn't reach the sophistication of silent films made during the late 1920's just before the advent of sound, it can still be both moving and exciting. Griffith took forever to film this one, waiting on the New England seasons to change, giving it a look of realism for the time in which it is set. Once gossip reaches the unforgiving Squire, the scene is set for one of the most exciting moments in motion pictures, filmed with Barthelmess and Gish themselves, Griffith and cinematographer Billy Blitzer capturing it all on film.
Cast out into a blizzard, Anna is pursued by David, desperate to find her and love her. Anna finds her way in the blizzard to the ice flows of the river, and collapses on a block of frozen water heading swiftly for the falls. Knowing Gish nearly froze to death filming this scene for Griffith, and that she and Barthelmess were truly in danger, keeps viewers on the edge of their seats as Anna drifts to the brink and David jumps from glacier to glacier, trying to get to her in time. The outcome and the aftermath turn this simple story into one of the great romances of the silver screen, or in this case, the nitrate screen.
Those who know of this film will probably opt for the beautifully restored Blackhawk version, which contains the original score redone. Those wanting to view it only as a curio might opt for the much less expensive Alpha version, which contains classical music as the score rather than the original. Gish's lovely performance and an exciting ending make this a must see for those who love silent films. While it is dated today, it is a reminder that innocence lost is never regained....."
Mawkish at times, but stays with you
Bobby Underwood | 08/28/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First, let's get one thing clear: this is old-fashioned melodrama, pure and simple. The situations have been used before ("Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" seem two prominent sources) and real emotion is eschewed by most of the actors in favor of Delsartian posing. The film is conventional in plot and design. However, for some reason I find myself replaying scenes from this film in my head, and moments come back me at odd times. The ice flow scene is a deserved classic -- you feel genuine concern, especially knowing that none of it is high-tech computer wizardry: this is the real thing. Griffith manages some other affecting scenes (the baptism comes to mind) and much of the movie is shot on location, with some lovely scenes of pastoral America. The best aspect of the film, however, is the acting of Lillian Gish. Where other characters resort to mugging, her expressive face and large doe eyes register every emotion truthfully and beautifully. Griffith exploits her talent in as many close-ups as he can get of her. She has mastered the art of silent film acting, and this film is a textbook example by one of the greatest stars of the era. Griffith's real failing in this picture comes in the truly poor comedy scenes. They are irritating, amateurish, and decidedly unfunny. This edition is beautifully done, with the original colored tints used. This is a classic document of an art form and a type of story-telling that has been lost to us."