Lillian Gish


Directed by               D. W. Griffith
Produced by             D. W. Griffith
Scenario by               Anthony Paul Kelly          
Based on                    Way Down East by Lottie Blair Parker
Starring                     Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess
Cinematography       Billy Bitzer
Editing by                  James Smith and Rose Smith
Distributed by           United Artists
Release date               September 3, 1920
Running time             123 min
Country                      United States
Language                    Silent film, English intertitles

"Way Down East" (1920) is a poignant drama directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. This film illustrates the work of our star cinematographer Billy Bitzer. 

The film tells the story about a society that ostracizes women for having a child out of wedlock.  Anna is a young woman, who lives with her elderly mother.  For lack of means they decide to ask rich relatives for help and Anna leaves for the big city.  Once there, she meets a man, who, in order to get her affections, sets up a fake marriage with her.  Then after she becomes pregnant he betrays her.  Anna's baby dies and she is banned from the boarding house. 

Anna then walks the streets knocking on doors and asking for work.  She ends up in the house of a certain squire, the richest farmer in the neighborhood, who is unwilling to give her work and shelter for not knowing her background, but his pious wife takes the upper hand and Anna is given a chance.  The son of the family falls in love with her, but she rejects his advances knowing that her past will catch up with her sooner or later.

Anna gradually gains the trust and affection of all family members.  The squire's son proposes marriage, but she replies that she can't be any man's wife.  The young man seems heartbroken and doesn't understand why she acts this way.  In the meantime the man who betrayed her and who is the next door neighbor, tells her repeatedly to leave the area.

Then one day the squire finds out that Anna had a baby out of wedlock.  His prejudice is so strong that he drives her out of the house at night into the blizzard.  Before leaving Anna tells everybody that the only thing she did wrong as a young naive girl was to fall in love and get betrayed, and she points to the man who did it. 

Out in the open fields with freezing winds blowing Anna quickly becomes disoriented and exhausted.  She loses her coat and falls down on the frozen river bank.  Then the ice breaks and she is carried away downstream. 

The young man desperately looks for her in the dark.  When he reaches the river he sees her in the distance lying on a piece of ice that is carrying her downstream towards the waterfall and a certain death.

The film is ranked number 33 in the list of The Top 100 Silent Era Films of the influential website Silent Era.
It has an outstanding rating in IMDB.


Way Down East (1920) on IMDb



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