Way Down East (1920)

Not Rated  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  3 September 1920 (USA)
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Reviews: 43 user | 23 critic

A naive country girl is tricked into a sham marriage by a wealthy womanizer, then must rebuild her life despite the taint of having borne a child out of wedlock.



(from the play by), (play) (as Wm. A. Brady) , 3 more credits »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mrs. David Landau ...
Burr McIntosh ...
Josephine Bernard ...
Mrs. Emma Tremont
Mrs. Morgan Belmont ...
Diana Tremont
Patricia Fruen ...
Diana's Sister
Florence Short ...
The Eccentric Aunt
Kate Bruce ...
Mrs. Bartlett
Vivia Ogden ...
Porter Strong ...
George Neville ...
Constable Rube Whipple
Edgar Nelson ...
Mary Hay ...
Kate Brewster - the Squire's Niece


The callous rich, portrayed by Lennox, think only of their own pleasure. Anna is but a poor country girl whom Lennox tricks into a fake wedding. She believes that it is true, but secret, while he has his way with her. When she is pregnant, he leaves her and she must have the baby, named Trust Lennox, on her own. When the baby dies she wanders until she gets a job with Squire Bartlett. David falls for her, but she rejects him due to her past and then Lennox shows up lusting for Kate. Seeing Anna, he tries to get her to leave, but she doesn't, and she tells no one about his past. When Squire Bartlett learns of her past from Martha, the town gossip, he tosses Anna out in a snow storm. But before she goes, she fingers the respected Lennox, as the father of her dead baby and the spoiler of herself. Written by Tony Fontana <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A simple story for plain people.


Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »



Release Date:

3 September 1920 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Mädchenlos  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$700,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (1931 re-release) | (Alpha Video)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


According to Billy Bitzer, D.W. Griffith was frostbitten on one side of his face during the shooting, and it bothered him the rest of his life. See more »


Title Card: Today Woman brought up from childhood to expect ONE CONSTANT MATE possibly suffers more than at any point in the history of mankind, because not yet has the man-animal reached this high standard - except perhaps in theory.
See more »


Referenced in Downton Abbey: Episode #3.7 (2012) See more »

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User Reviews

Pretty Good Melodrama Made Memorable By A Tremendous Climax
13 September 2001 | by (Ohio) – See all my reviews

What would otherwise be a pretty good, if old-fashioned, melodrama is made memorable by a climax that still holds up decades later as one of the most exciting scenes on film. The movie as a whole is imperfect - it's a bit too long, and is occasionally preachy - but it fits together well, and is a deserving classic of the silent film era.

The story is openly moralistic, and would not have worked without good characters and acting. Lillian Gish is deservedly remembered for her role, but Lowell Sherman is also important as the oily Sanderson - his understated performance makes his villainy more effective, and balances out the parts of the movie that are more heavy-handed (the title cards, in particular, leave no doubt as to how the director feels). The story ends up working pretty well in the context of its era.

What really stands out, of course, is its terrific climax on the river, still justifiably praised after all these years. Carefully conceived and beautifully photographed, it is a most effective way to wind up the story. The riveting drama and the stark beauty of the scenery make a great combination that you won't forget.

This would have been even better if it had been maybe 30 minutes shorter. Some scenes go on longer than necessary, and there is a lot of filler material about the townspeople - mildly amusing, and comic relief from a heavy story, but the comedy is not exactly of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin quality, and a bit less would have been better. Still, the majority of the time the film does keep your attention.

"Way Down East" is a classic in spite of its flaws, one that every silent film fan will want to see. And it also would be worth watching for the climactic sequence alone, for anyone who appreciates quality cinema.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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