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Way Down East (1920)

Passed | | Drama, Romance | 3 September 1920 (USA)
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.


D.W. Griffith


Lottie Blair Parker (from the play by), William A. Brady (play) (as Wm. A. Brady) | 2 more credits »

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lillian Gish ... Anna Moore
Richard Barthelmess ... David Bartlett
Mrs. David Landau Mrs. David Landau ... Anna Moore's Mother
Lowell Sherman ... Lennox Sanderson
Burr McIntosh ... Squire Bartlett
Josephine Bernard Josephine Bernard ... Mrs. Emma Tremont
Mrs. Morgan Belmont Mrs. Morgan Belmont ... Diana Tremont
Patricia Fruen Patricia Fruen ... Diana's Sister
Florence Short Florence Short ... The Eccentric Aunt
Kate Bruce ... Mrs. Bartlett
Vivia Ogden Vivia Ogden ... Martha Perkins
Porter Strong Porter Strong ... Seth Holcomb
George Neville George Neville ... Constable Rube Whipple
Edgar Nelson ... Hi Holler
Mary Hay 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 story of laughter- Rabelaisian horseplay. (Print Ad- Urbana Daily Democrat, ((Urbana, Ohio)) 5 December 1921) See more »


Drama | Romance


Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

3 September 1920 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Mädchenlos See more »


Box Office


$700,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

D.W. Griffith Productions See more »
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Technical Specs


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

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Parts of the waterfall sequence shots were actually of the Great Falls in Paterson, NJ. See more »


Title Card: Not by laws - our Statutes are now overburdened by ignored laws - but within the heart of man, the truth must bloom that his greatest happiness lies in his purity and constancy.
See more »


Featured in Mary Pickford: A Life on Film (1997) See more »

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User Reviews

Who needs CGI?
25 February 2008 | by Michael_ElliottSee all my reviews

Way Down East (1920)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

Anna (Lillian Gish), a naive country girl travels to Boston to ask her rich relatives for some money but once there she meets a rich man (Lowell Sherman) who likes to play the ladies. Soon the rich man cons Anna into a fake marriage but when he learns that she's pregnant he informs her that the marriage is fake and he leaves her. After the baby dies, she's kicked out everywhere because people see her as an unwed mother. She lands a new job with a family but keeps her secret from everyone including a young man (Richard Barthelmess) who falls for her but soon gossip reaches the town and Anna's secret comes out.

Being a huge fan of the director I'm really not sure what took me so long in watching this film. I've read countless books on the director, silent era and Gish and everyone of them have mentioned the ending to this film, which has Anna stuck on a sheet of ice while is quickly goes down river and nearing a waterfall but more on this later. The story itself deals with hypocrites in religion and one of Griffith's favorite subjects of the rich taking advantage of the poor. The story itself really isn't all that original but there's certainly magic all over the film. Lillian Gish, the greatest of all silent female actresses, turns in another marvelous performance as the poor girl who doesn't know when her heart is being played with. There's a short but heartbreaking sequence where Anna is taking care of her dying child and the tenderness and heartache in the eyes of Gish says more than any words could. The power that this scene contains is just one reason why I think silent films are more powerful than sound ones. Richard Barthelmess is also terrific as the young man who sees Anna as a virgin wife and the changes his character goes through are perfectly captures by the actor. Lowell Sherman is also terrific in his role which has to be one of the greatest villains in film history. Griffith certainly builds up the hatred towards his character and it's quite powerful. The cinematography by G.W. Bitzer is among the best of his career.

You can't say Griffith today without getting into a bullshit debate about race but this is a damn shame because there's no doubt in my mind that he had the greatest mind in the history of cinema. We could talk about the battle scenes in The Birth of a Nation or we can talk about nearly any scene in Intolerance but there's no question that Griffith knew how to create suspense and really push a scene for everything it's worth. The famous scene here is the climax where Anna is stuck on the ice and it's just downright remarkable at what they were able to pull off. Various people nearly died in Griffith's 1915 and 1916 epics and that holds true here where both Gish and Barthelmess nearly died pulling off this scene. I've read countless books that talked about how this stuff was filmed but it still seems impossible that they were able to pull this off. The epic scenery and the way it's shot shows that there isn't any trickery going on, which is just downright remarkable. It really blows my mind at how Griffith could pull all of this stuff off and watching it on screen is just something truly remarkable. Apparently Gish suffered permanent injuries to her hand while filming in the cold water, which is just another reason why silent stars were so remarkable since they had to do their own stunts and without the benefit of CGI. Considering that the term "special effects" weren't into play when this was filmed, it's really breathtaking to see something like this take place. It's amazing but 88-years later I can't think of a scene that matches this.

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