Top positive review
One the classics of cinema history.
on December 27, 2015
Way Down East(released Sept/20)stars,among others, Lillian Gish,Richard Barthelmess,Lowell Sherman and Burr McIntosh.A classic of cinema,this melodrama directed by DW Griffith still retains its bite;of a wronged woman redeemed.
The story finds Gish as a country hick,living with her mother.They are poor and one day her mother asks her if she wouldn't visit a well to do cousin in the big city and ask for some help.Dutifully Gish complies.She arrives during a Whist party and the cousin isn't too happy about this unexpected arrival.She introduces her to her two daughters, who also want little to do with the waif.Gish stays a spell and in time meets up with the local playboy who is smitten with this frail and gullible quail.He arranges a mock wedding and gets her pregnant.When told about the arrival to come, when he comes to visit at her mothers home, the playboy tells her what really went down.He wants nothing to do with Gish now and, brokenhearted, she is on her own.
A few months go by and her mother passes away.Alone she leaves her home and arrives at a boarding house to have her baby there.The landlady has been told by Gish that her husband is away.But when the baby is born and dies soon after,with still no man around,Gish is kicked out of her apartment.Gish wanders the back roads of the countryside and ends up at a country estate run by a kindly but elderly gent and his wife.They have a son(Barthlemess)and when Gish arrives seeking a job he is instantly smitten.The squire is reluctant at firs,t but after a little persuasion by his wife,he hires Gish to help in the kitchen.
Life goes well for Gish and she becomes well liked.One day however her "ex",the playboy who just happens to be the squires neighbour,arrives for a visit.Gish and he of course meet up and he tells her he wants her gone.Gish refuses and stays on.Over time the son falls totally in love with Gish and tells her so.Because of her past she rebukes him and tells him never to mention his feelings for her again.
On a certain day Gish's old landlady visits the little town to hob knob with the local sewing circle.She runs into the town gossip.When the two see Gish outside on a grocery errand, the landlady is in disbelief and spills the beans to the gossip as to who she really is.The gossip hurries back to the squire and later during a barn dance spills gossip to he and his wife.The next day the squire goes to Gish's old boarding house to check the story out.Getting it confirmed,he rushes back home.He arrives in quite the state and almost immediately orders Gish out,in front of guests and the playboy who happens to have dropped by for supper.Before she leaves she finally admits to her"sins", but she also asks why he did not find out the whole truth.She outs the playboy and his dastardly conduct.She puts on a shawl and rushes out into a blinding snow storm.She eventually comes to a river and flings herself on to an ice flow,which is swiftly moving toward a waterfall as it breaks up.The squire's son is already in pursuit and when he happens upon some men at the local sugar bush cabin asking for help,in comes the playboy whose cutter and horse got away from him.The two struggle and the son knocks him out cold.Back outside he searches until he finds Gish.And in one of cinema's most famous scenes,the son steps his way across the fast rushing river,over ice chunks of various sizes,to rescue his beloved.He carries her back to the sugar bush cabin where a doctor is called.Shortly there after the squire,his wife and friends arrive.The squire asks and gets Gish's forgiveness for his behaviour.The playboy at this point wakes up and enters the scene.He mockingly asks for Gish's hand,wanting to do the right thing,but is rebuffed.He leaves,disgraced.The film comes to an end with a wedding for three,as Gish and the son live happily ever after.
The film comes it at a long 149 minutes but the story propels the action beautifully.Along with the great story is the cinematography.For instance,there is a gorgeous outdoor scene with Gish and Barthlemess sitting in the the grass by a river in the summer that is to die for,along with many other memorable moments like that.The acting is of its time but still holds up very,very well.This print is supplied through The Museum of Modern Art.
Technically speaking the film is in its full frame a/r and is generally crisp and clear.The film however does show some moderate deterioration in spots and has the odd scenes totally gone,for which title cards/and or still photos fill in.The original colour tints are intact.Extras include an image gallery,notes on the music score by the Mont Alto MP Orchestra,notes on the original play from which the film is derived and a film clip from Uncle Tom's Cabin(1903)with a similar ice flow sequence.
All in all a must have for all students of cinema and cinema history.This is one of Gish penultimate roles and the ice flow sequence is amazing.The acting may be a little dated but the story and the wonderful acting propel this melodrama on to its pleasing ending.