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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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.
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on May 28, 2013
The editing for the movie was great with no dropped connections, so the flow was perfect...not something that was a given at this point in time. (1920) The music was the only was dull, monotonous and repetitive and moody. Only in a few scenes later on did it have any variety and in anyway match the mood of the scene on the screen at the time. Fortunately the music was not overpowering.I have a DVD not a Blue ray. It played fine and the quality of the reproduction was very flaws noted. The company is Alpha and I have many from this company and not one yet has failed to play on my $10 DVD player.
as a story, it was interesting in it's periodness value.
as a movie it stands up with even the the best the talkie period has to offer. There is a curious note. though this appears to be a contemporary story, there is not a single motor vehichle in the movie, just horse drawn carriages. Is this something to do with the "Down east" connection? is this a subtle D.W. Griffith insinuation?
Be that as it may, this is a great movie. As I watched and saw the cover I remembered a bit of a story behind the making of the film. That is real ice and Lillian Gish is really freezing and in danger in the footage...something few actress' would allow these days.

There was some humourous aspects plopped into the movie that were almost silly and seemingly out of place...and in a way detracted from the overal quality of the production. I gather that Humour was thought of in one ways at the time and this appears to be Griffiths weakness. He's good at getting the best an actor and story can give, but his handling of humour is primitive so the two don't jibe too well. But I guess one could just atribute it to the time period and how humour was used at the time. Still the humour bits do do what they lighten up the give him that.

And there is an extraordinary bit of footage of Lillian and her eyes that is incredible... yet impossible to describe; but Griffith captured an amazing aspect of Lillian in one clip that has her eyes the most beautiful a girls eyes could possible ever look. An incredible peice of lighting and footage. I've never seen a girls eyes look quite this fabulous in any other movie I've seen. I don't know what he did or got her to do, but it's an incredible aspect of this movie that is possibly unique.
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on September 6, 2003
This is the best film of D.W. Griffith, HANDS DOWN!! Out of all his films (the controversial Birth of a Nation, the powerful Intolerance, the HIGHLY OFFENSIVE Broken Blossoms, and the beautifully sad Orphans of the Storm), this is HIS BEST! The story of a poor innocent religious farm girl Anna (played with perfection by Lillian Gish) who goes to the city to get money to for her mother and is wooed by a sleezy playboy who tricks her into a mock marriage and gets her pregnant and leaves her is emotionally gripping. No one should find ANY faults in this film. It is brilliant. David Bartlett, Anna's true love played by Richard Barthlemess, known for his offensive role in Broken Blossoms makes up for his previous film with this one. It is truly brilliant, the scenes with him and Lillian are so loving and beautiful, its more powerful than any romantic movie in our era now. And of course the scene were Anna is driven out into a blizzard and almost falls over a waterfall is the most powerful stunt ever seen. And Lillian did it herself AND in a blizzard AND Richard did indeed save her. It is truly magnificent! D.W. Griffith makes up for his previous film with this one! It is truly heart-wrenching and beautiful!! I cannot say enough of this movie! In fact I am going to watch it again!! Brilliance Sheer brillance and Genius!!
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on February 28, 2001
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.
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on April 4, 2001
The Ice Flow...Anyone Who Has Seen This Classic Film Will Know Exactly What I'm Referring To. This Is One Of The Greatest Scenes In Movie History, Without Question & I Believe, The Greatest Action Sequence Ever Filmed. Remember, These Were The Days BEFORE Stunt Doubles. That Was Really Lillian Gish Being Rescued On The Ice Flow Heading Over The Falls - That Was Really Her Hero, Nearly Falling Off The Ice During The Rescue & Dropping Her - That Was Her Hand Dangling In The Freezing Water As She Lay On The Frozen, Floating Ice. Her Desire For Perfection In The Scene Included Dangling Her Hand In The Freezing Water & Resulted In Her Having Pain In That Hand For The Rest Of Her Life. Now THAT, Is Artistry & Dedication To Your Craft. I Doubt Very Much That Julia Roberts Or Any Current Stars Would Do The Same. Lillian Gish Was A Legend - She Invented The Close-Up, Along With D.W. Griffith & In My Opinion, This Is Her Finest Work. If You Ever Cared To Learn About Silent Film, Watch THIS Movie & You Will Not BELIEVE Your Eyes !!!
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on January 31, 2000
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!
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on December 2, 1999
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.
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on April 11, 1999
I had the pleasure of watching Way Down East for the first time a week ago and it has stayed with me since. I'm quite a fan of Griffith's earlier works, including in my opinion his finest film ever, Broken Blossoms. Lillian Gish (star of Way Down East and Broken Blossoms) is magnificent with her girl-like charm and portrays a character who is complex and simplistic alike. For anyone who enjoys the pre-Classical Hollywood Cinema silent feature, I highly recommend this film.
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on September 19, 2001
I loved this movie! It was entertaining, suspenseful, and romantic! I fell in love with the character David, the moment i laid eyes on him. Too bad he was born such a long time ago. I would have loved to meet him!
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on February 11, 2017
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