Everything’s Quite Lovely in “Way Down East” – By Mae Tinee (Chicago Tribune – 1920)

Actress Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Kate Bruce, D.W. Griffith, Mrs. David Landau, Burr McIntosh, Lowell Sherman in a scenne from the movie Way Down East
Actress Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Kate Bruce, D.W. Griffith, Mrs. David Landau, Burr McIntosh, Lowell Sherman in a scene from the movie Way Down East

Chicago Tribune – Wednesday, December 15, 1920 Page 28

Everything’s Quite Lovely in D.W.’s Latest

“Way Down East”

Produced by D.W. Griffith

Presented at Wood’s Theater

The Cast:

  • Anna Moore ………….…………………… Lillian Gish
  • Her Mother ……….……………. Mrs. David Landau
  • Mrs. Tremont ………..………… Josephine Bernard
  • Diana Tremont ……….….. Mrs. Morgan Belmont
  • Her Sister ……………………..……….. Patricia Fruen
  • The Eccentric Aunt ………………… Florence Short
  • Lennox Sanderson …….…………. Lowell Sherman
  • Squire Bartlett …………………..…… Burr McIntosh
  • Mrs. Bartlett …………………………..……. Kate Bruce
  • David Bartlett ……..………… Richard Barthelmess
  • Martha Perkins ………………………….. Vivia Ogden
  • Seth Holcomb ………….………………. Porter Strong
  • Reuben Whipple …………….………. George Neville
  • Hi Holler …………………..……………… Edgar Nelson
  • Kate Brewster …………..…………………… Mary Hay
  • Professor Sterling ………….….……. Creighton Hale
  • Maria Poole ………………..…….……… Emily Fitzroy

Way Down East Wedding Salon Hotel

By Mae Tinee

“Way Down East,” as elaborated by David Wark Griffith from the stage play by Lottie Blair Parker, as personally supervised by Mr. Griffith, and as presented under the special direction of Mr. Griffith at Woods theater, which does not happen to belong to Mr. Griffith, is a vurr’ good movie.

Personally, I think “The Miracle Man” was better. I enjoyed “Dinty” more. But “Way Down East” ranks with the best sellers because it deserves to.

Where Mr. Griffith falls down is on the time limit. The average movie fan can do nicely without intermissions and would prefer to see his picture and have done with it. Which doesn’t mean that he doesn’t appreciate the picture. But these be busy days, and from 2:25 – they didn’t begin the matinee on time yesterday – until 4:55 is too long to keep you guessing how anything’s going to end. Isn’t it?

As the old, old story of the innocent girl betrayed through a mock ceremony unreels it reveals much beautiful scenery, much fine acting, and the kind of photography and arrangement for which Griffith is famous. Note the kinemacolor effects, etc. The music is fine. The projection is splendid.

Way Down East - "I baptize thee Trust Lennox ..."
Way Down East – “I baptize thee Trust Lennox …”

Lillian Gish does the best work of her life so far this time. She keeps you with her from start to finish. You are sick with pity for her as you watch her rocking her dead and nameless baby in the lone hours of the night, trying to warm the cold little hands at her breast. ***

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Richard Barthelmess, Lillian Gish and Lowell Sherman

Lowell Sherman as the betrayer is a convincing cuss. Conspiring against virginity, he goes on his dastardly way in a constant state of either susceptibility or satiation.

Richard Barthelmess, nice, clean young chap that he is, always pleases in the role of the man who loves one true, and his perfectly new bride, Mary Hay, in a minor role, imps through the film in a boyish fashion that’s mighty taking.

All the character parts are remarkably well taken. You will get much joy from the village gossip, a simpering, moth eaten trouble maker, as portrayed by Vivia Ogden.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish and the eccentric aunt

Mrs. Morgan Belmont merely walks on and off, sits down and gets up a few times, but she does it nicely.

And that’s about all, I think. Except to say that the audience had a wonderful time during the blizzard, when Mr. Barthelmess at the risk of life and limb saves his trampled lily from the ice break. Here’s where the picture becomes real, honest to goodness “mellerdrammer” and eats itself up!

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish – Final scene, rescued from the blizzard

*** Admin note: Article above is treating very superficially this masterpiece of the screen. For example Anna Moore’s “nameless dead baby” was baptized Trust Lennox by Lillian Gish in a memorable ceremony that was various journalists subject for years, praised by critics. As for the duration of this film, in modern super productions like 50’s Ben Hur, Gone With The Wind, War and Peace and others, intermission and two hours plus duration is common. This proves once again the genius and future vision of D.W. Griffith.

“Griffith, who was the first to develop the cinema as an epic art, was also, in effect, an American Impressionist who used the camera to capture the natural landscape. One of the two main visual tropes I identify with Griffith is the wind in the leaves, of which there’s plenty in “Way Down East.” Like the French Impressionists, Griffith was also devoted to portraiture, or the inner landscape. Though he didn’t literally invent the close-up, he developed it as a crucial aspect of cinematic grammar, and, artistically, conjured from it an extraordinary range and depth of emotion—not least because of his great actress, Lillian Gish, whose face is the center of this movie. Griffith’s Homeric artistry and his painterly insight—his view of the conflict between nature’s horrors (those of a blizzard and those found in the hearts of predators) and its glories (the peaceful landscape and the heart of true virtue)—come to full flower in “Way Down East.” (Richard Brody – The New Yorker)

“There is something splendidly audacious about the big undertakings of Griffith, about every one ol them. He is a very canny combination of showman and artist ; He knows pretty well what type of thing will catch and hold the public interest at any given time, and I have a shrewd idea : that he had his hand on the pulse of the movie – going public when he chose this vehicle for the first of his new series, and decided to “go the limit ” on it. So, without having seen a foot of the finished film, I shall venture one more prophecy that Way Down East in its revival on the screen will repeat the wonderful record which it made on the stage two decades ago.” (Charles Gatchell – The Picturegoer – September 1921)

“Mr. Griffith could be depended upon for bringing out the full pathos of Anna’s tragedy. His genius for this sort of thing has always been great. And, as usual, he has had the advantage of Miss Lillian Gish’s unlimited cooperation. It is a truly astonishing thing about this young artist that one can always say that her latest work is her best. One wonders how high she can still climb on the ladder of superb screen acting. Or perhaps it is a question of how far Mr. Griffith and Miss Gish could go together, for it is often impossible to tell in their work where direction ends and interpretation begins. The rest of Mr. Griffith’s cast is, as usual, well balanced, and shows some fine individual work. Mr. Griffith cannot touch any story without putting his stamp upon it. His version of Way Down East will travel far and long. When it has travelled long enough he may perhaps again find courage to try his hand at another Broken Blossoms.” (Exceptional Photoplays, No. 2 (December 1920), page 3.)”

Photo Gallery – Way Down East – Behind the scenes

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