AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Way Down East
Director: D. W. Griffith () (Under the personal dir of)
Release Date:   3 Sep 1920
Duration (in reels):   13
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Cast:   Lillian Gish (Anna Moore)  
    Richard Barthelmess (David Bartlett)  
    Lowell Sherman (Lennox Sanderson)  
    Burr McIntosh (Squire Bartlett)  
    Kate Bruce (Mrs. Bartlett)  
    Mary Hay (Kate [Brewster], the Squire's neice)  
    Creighton Hale (The professor [Sterling])  
    Emily Fitzroy (Maria Poole, the landlady)  
    Porter Strong (Seth Holcomb)  
    George Neville (The constable [Reuben Whipple])  
    Edgar Nelson (Hi Holler)  
    Mrs. David Landau (Anna's mother)  
    Josephine Bernard (Mrs. Morgan Belmont)  
    Mrs. Morgan Belmont (Diana Tremont)  
    Patricia Fruen (Her sister)  
    Florence Short (The eccentric aunt)  
    Viva Ogden (Martha Perkins)  
    Norma Shearer (Barn dancer)  

Summary: Faced with financial difficulties, innocent country girl Anna Moore goes to visit her rich Boston relatives, the Tremonts, to seek aid. There she becomes the victim of a false marriage to playboy Lennox Sanderson. Deserted by the man she thought was her husband, Anna is left penniless and alone to face the birth of her nameless child. After her mother's death, Anna takes refuge in a rooming house in Belden where her baby dies. Turned out by an unsympathetic landlady, the brokenhearted mother finds employment at the farm of Squire Bartlett, a stern but just man, who believes in a strict accounting for sin. The squire's son David falls in love with Anna, and she is about to accept her new found happiness when Sanderson appears and the squire learns that Anna had lived with him in sin. He turns the girl from the house in a blinding snow storm, and hysterical, she stumbles onto the frozen river where she faints. Her rescue by David from the drifting ice and certain death brings about their union after the squire and his wife learn Anna's true story. 

Production Company: D. W. Griffith, Inc.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: D. W. Griffith (Under the personal dir of)
Producer: D. W. Griffith (Pres)
Writer: Anthony Paul Kelly (Scen)
Photography: G. W. Bitzer (Cam)
  Hendrick Sartov (Cam)
  Paul H. Allen (Cam)
Art Direction: Charles O. Seessel (Art dir)
  Clifford Pember (Art dir)
  Frank Wortmann (Tech dir)
  Victor Georg (Art titles)
Film Editor: James Smith (Film ed)
  Rose Smith (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Clark Robinson (Set builder)
Music: Louis Silvers (Mus composed and selected by)
  William F. Peters (Mus accompaniment)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the play Way Down East by Lottie Blair Parker as elaborated by Joseph R. Grismer (New York, 14 Dec 1903).
Authors: Lottie Blair Parker

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
D. W. Griffith, Inc. 3/9/1920 dd/mm/yyyy LP15906

Physical Properties: b&w:

Genre: Melodrama
Subjects (Major): Country girls
  Desertion (Marital)
Subjects (Minor): Boardinghouses
  Boston (MA)
  Ice floes
  Snow storms
  Upper classes

Note: Following the opening title card and a title for D. W. Griffith's credit, the following statement appears: "A simple story of plain people." Before the story begins, the following written prologue is presented: "Since the beginning of time, man has been polygamous--even the saints of Biblical history--but today a better ideal is growing--an ideal of one man for one woman. Today woman brought up from childhood to expect one constant mate possibly suffers more than at any period in the history of mankind, because not yet has the man reached this high standard--except perhaps in theory." A brief written statement reading: "A remote village in New England some few years ago" appears as the action begins.
       The play Way Down East was based on a play by Parker entitled Annie Laurie which had been produced in Chicago in 1897. D. W. Griffith reportedly paid a record sum of $175,000 to William Brady for the rights to Way Down East which initially was to be made into a film by Brady's own company. Burr McIntosh played the role of Squire Bartlett in the Broadway production of Way Down East .
       The film was produced at the D. W. Griffith studio in Mamaroneck, Long Island. Some scenes were shot at White River Junction, VT. According to modern sources, Elmer Clifton directed some of these scenes; Leigh Smith and Herbert Sutch assisted in the production of these scenes and Lillian Gish's gowns were designed by Madame Lisette. The role of Kate Brewster was originally portrayed by Clarine Seymour, but Seymour died during the film's production and no footgage of her appears in the completed version.
       Way Down East was originally released on a road show basis with twenty companies, including symphonic orchestras and effects touring the first class theaters in the U.S. The film was shown in two parts with an intermission. Gish appeared in some performances in a staged prologue. Subsequent to the road show release, the film was released nationally by United Artists. Richard Barthelmess and Mary Hay married subsequent to the production of this film. According to modern sources, the climactic ice floe scene was shot at Orient Point, Long Island. The film was re-released in 1931 with synchronized sound added. Twentieth Century-Fox produced a film based on the same source in 1935; it was directed by Henry King and starred Rochelle Hudson and Henry Fonda (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
ETR   30 Oct 20   p. 2318.
MPN   11 Sep 20   p. 2071.
MPW   13 Nov 20   p. 224.
NYDM   5 Jan 18   pp. 12-13.
Variety   20 Aug 20   p. 37.
Wid's   12 Sep 20   p. 15.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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