USA Today - 01/08/1999
"...The film remains a bruising attack on the sexual double standard..."
USA Today - 12/16/1994
"...An enormously popular movie....[With] one of cinema's most famous scenes..."
Description by OLDIES.com:
D.W. Griffith's penchant for Victorian melodrama reached its height of expression in Way Down East. First performed in 1898, Lottie Blair Parker's play was one of the most successful stageworks ever written, a theatrical chestnut, heavy with sentiment, that cried out for the touch of the master. Griffith captured the appeal of Parker's original, while embossing it with devices borrowed from other popular melodramas, such as the climactic chase across an ice floe (inspired by stage adaptations of Uncle Tom's Cabin).
Lillian Gish stars as a small-town girl who is seduced, impregnated, and cast aside by Lennox Sanderson, a wealthy playboy (Lowell Sherman). To escape the shame of having a fatherless child, Anna changes her name and starts a new life in a small farming community, where she meets David, an icon of male virtue and decency (Richard Barthelmess). Their delicate happiness is threatened when Lennox arrives in town, and word of Anna's unsavory past begins to spread.
Innocent Anna (Lillian Gish, in a terrific performance) is sent by her poverty-stricken mother to visit rich relations in Boston, where she is seduced into a sham marriage by a smooth-talking scoundrel (Lowell Sherman). When she becomes pregnant, he abandons her; later, the baby dies. Now a social outcast, she changes her name and eventually finds shelter at the estate of the sternly religious Squire Bartlett (Burr McIntosh). She falls in love with his handsome son (Richard Barthelmess), but cannot divulge to him her terrible secret for fear of his father's righteous fury. D.W. Griffith (BIRTH OF A NATION) directed this film with his usual blend of powerfully cinematic storytelling and scathing social commentary. Rustic New England and New York locations provide a gorgeous backdrop to the proceedings, and the climax, where poor Anna becomes lost in a winter storm, and is swept down the river on ice floes, is one of silent cinema's peak moments.
A melodrama in typical Griffith fashion about a poor woman, Anna, who is trapped by a vicious scoundrel into a fake marriage just so the wealthy snob, Lennox, can have his way with her. Once this has happened, he leaves her behind, alone and pregnant, to journey into the world. She is scorned by everyone she meets because she is an unwed mother, yet when she finally settles at Squire Bartlett's and he falls for her, she cannot give in to his advances due to her troubled past. Eventually, Lennox shows up, and when Squire Bartlett learns of the truth, he throws her out into the snow. The closing sequence of Anna drifting on the ice floes is highly regarded.