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 Way Down East (USA, 1920)

The callous rich, portrayed by Lennox, think only of their own pleasure. Anna is but a poor country girl whom Lennox tricks into a fake wedding. She believes that it is true, but secret, while he has his way with her. When she is pregnant, he leaves her and she must have the baby, named Trust Lennox, on her own. When the baby dies she wanders until she gets a job with Squire Bartlett. David falls for her, but she rejects him due to her past and then Lennox shows up lusting for Kate. Seeing Anna, he tries to get her to leave, but she doesn't, and she tells no one about his past. When Squire Bartlett learns of her past from Martha, the town gossip, he tosses Anna out in a snow storm. But before she goes, she fingers the respected Lennox, as the father of her dead baby and the spoiler of herself.

 

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.

 Way Down East 1920

 

 D.W. Griffith

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