Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Lowell Sherman, Burr McIntosh, Kate Bruce, Mary Hay, Creighton Hale, Emily Fitzroy, Porter Strong, George Neville, Edgar Nelson
Written by: Anthony Paul Kelly, based upon a plays by William A. Brady, Joseph R. Grismer, Lottie Blair Parker
Directed by: D.W. Griffith
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 149
Date: 09/03/1920

Way Down East (1920)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Ice Ice Baby

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on a stage play, Way Down East (1920) was a huge hit for Griffith. It's widely considered one of his four masterworks (alongside The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance and Broken Blossoms).

Lillian Gish stars as Anna Moore, a poor country girl who is forced to appeal to her wealthy relatives for help. While visiting, she falls prey to the charms of flighty playboy Lennox Sanderson (Lowell Sherman). She's married and pregnant before she realizes that she doesn't really have a husband at all. After the baby dies, she leaves town and starts all over again, working as a servant girl in a wealthy ranch house, her past kept secret. The patriarch, Squire Bartlett (Burr McIntosh), is a strict religious nut, but his grown son, David Bartlett (Richard Barthelmess) falls for Anna.

Unfortunately, Lennox turns up again, revealing Anna's past, and causing Bartlett to turn Anna out into a snowstorm. Thus, having dispatched the villain, it's up to David to dash out into the freezing cold and snatch Anna from the ice floes at the top of a deadly waterfall. This is melodramatic soap opera at its most blatant and at its very best. Even the most hardened moviegoers will melt at the images of Gish shouldering through her never-ending hard times.

Don't be fooled by all the public domain copies floating around; Kino's is the definitive edition. The company released a glorious Blu-Ray in 2011, proving that high-def is the real way to see silent cinema. The new technology has a miraculous way of rendering them to make them look like film stock projected on a screen. The new release contains a score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra (available in both 2.0 and 5.1 DTS), an image gallery, notes and excerpts from the play, photos of the 1903 stage production, and a clip from a similar "ice flow" sequence in an earlier film.

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