Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Way Down East (1920)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Way Down East (1920)

In D.W. Griffith's silent melodrama, subtitled "A Simple Story of Plain People", with a spiritually-affecting performance by Lillian Gish:

  • the setting - a remote village in New England, where young Anna Moore (Lillian Gish) lived with her poor mother (Mrs. David Landau); the innocent young country girl departed to live with her rich (and condescending) relatives in Boston, the Tremonts; there, Anna met the "dashing" Lennox Sanderson (Lowell Sherman), who reportedly had three specialties: "ladies - Ladies - and LADIES"
Three Major Characters

Anna Moore (Lillian Gish)

Lennox Sanderson (Lowell Sherman)

David Bartlett (Richard Barthelmess)
  • near the country estate of the Sanderson family was Bartlett Village, where 21 year-old daydreaming son David Bartlett (Richard Barthelmess) lived with his Puritanical parents
  • during the Tremont's grand social ball, Anna's appearance and "delicate beauty [is] a whip to Sanderson's jaded appetite" - the callous city playboy quickly flattered her beauty, and became "obsessed by a new desire" for Anna
  • Sanderson lured Anna to his apartment under false pretenses, and made a physical advance, followed by a marriage proposal ("I want you to - to marry me"); Anna reacted ecstatically to the proposal, soon followed by the revelation that her marriage to him as "husband" was only a faked and mock ceremony
  • after their sham "marriage," their horse-drawn carriage took them for their honeymoon to their "bridal suite at Rose Tree Inn" where he seduced and despoiled her (off-screen) in the bedroom
  • shortly later, Anna returned home (keeping her marriage a "great secret") with promises from Sanderson to visit; she was finally able to reveal to him that she was pregnant - and that their secret marriage had to be revealed; he demanded: "You musn't tell anyone!" and then admitted to her the truth about their sham marriage: "Well - if you must know the truth - because we aren't married at all!"; at first, she thought that he must be joking; she held out her ring (in a necklace around her neck) and blurted out - "WE MUST be married - see-see- our ring!", he pushed her away and then when she became hysterical, he coldly told her: "For Heaven's sake, don't make a scene! I'll let you have lots of money and you can go away"; the duplicitious scoundrel Sanderson abandoned her - walking out on her, and forcing Anna to reveal her situation to her mother

Anna's Revelation to Sanderson That She Was Pregnant With His Child

Sanderson: "Well - if you must know the truth - because we aren't married at all!"

Anna Became Hysterical

Sanderson: "Don't make a scene!"
  • soon after, Anna's mother died, and she had to hide herself "away with her shame" in the village of Belden; she gave birth to a nameless, illegitimate baby that was very sick; her stern-faced Belden landlady Maria Poole (Emily Fitzroy) reminded Anna that if the baby died without being baptized, it would never see God
  • in one of the film's most emotionally and poignantly-acted scenes, fearing for her baby's soul, Anna held her dying baby close to her breast as she performed the sacred ritual and baptized it - just before it died in her arms ("the little hands grow cold upon her breast")
  • now ostracized and without work, Anna arrived at the Bartlett home to find work; the religious and kind Mrs. Bartlett (Kate Bruce) took pity on her and gave her refuge as a serving girl; then in an awkward situation, she found herself face-to-face with her former "husband" Sanderson; threatened by the awkward coincidence, he immediately asked her to leave because his estate was nearby; although Anna wanted to leave immediately, son David persuaded her to stay and she soon became a beloved member of the Bartlett family; David slowly began to fall in love with Anna ("David [was] thrilled with the thought that she is the virginal white flower of his dreams")
  • they experienced an innocent love scene by the river together, accompanied by the title card: "One heart for one heart, One soul for one soul, One love for one love, Even through Eternity" - Anna was reluctant to fall in love with David when reminded of the "stark ghosts of her past" - she sadly could not allow him to say such things (he told her he loved her), feeling unworthy of him due to her checkered past: "So she tells him he must never speak like this again"
Anna Reluctant to Fall In Love With David, Who Loved Her
  • in town, Anna's former landlady Maria Poole from Belden recognized the wayward girl, and then whispered the evil story of Anna's past life to Martha Perkins, the town's gossip; meanwhile, the dastardly Sanderson again became worried about Anna's presence, and demanded that she leave: ("Suppose they find out about your past life? You'd have to get out then!"); Anna reminded him of the double-standard: "Suppose they find out about YOUR past life!"; Sanderson was uncaring: "Oh, it's different with a MAN! He's supposed to sow his wild oats"
  • the news of Anna's past reached the Bartlett family; at the same time, David confessed his love to her: ("I love you! I want you to be my wife"); shamed by her past, Anna told David: "I can never be ANY MAN'S WIFE!"; when the scandalous tale of Anna's unwed pregnancy and baby was confirmed, she was condemned as a fallen woman by David's prudish, self-righteous father, Squire Bartlett (Burr McIntosh)
Anna's Casting Out Into the Blizzard by Squire Bartlett, But Not Before She Denounced Sanderson as a Scoundrel
  • during a classic casting-out scene, Anna was thrown out of the house by Squire Bartlett: ("She ain't fit to be here! She's the mother of a baby - but she ain't got - NO HUSBAND!"); David was incensed and crazed by the incomprehensible accusation, but Anna confirmed that it was true, but then denounced Sanderson before leaving: ("You found out so much! Why didn't you find out the whole truth? That I was an ignorant girl betrayed through a mock marriage. (Pointing at Sanderson) This man - an honored guest at your table - why don't you find out what HIS life has been? For HE is the man who betrayed me!")
  • in the final sequence, Anna departed and entered into a fierce, freezing snowstorm-blizzard; the finale was Anna's daring, last-minute rescue by David from floating ice floes that were perilously close to a precipitous waterfall; he nimbly jumped from ice block to ice block to try to reach her before the ice jam gave way - rushing to the falls. As Anna regained consciousness after falling exhausted, she started to sink into the frigid water at the edge of the falls; David scooped her up and saved her, running perilously upstream on unstable blocks of ice to reach the shore

Anna Lying On a Floating Block of Ice

Anna Saved by David By Scooping Her Up

Anna Carried to the Shore
  • David warmed Anna in a nearby sugar shack, and soon after when the family gathered together, the Squire asked forgiveness and Anna obliged; Anna rejected Sanderson's conciliatory offer of marriage, while David claimed Anna as his bride and they were married with others in a triple wedding ceremony as the film concluded

'Playboy' Sanderson Flattering Innocent Young Anna's Beauty

Anna's Flustered Reaction to Sanderson's Marriage Proposal

Sham Marriage Ceremony

Honeymoon at Rose Tree Inn - and Anna's Despoilment

Anna With Her Illegitimate, Newborn (and Sick) Baby

Performing the Sacred Rite of Baptism With Her Baby

The Baby's Death in Her Arms

Looking for Work at the Bartlett Farm

Anna At the Farm

Anna Shocked to See Sanderson

David's Confession of Love to Anna

Anna's Response to David: "I can never be ANY MAN'S WIFE!"

Anna Cast Out into a Blizzard

Anna's and David's Marriage in the Film's Ending


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