Filmsite Movie Review
Way Down East (1920)
Pages: (1) (2)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Meanwhile, Sanderson is on his country estate at Bartlett (where he is the local Squire). Anna is shunned by her community - her landlady ostracizes her: "Everybody is talking about you having no husband - I guess you'll have to leave." She packs to take to the road: "Upon her back the age-old Cross. The Pilgrimage." Walking down a lone country lane in search of work, Anna comes to Bartlett village and arrives at the Edenic farm of Squire Bartlett and his family. David Bartlett leans dreamily on a porch post, as a figure passes by in front of the Bartlett house. The figures turns left and then pauses momentarily on the roadway on the side of the house. David senses and reacts to the presence of Anna, even though his back is to her.

Anna bolsters up her courage and enters to find work, where she meets David and then asks: "I am looking for work," although Squire Bartlett doubts her ability to work: "Work? You don't 'pear to have no strength to work." Anna explains her background: "I haven't any folks." The stern, puritanical Bartlett tells his wife: "For all we know, she might be some loose woman wanderin' 'round. I won't take her inter my hum!" And then Anna is told to leave: "Sorry, young lady, but I ain't got nothin' for ye." But the benevolent Mrs. Bartlett persuades her husband to let her find refuge as a serving girl with a Biblical reminder: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these - ye have done it unto me! That's Scripture, Father."

From his childhood and due to his father's persistence, David is promised to be married to pretty Kate Brewster (Mary Hay), but David doesn't feel "proper love" for her. After Kate's homecoming, neighbor Sanderson arrives at the Bartlett family house for a visit, although David's girlfriend, Kate becomes "Sanderson's newest infatuation." With a little time before supper, Squire Bartlett urges his son David to show "Neighbor Sanderson that heifer he wants to buy" in the field. While preparing the meal, Anna goes to the well to draw water and as happened earlier to David (showing their mystical connectedness), the same dove flies to her, lands on her right shoulder, and sits contentedly next to her cheek.

As she begins to start toward the house, she finds herself face-to-face with her former "husband." Threatened by the awkward coincidence, he immediately asks her to leave because his estate is nearby:

Sanderson: What are you doing here?
Anna: I am working.
Sanderson: You can't stay here - I live right across the way.

Anna remains outside as Sanderson is invited to join the Bartletts inside for supper. David returns from the field to the house and finds Anna there:

Anna: Your father was right. I'm afraid I'm not strong enough for this work.
David: Please don't go away, Miss Moore! I - we all - like you very much. You'll get stronger after awhile, and...

David persuasively shows his care for Anna and she decides to stay - they both carry the water bucket into the house together. Slowly, she wins his love with her warmth and charm.

PART II: Meanwhile, Anna, her past still a closed book, has become a beloved member of the household. In a few pastoral images, director Griffith portrays the idyllic farm life - the Bartletts leisurely sitting outside the porch in rocking chairs, a horse-drawn hay wagon, and the banks of a lazy river in summer time.

Knowing only Anna's blameless life among them, David thrilled with the thought that she is the virginal white flower of his dreams.

Walking through a field of swaying white flowers, David approaches Anna and sits by her on the grass next to the river. "By the river and the distant music of the falls - Around them the sweet scent of summer fields...There, in an innocent love scene, David points out the two forks of the river, that go into one..."

And all athrill with a great sincere love,
Visions to her how they two might go,
On through life together...
One heart for one heart,
One soul for one soul,
One love for one love,
Even through Eternity.

But as she finds herself falling in love with David, Anna is instantly reminded by the ghosts of her past: "At last, the great overwhelming love - only to be halted by the stark ghosts of her past." David expresses his eternal love to her: "I'm only trying to say I love you, Anna - it seems I've always loved you!" But sadly, she cannot allow him to say such things, feeling unworthy of him due to her checkered past: "So she tells him he must never speak like this again."

The summer goes, the winter comes,
We cannot rule the year,
Nor can we rule the barque of Fate,
Nor all its strange ways steer.

With the coming of winter, the wind howls, snow falls, and the frozen ice on the river often threatens to break up. On her way to the grocery store for forgotten goodies for the big party planned for the evening, Anna admires a baby pulled in a wagon by an older sister. Maria Poole (Anna's former landlady from Belden) visits the town of Bartlett and joins the sewing circle next to the grocery store. Seeing Anna outside as she returns from the store, Maria Poole recognizes the wayward girl, and then whispers the evil story of Anna's past life to Martha Perkins, the town's gossip:

Maria Poole: Moore? Her name ain't Moore...She lived at my house - 'Mrs. Lennox,' she called herself - but she never had no husband at all!...And then - there was a baby!
Martha Perkins: It's my bounden duty to go and expose this woman to the Squire.

Martha proceeds to Squire Bartlett's house "bursting with the great news." Meanwhile, Anna considers revealing her past and asks the Squire about the possibility of forgiveness:

Anna: Suppose, Squire, I had been like you suspected when you first saw me? Would there by any hope of forgiveness?
Squire Bartlett: When the law's broke, it's broke, ain't it? A wrong's a wrong and nothin' can make it right.
Anna: Of course - I was just supposing.

The young and wronged country girl's past begins to be revealed by Martha to the Squire. She repeats the start of Maria Poole's story, and then is interrupted by merriment of revelers during an old-fashioned dance at the Squire's:

Martha: Maria Poole, from Belden, was at the sewing circle and she says...No, I shouldn't tell you!...It's that...Oh, it's awful...

Sanderson is also more and more worried by Anna's presence - afraid that she will interfere in his pursuit of Kate. The lustful Sanderson again demands that she leave:

Sanderson: I can't have you around here where I live! Suppose they find out about your past life? You'd have to get out then!
Anna: Suppose they find out about YOUR past life!
Sanderson: Oh, it's different with a MAN! He's supposed to sow his wild oats.

Overhearing their loud conversation, David bursts into their company, causing Sanderson to depart. At last, Martha gets her opportunity to tell her story to the Squire, at the same moment that David questions Anna about her association with Sanderson, confessing his love to her:

David: Does Lennox Sanderson mean anything to you?
Anna: Why do you ask such a question?
David: Because I can't keep silent any longer...I love you! I want you to be my wife.

While vigorously rocking in a rocking chair, Martha informs on Anna:

Martha: It's about Anna Moore. She lived in Belden under the name of 'Lennox' - Mrs. Lennox! A baby was born - but there warn't no weddin' ring to her finger.
Squire Bartlett (angrily): I'll drive her out of the house - this night.
Mrs. Bartlett: No, father - you must have proof.
Squire Bartlett: I'll go to Belden in the morning - and if it is true -

Anna cannot allow David to be romantically-inclined toward her:

Please! Please don't! I can never be ANY MAN'S WIFE!

She runs upstairs and locks herself in her room, and then falls distraught onto the floor.

In the finale, the Squire journeys in a horse-drawn sleigh the next morning to Belden to investigate Martha's story. Anna innocently asks Mrs. Bartlett about the Squire's trip: "The Squire's on important business, isn't he?" So it happens that Sanderson arrives and presents Kate with a long box of beautiful long-stem roses. At noon, the Squire arrives in Belden. There, Maria Poole confirms the scandalous tales of Anna's unwed pregnancy and baby: "It's all true. Why, her baby was born in this very room."

In the late afternoon as Anna sets the table for supper, Squire Bartlett returns, first glimpsed in his sleigh in a wintry scene, viewed distantly through bare tree branches. Gruffly, the Squire rejects Anna's service: "Don't want no supper of your gettin'!" Anna is condemned as a fallen woman. The conservative, prudish, self-righteous Squire Bartlett throws her out, in a classic, casting-out scene, opening the door and pointing for Anna to get out:

The time's come for you to get your things and get out of this house! Don't want no words! Just get out!

Anna removes her apron and dons her dark cloak to leave, just as David appears and asks what is happening. The Squire reveals Anna's past:

It means she is going to get out of my house! I found out all about her - she ain't fit to be here! She's the mother of a baby - but she ain't got - NO HUSBAND!

David is incensed and crazed by the incomprehensible accusation, and reaches to strike his father, but is restrained by his mother. He questions Anna: "Tell them it's a lie, Anna!" But Anna replies, with her head ashamedly cast down: "I - I can't!" But before she is cast out, in a marvelously-acted scene, Anna spiritedly denounces Lennox Sanderson as her smug seducer before she is abandoned:

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!

After David smashes a supper plate and begins plummeting Sanderson with punches, an hysterical Anna puts herself out into a freezing snowstorm blizzard. When she opens the door, the fierce gale buffets her backwards. David rushes after her, but mistakenly thinks she has locked herself in her upstairs bedroom. Anna marches through the raging blizzard. Even Sanderson takes the sleigh into the storm, but the carriage is capsized and his horse runs away. David begins his search and follows after her - in a sugar camp, he alerts the men: "Anna's lost in the storm - get out your men - quick!" There in the camp shack, David and Sanderson meet, and they engage in another hand-to-hand fist fight.

In one of the most remarkable sequences in film history (probably containing the single most memorable images of the silent screen), Anna is delirious from the cold and blinded by the snow, falling down repeatedly. Her cape is blown behind her in the wind, her face and eyelashes are frosted with bits of snow, and she is "frenzied - tortured." In front of her is "the calling river." When the storm lulls, she faints on one of the ice floes in the midst of an icy river. Lying on the ice block, her hand trails into the freezing water.

As the ice thaws the next morning and breaks apart ("the great ice-break"), her lifeless form is caught unconscious on moving ice-floes and is swept downstream toward a precipitous waterfall. David finds her cape on the ice, and then sees her floating toward the falls.

Without a moment to lose, in an exciting, tense, "last minute rescue scene," he nimbly jumps from ice block to ice block to try to reach her before the ice jam gives way - rushing to the falls. As Anna regains consciousness, but starts to sink into the frigid water at the edge of the falls, David scoops her up and saves her, running perilously upstream on unstable blocks of ice to reach the shore. He cries out for medical aid: "Quick! Quick! The Doctor!"

In the sugar camp shack, David, the only one who ever loved her, warms her by the fire and cares for her. When the family gathers, the Squire asks forgiveness and Anna obliges. But Sanderson's offer is quickly rejected: "Come, Anna, I know I didn't do the right thing. I'm willing to marry you now if you want me." Instead, David soon claims her as his bride.

The film ends with a climactic triple wedding ceremony (with multiple "I will" vows) at Squire Bartlett's home: the Professor and Kate, David and Anna, and Seth Holcomb and Martha Perkins. David and Anna's love is finally realized - in marriage, the city girl finds salvation in the country:

The one man for the one woman,
Between them the Sacramental bond -
Life's cleanest and sweetest.

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