- SKU: 17430594
- Release Date: 11/18/2008
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"I'm not a bad businessman", filmmaker D.W. Griffith once protested, "Honestly I'm not!" Yet industryites were certain that Griffith had taken leave of his financial senses when he paid $175,000 for the screen rights to the old Lottie Blair Parker stage play Way Down East. Considered out of date even in 1920, the play told the story of Anna (Lillian Gish), the efficient yet secretive serving girl for a large farm family. Anna falls in love with David Bartlett (Richard Barthelmess), the family's son, but feels unworthy of him due to her checkered past. It seems that, years earlier, Anna had been duped into a sham marriage by city slicker Lenox Sanderson (Lowell Sherman). When she became pregnant, Sandson walked out on her. Shortly afterwards, her newborn child died, and Anna was shunned by her home community. These facts come to surface when Sanderson returns to Anna's life as the local squire. David's prudish father orders Anna out of the house and into a blinding snowstorm, but David, after settling accounts with the duplicitious Sanderson, goes after Anna and claims her as his bride. In adapting Way Down East for the screen, Griffith fleshes out the characters of Anna and Sanderson by adding a prologue, which included one of those poignant scenes ever filmed: Anna's tearful insistence that her dying baby be baptized. He also injected the weary old property with a jolt of sheer showmanship, added a "last minute rescue" sequences wherein Anna, lying exhausted on an ice floe, is rescued by David seconds before plunging over a precipitous waterfall. Even today's audiences, armed with the foreknowledge that Lillian Gish enjoyed 73 hale and hearty years after the completion of Way Down East, invariably gasp in fright and urge Richard Barthelmess to "hurry! hurry!"during the climactic scene. Far from becoming Griffith's Folly as predicted, Way Down East was a huge moneymaker. There is no better of Griffith's artistry than the fact that the 1930 talkie remake of Way Down East, though directed by the formidable Henry King, failed to match the pathos and power of the 1920 version. Our own quibble: why did Griffith retain so much of the original play's wheezy comedy relief, and why did he put that relief in the hands of the relentlessly unfunny Creighton Hale? ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
To date, this D.W. Griffith epic is the only talking-picture effort to encapsulate the entire life of Abraham Lincoln, from cradle to grave. The script, credited to Stephen Vincent Benet, manages to include all the familiar high points, including Lincoln's tragic romance with Ann Rutledge (Una Merkel, allegedly cast because of her resemblance to Griffith favorite Lillian Gish), his lawyer days in Illinois, his contentious marriage to Mary Todd (Kay Hammond), his heartbreaking decision to declare war upon the South, his pardoning of a condemned sentry during the Civil War, and his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth (expansively portrayed by Ian Keith). This was D.W. Griffith's first talkie, and the master does his best with the somewhat pedantic dialogue sequences; but as always, Griffith's forte was spectacle and montage, as witness the cross-cut scenes of Yankees and Rebels marching off to war and the pulse-pounding ride of General Sheridan (Frank Campeau) through the Shenandoah Valley. Thanks to the wizardry of production designer William Cameron Menzies, many of the scenes appear far more elaborate than they really were; Menzies can also be credited with the unforgettable finale, as Honest Abe's Kentucky log cabin dissolves to the Lincoln Memorial. As Abraham Lincoln, Walter Huston is a tower of strength, making even the most florid of speeches sound human and credible; only during the protracted death scene of Ann Rutledge does Huston falter, and then the fault is as much Griffith's as his. Road-shown at nearly two hours (including a prologue showing slaves being brought to America), Abraham Lincoln was pared down to 97 minutes by United Artists, and in that length it proved a box-office success, boding well for D.W. Griffith's future in talkies (alas, it proved to be his next-to-last film; Griffith's final effort, The Struggle was a financial disaster). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
D.W. Griffith: Father of Film
Two of the most renowned film historian-archivists, Kevin Brownlow (Abel Gance's Napoleon) and David Gill, team up for this epic three-part documentary on the rise and fall of David Wark "D.W." Griffith, still widely regarded by many as the most brilliant and intuitive filmmaker in modern history. Brownlow and Gill draw on meticulously-chosen film clips to illustrate how Griffith virtually reinvented filmmaking from 1908-1916, during his tenure at the Biograph film studios, courtesy of revolutionary advancements in cinematographic and acting techniques that enabled him to single-handedly define film grammar. Gill and Brownlow reveal how this culminated in Griffith's technically marvelous yet morally indefensible epic The Birth of a Nation (1915), an ironic development given Hollywood's complete abandonment of Griffith with the advent of sound. Revealing interviews with heavyweights including Lillian Gish, Karl Brown, Blanche Sweet, cinematographer Stanley Cortez and others supplement the material. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi
The Avenging Conscience
This innovative psychological drama represents one of D.W. Griffith's early full-length feature films and contains innovations that influenced international filmmakers, particularly German ones, for decades to come. It tells the tale of a young man with a fondness for reading Edgar Allen Poe, who is forced to choose between having his uncle's wealth and marrying the girl he loves. He makes a choice and she jilts him, causing him to vent his rage and pain psychotically by strangling his uncle and sealing his corpse behind a brick fireplace wall. As in Poe's Telltale Heart, the young man's cruelty does not go unpunished, and as he sits alone in his cabin, he begins hearing the maddening beat of his dead uncle's heart. Every sound, to the poor youth, becomes another damning thump, and in desperation he runs from his cabin to hang himself. Just before he dies, the law catches up and saves him. Meanwhile, his cruel girl friend is overcome by guilt and so hurls herself from a cliff, but fortunately, this is not the end of the story. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi
Sally of the Sawdust
Pioneering filmmaker D.W. Griffith directed W.C. Fields in his first starring role in this silent comedy. When Mary Foster runs away from home to marry her sweetheart, a circus performer, she does so against the wishes of her socially prominent parents (Erville Alderson and Effie Shannon), who make no secret of their anger and disappointment. Mary begins travelling with her husband, and she makes friends with Prof. Eustace McGargle (W.C. Fields), a crusty but good-hearted cardsharp working with the carnival. When both Mary and her husband die, their daughter Sally is left in McGargle's care. Sally grows to adulthood (now played by Carol Dempster) and becomes a dancer with the circus; while McGargle has grown quite fond of the child, he wonders if she might not be better off with her grandparents, who can better provide for her and give her a stable home, though he's kept their identity a secret from her. While performing in the town of Green Meadows, Sally catches the eye of the wealthy and charming Payton Lennox (Alfred Lunt), but Sally must overcome the prejudices of Payton's parents, who do not consider a showgirl to be fit company for their son. However, a sympathetic local woman hires Sally to dance at an upcoming society recital -- not knowing that Sally is, in fact, her granddaughter. Sally of the Sawdust was based on a play that Fields had starred in on Broadway; he also starred in a sound remake entitled Poppy. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Cast & Crew
- Lillian Gish - Anna Moore
- Richard Barthelmess - David Bartlett
- Lowell Sherman - Lennox Sanderson
- Burr McIntosh - Squire Bartlett
- Creighton Hale - Prof. Sterling