Way down East by D.W. Griffith is a film poem. Without the aid of any especially spectacular or stupendous mechanical effects such as were utilized in Intolerance, or the employment of a large ensemble of mob scenes as in the same picture and The Birth of a Nation, Judith of Bethulia, etc., with the gathering together of a relatively small cast and less than half a dozen stellar film artists, D.W. has taken a simple, elemental, old-fashioned, bucolic melodrama and milked it for 12 reels of absorbing entertainment.
First honors for acting belong to Lillian Gish, who had to court comparison with the preconceived characterization of Anna Moore, which had always been played by a much larger woman in the spoken productions [of the play by Lottie Blair Parker]. Hers is a materially different conception of the role, and she reveals hitherto unsuspected emotional powers. Richard Barthelmess, as David, has little to do until almost the finish, when he rescues Anna from an ice floe about to be precipitated over a rapidly-moving, seething waterfall.