The Toll of the Sea


1h 15m 1923
The Toll of the Sea

Brief Synopsis

An American sailor marries then deserts the Chinese beauty who had saved his life.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Jan 22, 1923
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 Nov 1922
Production Company
Technicolor Motion Picture Co.
Distribution Company
Metro Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 15m
Sound
Silent
Color
Color (2-strip Technicolor) (Process Number Two)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
4,600ft (5 reels)

Synopsis

Lotus Flower finds a man (Allen Carver, an American) washed up on the seashore and, although an old man reminds her of the Chinese legend that the sea takes in pain and sorrow twice the amount of joy it gives, she rescues him. They fall in love and marry, but he returns to the United States without her. A son is born to Lotus Flower, and when Allen does return he is accompanied by his American wife. Overcome with grief, Lotus Flower persuades the Carvers to take little Allen, then gives herself up to the sea.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Jan 22, 1923
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 Nov 1922
Production Company
Technicolor Motion Picture Co.
Distribution Company
Metro Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 15m
Sound
Silent
Color
Color (2-strip Technicolor) (Process Number Two)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
4,600ft (5 reels)

Articles

The Toll of the Sea


While The Toll of the Sea (1922) was the second two-strip Technicolor feature, it was the first one able to be projected through a normal movie projector and consequently the first to be given a wide release. (The previous two-strip Technicolor feature was The Gulf Between [1917], only a few frames of which survive.) There were other color processes being used on other films during this time, and various forms of hand-painting and tinting had existed practically since the dawn of cinema. Nonetheless, The Toll of the Sea represented an important step in the evolution of color movies.

It also represented a major career advance for Anna May Wong, a 17-year-old actress who had already appeared in six films in supporting or bit parts. To say there were few Asians being given starring roles at this time would be an understatement; really there were just Sessue Hayakawa and now Anna May Wong. And Wong was actually a third-generation American, born and raised in L.A.'s Chinatown where her father ran a laundry.

In The Toll of the Sea, she plays Lotus Flower, a Hong Kong girl who rescues an unconscious American named Allen Carver (Kenneth Harlan) whom she finds washed up on the seashore. Despite a wise man's warning that the sea takes more sorrow than the joy it gives, she falls for Carver and they marry. Eventually, however, he abandons her and returns to America alone, thinking it inappropriate to continue their interracial romance. He has left her pregnant, and Lotus Flower raises their son while clinging to the hope that Carver will return. When he does, it's with his new American wife; a grief-stricken Lotus Flower stoically gives them the child to take back to America and then throws herself into the sea.

The picture was a big hit and Wong's sensual and touching performance did much to advance her future career in Hollywood; Joseph Schenk, and later Adolph Zukor, signed her to contracts. Wong's beauty and grace were complemented by an intelligent, expressive use of Chinese costumes and hairstyles.

Furthermore, Wong could cry on cue. Wong biographer Graham Hodges has written that this "was considered a rare talent in Hollywood, and Anna May was considered among the best... Her crying scenes overwhelmed viewers... Many years later, she acknowledged that she lacked acting technique in this and other early films. She remembered that she 'drained [her] emotions trying to live the part out.'" Even trade paper Variety, which praised Wong effusively, called her "an exquisite crier without glycerin."

The Toll of the Sea was written by the renowned Frances Marion. According to film historian Cari Beauchamp, Marion was asked by Metro Pictures to write a script specifically for a color movie. She consulted with representatives from Technicolor to come up with something that would showcase color especially well. Ultimately, she chose a Chinese setting and lifted the plot from Madame Butterfly. "The story itself," she said, "was of little importance compared to the widespread interest in the potential of color."

Director: Chester M. Franklin
Screenplay: Frances Marion (credited for story not for scenario)
Cinematography: J.A. Ball
Art Direction:
Music:
Film Editing: Hal C. Kern (uncredited)
Cast: Anna May Wong (Lotus Flower), Kenneth Harlan (Allen Carver), Beatrice Bentley (Barbara 'Elsie' Carver), Baby Moran (Little Allen), Etta Lee (Second Gossip), Ming Young (First Gossip).
BW-41m.

by Jeremy Arnold
The Toll Of The Sea

The Toll of the Sea

While The Toll of the Sea (1922) was the second two-strip Technicolor feature, it was the first one able to be projected through a normal movie projector and consequently the first to be given a wide release. (The previous two-strip Technicolor feature was The Gulf Between [1917], only a few frames of which survive.) There were other color processes being used on other films during this time, and various forms of hand-painting and tinting had existed practically since the dawn of cinema. Nonetheless, The Toll of the Sea represented an important step in the evolution of color movies. It also represented a major career advance for Anna May Wong, a 17-year-old actress who had already appeared in six films in supporting or bit parts. To say there were few Asians being given starring roles at this time would be an understatement; really there were just Sessue Hayakawa and now Anna May Wong. And Wong was actually a third-generation American, born and raised in L.A.'s Chinatown where her father ran a laundry. In The Toll of the Sea, she plays Lotus Flower, a Hong Kong girl who rescues an unconscious American named Allen Carver (Kenneth Harlan) whom she finds washed up on the seashore. Despite a wise man's warning that the sea takes more sorrow than the joy it gives, she falls for Carver and they marry. Eventually, however, he abandons her and returns to America alone, thinking it inappropriate to continue their interracial romance. He has left her pregnant, and Lotus Flower raises their son while clinging to the hope that Carver will return. When he does, it's with his new American wife; a grief-stricken Lotus Flower stoically gives them the child to take back to America and then throws herself into the sea. The picture was a big hit and Wong's sensual and touching performance did much to advance her future career in Hollywood; Joseph Schenk, and later Adolph Zukor, signed her to contracts. Wong's beauty and grace were complemented by an intelligent, expressive use of Chinese costumes and hairstyles. Furthermore, Wong could cry on cue. Wong biographer Graham Hodges has written that this "was considered a rare talent in Hollywood, and Anna May was considered among the best... Her crying scenes overwhelmed viewers... Many years later, she acknowledged that she lacked acting technique in this and other early films. She remembered that she 'drained [her] emotions trying to live the part out.'" Even trade paper Variety, which praised Wong effusively, called her "an exquisite crier without glycerin." The Toll of the Sea was written by the renowned Frances Marion. According to film historian Cari Beauchamp, Marion was asked by Metro Pictures to write a script specifically for a color movie. She consulted with representatives from Technicolor to come up with something that would showcase color especially well. Ultimately, she chose a Chinese setting and lifted the plot from Madame Butterfly. "The story itself," she said, "was of little importance compared to the widespread interest in the potential of color." Director: Chester M. Franklin Screenplay: Frances Marion (credited for story not for scenario) Cinematography: J.A. Ball Art Direction: Music: Film Editing: Hal C. Kern (uncredited) Cast: Anna May Wong (Lotus Flower), Kenneth Harlan (Allen Carver), Beatrice Bentley (Barbara 'Elsie' Carver), Baby Moran (Little Allen), Etta Lee (Second Gossip), Ming Young (First Gossip). BW-41m. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

Trivia

One of the 50 films in the 4-disk boxed DVD set called "Treasures from American Film Archives (2000)", compiled by the National Film Preservation Foundation from 18 American film archives. This film was preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. This version has an uncredited piano music score and runs 54 minutes, which includes additional restoration credits.

Shot entirely in two-strip Technicolor, the first feature film of its kind.

Notes

Toll of the Sea was the first feature film shot in the two-strip Technicolor process.