The Toll of the Sea (1922)

Genres - Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 26, 1922 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 41 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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While this tragedy is interesting because of its use of two-color Technicolor photography -- an innovation in its day -- it is almost painfully slow. Screenwriter Frances Marion somehow dragged out the very simple, Madame Butterfly-like tale into six reels when the story could probably have been effectively told in half the time. The film is not without its good points, however; the color, for one, nicely enhances the Oriental flavor of the story (even if the scenery smacks more of Southern California than it does of China). The very pretty, very young Anna May Wong makes the most of her role. She's pleasantly charming and spunky at the beginning (it's easy to see why Kenneth Harlan, as Allen Carver, falls in love with her), and heartbreaking when she gives up her child to Carver's wife, Barbara (Beatrice Bentley). It's also a pleasure to see Asian actors in the Asian roles, including important supporting parts like the gossips (Etta Lee and Ming Young); all too often in the silent era, white actors were made up to portray "ethnic" characters. The existing print lacks the last few scenes in which Lotus Flower gives herself up to the sea; in their place, new scenes were filmed -- using the old two-strip Technicolor process -- to show the crashing sea. The Toll of the Sea is more of a curio than entertainment for modern-day audiences.