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TOLL OF THE SEA, THE(director: Chester M. Franklin; screenwriter: from the story by Frances Marion/Frances Marion; cinematographer: J.A. Ball; editor: Hal C. Kern; 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); Runtime: 55; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Herbert T. Kalmus; National Film Preservation Foundation; 1922-silent)
“Exotic Asian melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This exotic Asian melodrama directed by Chester M. Franklin (“Tough Guy”/”Vanity Fair”/”The Stoker”) was the second to use the two-strip Technicolor process (using red and green colors), but it was the first one able to be projected through a normal movie projector and therefore became the first to be given a wide release. The innovative film is an important one in the evolution of the color film. It’s adapted from a story by Frances Marion, which is a version of the Madame Butterfly story. She wrote it so that the story would be exotic enough to fit in with the new technology. It stereotypes the Chinese heroine as a submissive woman who gets stepped on by her American lover, something the more aggressive American women would never allow. It was the first starring role for the tantalizing 18-year-old beauty Anna May Wong, her other six film appearances were in small supporting roles. The alluring Ms. Wong was born in America (brought up by her laundry owning family in LA’s Chinatown) and lived the colorful life of a modern flapper girl during the Roaring Twenties. The film was restored in 1985 by the UCLA archive, but the lost climax was recreated from the script in still photographs. In its day it was a popular film that got Wong a Hollywood contract. She was complimented for her ability for being able to cry on cue, something the studios back then highly admired.

An American, Allen Carver (Kenneth Harlan), washes up on the seashore in Hong Kong and is cared for by the sensual Lotus Flower (Anna May Wong). They soon fall in love and marry, but he suddenly returns to the States without her after promising to take her with him. A son is born to Lotus Flower. A few years later Allan returns to China with his new American wife, whereby Lotus Flower persuades Allan to adopt the child and then the grief-stricken Lotus Flower drowns herself in the sea.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”