THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922). Director: Chester A. Franklin.
It would be easy to dismiss this picture were it not for the fact that it's the first two-strip Technicolor feature (although it runs less than an hour), it features the first major starring performance of Anna May Wong, and on its own terms is a creditable and effective silent tragedy. Lotus Flower (Wong, pictured), finds a man, Allan Carver (Kenneth Harlan), in a tidal pool off her garden, half-drowned, and rescues him. The two fall in love, and Lotus Flower hopes he'll take her back to "those United States" with him. He leaves and promises to return, while Lotus Flower gives birth to his son and waits ... and waits.... Yes, this is basically Madame Butterfly with the story transplanted to China instead of Japan, and, yes, it is just as heart-breaking as it is in any format -- film, play or opera. The acting in this is surprisingly natural and unaffected, and Wong gives a superlative performance. Harlan is also good, as is Beatrice Bentley as Carver's American wife. The adorable little boy is actually played by Priscilla "Baby" Moran. Photographed by J. A. Ball. An interesting aspect of the movie is that the two actors who form the interracial romantic couple were of two different races in real life, instead of one being in "black face" or "yellow face."
Verdict: Three- hankie weepie. ***.