Monday, April 30, 2007

The Toll of the Sea (1922)

Adequate adaptation of "Madame Butterfly" significant these days mainly for being the first film to be shot in two-strip Technicolor; like most films whose fame is based around technical innovation, this looks ravishing (the colors simply sing) but feels dramatically half-hearted, with the story being pushed through its paces as quickly and professionally as possible. The lone exception to this (and the true reason to see it) is Anna May Wong in the lead role of Lotus Flower, a young Chinese woman who falls in love with a traveling white man only to fall to pieces when he returns to America without her. This is the first time I've seen Wong in anything (it was her first lead role as well) and she's terrific, a luminous screen presence whose talent and charisma is undeniable even in the throes of rusty melodrama. The rest of the film isn't much -- Kenneth Harlan is a bland unfeeling lump, the story holds no surprises and the poorly "reconstructed" ending isn't any help -- but Ms. Wong makes this a relatively easy watch.

Grade: C+


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