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Film / The Toll of the Sea

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The Toll of the Sea is a 1922 silent drama film loosely based on Madame Butterfly (it however isn't the first film adaptation of the opera, as Mary Pickford starred in a truer incarnation six years earlier). It was Anna May Wong's first leading role. The film is especially notable for being the second fully colorized feature film. The first one was the lost film The Gulf Between from 1917.

The film centers around a young woman known as "Lotus Flower" who lives in 1920s China. She saves an American soldier from a shipwreck and marries him soon afterwards, despite the disapproval of her peers. Her husband Allen Carver leaves for sea and doesn't come back. Three years later, Lotus Flower is raising a toddler-aged son alone while she waits for her husband to come back and take them to America. One day though, a letter arrives from Allen saying that he's coming back to China. Lotus Flower and her son wait patiently, oblivious to the fact all is not right.


The Toll of the Sea was considered to have been lost in the 1967 MGM Vault fire incident, however a copy was rediscovered in 1985. That copy was missing the final two rolls, but thankfully it was just a sunset scene so a similar scene was filmed to emulate the lost one.

Trope examples:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Cio-Cio-san, a.k.a. "(Madame) Butterfly", becomes "Lotus Flower" and B.F. Pinkerton becomes "Allen Carver". Pinkerton and Cio-Cio's son Dolore becomes "Little Allen". Kate Pinkerton becomes Barbara "Elsie" Carver
  • Adapted Out: Cio-Cio-san's maid Suzuki, all her relatives (Lotus Flower is apparently an orphan), her suitor Yamadori, the American consul Sharpless, and the slimy marriage-broker Goro (his Jerkass Has a Point role is taken over by two catty female neighbors). The plot is stripped down to its bare essentials, with all the non-central characters left out.
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  • Age Lift: Her age is never mentioned but Lotus Flower seems slightly older than the initially fifteen year old Cio-Cio-san. Anna was seventeen when she did the film, subverting Dawson Casting.
  • Asian Babymama: Allen ran off for several years after getting his wife pregnant, while Lotus was left to raise their kid alone until he returned with a new wife.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Allen chooses his American childhood sweetheart Elsie over his Chinese wife.
  • Driven to Suicide: Lotus Flower throws herself into the ocean after giving her son to Allen and Elsie. This isn't shown onscreen, but the final intertitle, interspersed between shots of the sea, makes the implication clear.
  • Give Him a Normal Life: Lotus gives away her son to Allen and his new wife so that he can have a happier life with his father in America.
  • Happily Adopted: Invoked. Lotus tells her son that she was simply taking care of him until his real mother came along. She then gives him to Allen and his new wife.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Madame Butterfly is considered the Trope Codifier after all.
  • Rescue Romance: Lotus Flower finds Allen unconscious in the sea after a shipwreck and takes him to safety.