On this Day in Movie History, December 3, 1922: First Technicolor Feature Not to Require Special Projector Premiered


On this day, December 3, 1922 the first successful Technicolor motion picture, “The Toll of the Sea”, was shown at the Rialto Theatre, 1481 Broadway, NW corner of 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. An American drama film, The Toll of the Sea was written by Frances Marion and directed by Chester M. Franklin (brother of director Sidney Franklin). It was produced by the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation, released by Metro Pictures,

The lead roles played The Toll of the Sea by Anna May Wong and Kenneth Harlan. The plot was a variation of the Madame Butterfly story, set in China instead of Japan.

The earliest attempts to produced color films involved hand-painting the negative or tinting it with dye. Stencil-based techniques such as Pathéchrome and the Handschiegl color process were an extension of this. Several dyes were rolled over the negative, each with an appropriate stencil underneath to restrict the dye to the desired parts of the print. Since transparent dye preserved the varying brightness of the black and white image, the result could look rather naturalistic, but in fact the choice of what colors to use and where was made by a person. Kinemacolor was the first process to capture natural color on film stock.


The Toll of the Sea was the eighth color feature film, after With Our King and Queen Through India (1912), The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1914), and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1914), all in Kinemacolor; The Gulf Between (1917), in Technicolor; Cupid Angling (1918), in Douglass Natural Color; and Our Navy (1917) and The Glorious Adventure (1922), in Prizmacolor.

The film was the second Technicolor feature, the first color feature made in Hollywood, and the first color feature anywhere that did not require a special projector to be shown. Because the Technicolor camera divided the lens image into two beams to expose two film frames simultaneously through color filters, and at twice the normal frames per second, much higher lighting levels were needed. All of The Toll of the Sea was shot outdoors, with the one “interior” scene shot in sunlight under a muslin sheet.

The original camera negative survives except for the final two reels. The film premiered on December 3, 1922 at the Rialto Theatre in New York City, and went into general release on 22 January 1923. In 1985, the UCLA Film and Television Archive preserved the film from the original 35mm nitrate film negative. Because modern film technology was used to create a color print instead of the original Technicolor Process 2, which involved cementing together two film strips base to base, the resulting image quality is better than the original prints appeared.

1922 – Sven Nykvist (cinematographer: Something to Talk About, Sleepless in Seattle, Chaplin, New York Stories, Agnes of God, The Postman Always Rings Twice; died Sep 20, 2006)

1930 – Jean-Luc Godard (producer, writer, director: Breathless, Weekend, Hail Mary, King Lear, A Married Woman)

1960 – Daryl Hannah (actress: The Fury, Splash, Steel Magnolias, Blade Runner, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Roxanne, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, Grumpier Old Men, Diplomatic Siege, Dancing at the Blue Iguana)
1960 – Julianne Moore (actress: The Fugitive, Short Cuts, Nine Months, Lost World: Jurassic Park, Boogie Nights, Cookie’s Fortune, The Ladies Man, Hannibal)
1968 – Brendan Fraser (actor: The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, George of the Jungle, Encino Man, The Quiet American)
1973 – Holly Marie Combs (actress: Picket Fences, Chain of Desire, A Reason to Believe, Daughters, Ocean’s Eleven)
1980 – Anna Chlumsky (actress: My Girl, My Girl 2, A Child’s Wish, Miracle in the Woods)
1981 – Brian Bonsall (actor: Family Ties, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Father and Scout, Lily in Winter, Father Hood, Desperate Motives)


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