This Film Is 100 Years Old This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Plymouth’s Pram Derby (1923) / Plymouth’s First Air Mail Test Trip (1923) / Cinematographic View of the Royal Albert Bridge (1901)

Three short bits of documentary film about Plymouth.

Plymouth’s Pram Derby is 3 glorious minutes depicting the titular event from 1923. Wild be-hatted crowds, determined women competing for some arbitrary prize, and finally three surprisingly sweet portraits of the winners. I loved basically all of this.

Plymouth’s First Air Mail Test Trip (also from 1923, and shot, as the pram race was, by G.E. Prance) isn’t half as good, consisting of 2 minutes of bowler-hatted men holding up sacks while looking as proud as can be. I did like the atmospheric shot of a boat arriving at the start, however, which almost made up for the lack of aeroplane action.

The final film here is from 1901, and directed by Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon (whose documentary footage I’ve included a couple of times here before, although I probably should have watched more). Cinematographic View of the Royal Albert Bridge is five whole minutes of incredibly beautiful footage of ships and coast, taken from a camera mounted on another ship in the harbour, before it eventually arrives at Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge.

The still pictures don’t really do the footage justice, losing the breathtaking beauty of the parallaxing scroll as the camera smoothly sails across the sea. You can still get a nice look in th epicture below at the weird futurism as these archaic looking ships sail past the massive bridge from some far distant future at the end though (futurism that is doubly weird because the bridge was built in 1865.)

In conclusion, I like ships and boats, I suppose. And the sea.

And prams.



1. I watched all these on the BFI Player. Prams/Planes/Boats

2. I went to Plymouth recently. I hurt my knee, got accosted by some drunk, and then caught covid.

3. Great day out, would recommend.

4. But apart from that it was quite nice.

5. Actually the best bit was where they’d tried to bury any evidence that there had ever been a crazy golf course down by the seafront, so now all the old holes looked like ancient barrows for some long dead sequence of viking kings.


Film Information

Title: Plymouth’s Pram Derby
Director: G.E. Prance
Year: 1923
Duration: 3 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Plymouth’s First Air Mail Test Trip
Director: G.E. Prance
Year: 1923
Duration: 2 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Cinematographic View of the Royal Albert Bridge
Directors: Mitchell and Kenyon
Year: 1901
Duration: 5 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Toll Of The Sea (1922)

The Toll Of The Sea is an uncredited adaptation of Madame Butterfly, written by Frances Marion, directed by Chester M. Franklin and starring Anna May Wong. It was the second film to be filmed in Technicolor (and the oldest surviving one), and at least the third film version of Madame Butterfly (after an American version from 1915, and a German version, directed by Fritz Lang, from 1919).

This seems to be the first version that actually uses Asian actors in the Asian roles (although Hollywood went back to it’s usuall racist casting decisions in the 1932 Cary Grant version).

I’ve never actually read or seen any version of Madame Butterfly before (not even the Cronenberg version), so I don’t know how much this deviates from the template it’s based on (beyond this being set in China rather than Japan).

In this, Anna May Wong plays Lotus Flower, a Chinese teenager who saves an American serviceman from drowning and then subsequently falls in love with him, a love he reciprocates by, er, getting her pregnant then going back to America to live with his actual wife. Sadness and tragedy ensue.

One of the interesting things about the film is that, because the colour filming process needed lots of light, the entire thing is filmed outside (even the very occasional interior scenes are filmed outside), which feels like a complete reversal of usual studio films.

Combined with the muted colour palette, it lends the whole thing a sort of nostalgic picture postcard look (which I assume is actually the opposite of what it would have looked like at the time, when it must have looked almost impossibly futuristic).



1. I watched this on youtube.

2. The final reel of this is lost, so for this restored version (from 1985) they just filmed a sunset and then put in a title card implying she’s drowned herself (hence the title).

3. That’s a spoiler I suppose.

4. But anyway that’s why that picture of the sun setting over the sea up there looks different from the other screenshots.

5. I’ve always found it interesting how colour films took 50 years or so to kill off black and white, but sound films killed off silent movies in about 3 years.

6. Silent films only really making a comeback until whenever pop videos took off

7. There was a nice article in the guardian about Anna May Wong last year (when it was actually 100 years since this film came out)

8. She’s really great in this, especially as she would have only been 16 or 17 when this was filmed, I think

9. The only other thing I’ve seen her in is The Thief Of Bagdad (made in 1924! Don’t tell anyone I’ve seen into the future!), and she’s great in that too.

10. Even if she is only in it a bit.

11. I’d quite like to have one of those American coins with her face on it too.

12. Though I suspect I never will.

13. Also, here’s a list of the oldest colour feature films.

14. It’s kind of depressing as always how many of these are lost.

15. And has also reminded me that I never actually wrote an article about all the early attempts at colouring films (tinting, stencil colouring, etc).

16. Which I was going to at some point.

17. But I forgot.

18. Due to laziness.

19. (Please don’t hate me)

20. Also I didn’t understand this film at all (on an emotional level). I suppose that’s my review.


Film Information

Title: The Toll Of The Sea
Director: Chester M. Franklin
Year: 1922
Duration: 53 minutes
Watch: youtube