On August 7, 1921 THE CUP OF LIFE was released, Ince using the title of one of his 1915 films, but not the story. Hobart Bosworth starred, although the movie was not one of his own productions, but produced by Thomas Ince. He played "Bully" Brand, who "defied the laws of God and Man," on board a Singapore smuggling schooner (photographed off the shores of Santa Catalina Island). According to Motion Picture News, "The photography is genuinely distinctive and will certainly impress everyone particularly in those scenes which have to do with pearl diving. In fact the opening shot is a thriller and suspense is real acute as Bosworth goes to the depths to kill a shark. Again the tinting of the night scene calls for praise of the highest order."
Switching from adventure to melodrama, Brand refuses to sell a pearl coveted by Chang (Tully Marshall), a Chinese merchant, who wants to place it on the necklace of his adopted daughter, played by Madge Bellamy. "Would you want a white girl to marry a chink?" asks one title, with caricatured art that provides a ready answer; earlier, Polynesians had been labeled "black devils." She is named Pain, because the Chang believes, in a fatalistic philosophy, that joy is fleeting but the memory of pain endures. Brand's son Warren (Niles Welch) returns from America, where he was educated, and does not know that "Bully" is his true father and not a guardian. Warren falls in love with Pain, unaware that his father has long coveted her. He persuades his father to give him the pearl as a present, then bestows it on Pain. However, when Chang sees it on her, he misinterprets it as a sign that she has been wronged. Brand steps in to take the blame for his son in Chang's eyes, who decides a wedding must be arranged. Chang tries to avenge himself on both father and son, but ultimately Pain and Warren are united.
"It was a beautiful picture," Bellamy remembered of THE CUP OF LIFE, "but I didn't think much of it at the time." The scenario by Joseph Franklin Poland was from a story, "Pearls and Pain," by Carey Wilson, and directed by Rowland V. Lee in six reels. It cost $118,518 to produce and grossed $221,106. As it turned out, the movie capped a series of East-West tales that were a motif in Ince's career, as outlined in my biography of him.
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