A Woman of the Sea

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A Woman of the Sea
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Written by Josef von Sternberg
Produced by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Edna Purviance
Raymond Bloomer
Charles French
Eve Southern
Gayne Whitman
Cinematography Paul Ivano
Edward Gheller
Distributed by United Artists
Running time
75 minutes
CountryUnited States
Languages Silent film
English intertitles
Budget$90,000 [1]

A Woman of the Sea, also known by its working title Sea Gulls, is an unreleased silent film produced in 1926 by the Chaplin Film Company. It is one of only two lost Charlie Chaplin films (the other being Her Friend the Bandit ), having been destroyed by Chaplin himself as a tax writeoff.


The now lost film starred Edna Purviance, Raymond Bloomer, Eve Southern and Charles French, and was directed by Josef von Sternberg.


Joan (Purviance) and Magdalen (Sothern) are the daughters of a fisherman in Monterey. Magdalen is engaged to Peter (Bloomer), a lowly fisher, until a writer (Whitman) comes to town. Both Joan and Magdalen fancy the writer, but Magdalen wins him over in the end and he takes her back to the big city. Joan and Peter then marry and stay in Monterey. [2] Many years later, Magdalen returns and attempts to break up her sister's marriage, only to fail. [3]

Cast and crew


The Pacific Ocean was also credited by Josef von Sternberg since it was so heavily featured in the film. [6]


Assistant Directors: Charles Hammond, George Sims (Peter Ruric) and Riza Royce [8]

Production details

The film was in production for about six months, mainly in the Los Angeles area, including indoor scenes at Chaplin's studio. During a twelve-day period, outdoor scenes were filmed on location in the Monterey and Carmel coastal area in California. Principal photography began in January and concluded on June 2, 1926. [3] Post-production lasted for three weeks, with the final film being seven reels long with 160 intertitles. [9] The entire production cost $90,000 to make. [10]

Chaplin produced the film as a starring vehicle for his former leading lady Purviance, and to help establish Von Sternberg, whose 1924 experimental film The Salvation Hunters had greatly impressed Chaplin. [11] This was the only time Chaplin produced a film in which he neither starred nor directed. [12] His involvement in the production was minimal, as he was concurrently working on his problem-plagued film The Circus (released 1928). [13] This was Purviance's final American film, followed by a French feature film, Education of a Prince (1927), after which she retired from movies.

Von Sternberg held a preview in Beverly Hills in early July 1926 against Chaplin's wishes. [7] The general impression from the few that saw it was that it was a beautiful film, but with little substance. John Grierson called the film "extraordinarily beautiful- but empty." [14] Von Sternberg's secret screening, the lack of a plot and Purviance's poor performance caused Chaplin to decline to release it. [15] It went untouched until the U.S. Internal Revenue Service took an interest in Chaplin's finances. The negatives were burned on June 21, 1933 in front of five witnesses [16] as a total loss for tax purposes. [13] Some evidence suggests that a copy of the film survived at the Chaplin studio until at least late 1946, but no copy exists in the current Chaplin film archives. [17] [ citation needed ]

In 2005, over 50 previously unknown production stills were discovered in the private collection of Purviance's relatives. Except for a few images in print and a few words in books over the years, nearly nothing has been known about the film. The working title for A Woman of the Sea was Sea Gulls, as written in the shooting schedule that still survives. The original title list also has survived from the film. The information from the shooting schedule and title list has been combined with the production stills, and was published in 2008.

References in other media

The film, and Chaplin himself, figure prominently in Tim Powers' fantasy novel Three Days to Never (Morrow, 2006). Though rooted in established facts, the fictionalized Chaplin is attributed motives—and the film attributed traits—that are largely invented by Powers.

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  1. "$90,000 'Seagull' is Given Some 'Air'". Variety. September 1, 1926. p. 10.
  2. John Baxter, Von Sternberg (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 57.
  3. 1 2 David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life & Art (Toronto, ON: William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., 1985), 384.
  4. “Edna Purviance Returns to Screen in “Sea Gull”. The Moving Picture World, March 27, 1926, 253.
  5. 1 2 David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life & Art (Toronto, ON: William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., 1985), 743.
  6. Peter Baxter, Just Watch!: Sternberg, Paramount and America (London: British Film Institute, 1993), 112-113.
  7. 1 2 John Baxter, Von Sternberg (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 56-60.
  8. John Baxter, Von Sternberg (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 56-60., David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life & Art (Toronto, ON: William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., 1985), 743.
  9. David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life & Art (Toronto, ON: William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., 1985), 385.
  10. “Los Angeles, Aug. 31,” Variety, September 1, 1926, 10.
  11. Bach, Steven (2011). Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN   9780816675845 . Retrieved January 5, 2014.
  12. Sandburg, Carl (2000). The Movies are: Carl Sandburg's Film Reviews and Essays, 1920-1928. Lake Claremont Press. p. 295. ISBN   9781893121058 . Retrieved January 5, 2014.
  13. 1 2 Baxter, John (September 29, 2010). Von Sternberg. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 59–61. ISBN   9780813139944 . Retrieved January 5, 2014.
  14. Herman G. Weinberg, Josef von Sternberg: A Critical Study of the Great Film Director (USA: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1967), 30.
  15. Andrew Sarris, The Films of Josef Von Sternberg (New York: Museum of Modern Art; Distributed by Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., 1966), 13.
  16. “A Woman of the Sea,” Charlie Chaplin Archive, accessed August 25, 2016, http://www.charliechaplinarchive.org/ricerca/10.
  17. "A Woman of the Sea,” Charlie Chaplin Archive, accessed August 25, 2016, http://www.charliechaplinarchive.org/ricerca.

Further reading