Beachcomber, The / Vessel of Wrath (1938)

Beachcomber, The / Vessel of Wrath (1938)

“I suppose I’m jealous of the reckless way he squanders the precious treasure of life.”

A naive missionary (Elsa Lanchester) tries to reform an inveterate beach bum (Charles Laughton), and soon finds herself smitten.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Charles Laughton Films
  • Elsa Lanchester Films
  • Missionaries and Revivalists
  • Morality Police
  • Robert Newton Films
  • Romantic Comedy
  • South Sea Islands

Response to Peary’s Review:
Based on a W. Somerset Maugham short story, this “gently paced” tale of a “slovenly, perpetually drunk woman-chasing beach bum” and a “sheltered, naive missionary” features delightful performances by real-life couple Laughton and Lanchester. The story strains credibility and comfort during the first half, as we watch the less-than-handsome Laughton inexplicably attracting adoring native women like flies, and are forced to watch generically brown-skinned islanders patronized like children. It’s not until about halfway through the film — when Lanchester and Laughton unintentionally spend the night together on a deserted island — that things start to get more interesting; in a particularly delightful sequence, we see Lanchester relaxing as she slowly realizes that her “virtue” is not at risk around Laughton. Indeed, Lanchester’s performance is particularly noteworthy here: she remains consistently sympathetic despite her high-handed morality, and literally glows whenever she’s on the screen; she’s never been more beautiful.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Laughton (who Peary nominates for an Alternate Oscar as best actor of the year) as slovenly “Ginger”
  • Beautiful Elsa Lanchester as the determined missionary

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended simply for the lead performances — which, as Peary notes, “retain tremendous charm”.


One thought on “Beachcomber, The / Vessel of Wrath (1938)

  1. Not a must, and rather in agreement with the accurate assessment.

    Special mention should also be made of Laughton’s dog – on a delightful par with Toto.

    Best line is Laughton’s during his trial – somewhat under his breath to Lanchester: “You sentimental suction pump!”

Leave a Reply