“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
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)”
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!”