The Beachcomber AKA Vessel of Wrath (1938)

“That man is a peril to women.”

The Beachcomber is a charming 1938 film based on the Somerset Maugham novel Vessel of Wrath. On an island in the Dutch East Indies, Ginger Ted Wilson (Charles Laughton) sports with the natives and is the scourge of the British community. Missionary Dr. Owen Jones (Tyrone Guthrie) and his prudish sister Martha (Elsa Lanchester) seek retribution after a scandal between Ginger and a native girl escalates into a riot in the local marketplace.

Ginger Ted is a glorious character. He’s a drunken scoundrel who unashamedly corrupts the local girls, and runs up unpaid bills. Martha is intrepid, fearless, and a terrible nag. According to Martha, Ginger Ted is a public scandal whose presence reflects badly on the British community. At first, Dr. Jones advocates Ginger’s deportation. But then by force of circumstance, Ginger Ted accompanies Martha on a mission to vaccinate the natives who live in a remote typhoid-infected swamp.

If you enjoy Somerset Maugham stories, then you will enjoy this near-perfect, delightful film adaptation. The characters catch the essence of Maugham, and both Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester (husband and wife team) breath life into two very opposite sorts of people who discover–through adversity–that they have more in common than they dreamed possible. From director Erich Pommer.

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