The Beachcomber (1938) Poster

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Good Comedy
pluce1725 January 2007
This is a pretty broad comedy with some fun performances by Laughton, Lanchester and Newton. The plot's rather thin and really relies on the great character work by all involved.

Even though the characters seem to transform far too quickly for my tastes, you almost don't even care because it's so enjoyable to see.

Frankly, I'd almost recommend this film just to see Charles Laughton's classic facial expressions alone.

Obviously The African Queen owes much to The Beachcomber and while the former is the superior film, I'd recommend this to any fan of Laughton, Lanchester and 1930's romantic comedies.
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Reforming A Reprobate
bkoganbing29 September 2006
Compared to Charles Laughton in Vessel of Wrath, Cary Grant in Father Goose and Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen look they stepped out from a Savile Row tailor.

They don't know what to do with him over in the Dutch East Indies. He's a lazy, shiftless bum who won't work, won't pay his debts and is leading the natives that good Christian missionaries Elsa Lanchester and her brother Tyrone Guthrie are trying to convert into sober, hardworking Protestants.

My guess is that Laughton is in the Dutch territories because he's been kicked out of British island possessions for exactly the same reasons. As it is he has a friend in the local magistrate Robert Newton. But Newton's patience is being tried. The British would say he'd gone native.

He exiles Laughton after Laughton tried to disgrace one of Elsa Lanchester's pupils. But wouldn't you know it, fate casts Elsa right on the island that Laughton is exiled to, doing 'hard labor.' A few things happen and she decides maybe she should try to reform him as opposed to ostracism.

Laughton and Lanchester give a couple of cute performances about some middle-aged people finding romance, of course anticipating The African Queen by 13 years. Lanchester has a much tougher reforming Laughton than Kate Hepburn did with Humphrey Bogart. Bogey may have been seedy, but he did own his own business.

In a way this story is sort of Somerset Maugham's yin to the yang of Rain. Both stories are based in the tropics with missionaries as their leading characters, but this one is essentially comedic, although there are some serious events here like a typhoid out break, where Laughton proves invaluable in dealing with the natives.

Charles and Elsa give us a grand show, don't miss it.

Lanchester has a much tougher job
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Opposites find each other in the tropics - via Somerset Maugham
theowinthrop5 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Charles Laughton was usually a forceful figure of power in one way or another: Javert the police agent in LES MISERABLES, Captain William Bligh of H.M.S. Bounty, Earl Janoth in THE BIG CLOCK, King Henry VIII, King Herod. But occasionally he is a struggling figure, like the would be composer/conductor in TALES OF MANHATTAN.

Here he is "Ginger Ted" Wilson, a hard-drinking drifter in the south seas. Currently he is residing (it is the 1930s) in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Life is not too bad - he cadges money and never pays it back. He also is a close drinking pal of the local magistrate (Robert Newton, in a relatively quiet - but early - role). However, Ginger Ted has made two enemies. Like Sadie Thompson in RAIN (also a story of Somerset Maugham - the author here), Ted angers the local missionary, Dr. Jones (Tyrone Guthrie) and his spinster sister Martha (Elsa Lanchester) by corrupting one of their female charges. When the local constable (an elderly man) is injured, the missionaries force Newton to reluctantly punish Ted.

Ted is exiled to a small island, supposedly at hard labor. Then Martha ends up on the island too, and she begins to take an interest in Ted - with a view of reforming him. Ted discovers he likes the spinster, but he is uncertain about a permanent relationship. They return to the main island again, only to find that there is an epidemic in the hinterland. The magistrate asks Ted to try to convince the natives to use medicine the missionaries have. Ted and Martha go, and face the dangers of a hostile and deadly native population together. And ironically they find a curious connection in their family histories that make their romantic connection permanent as well.

VESSEL OF WRATH (also known as THE BEACHCOMBER) is a nice little film comedy, and the first time (after the "Anne of Cleves" scenes of HENRY VIII and the love scenes in REMBRANT) that Laughton and Lanchester got together. They balance nicely in their scenes, playing off each other like...well like a married couple (like they were). The film is also interesting as one of the few where Sir Tyrone Guthrie (better remembered as a British drama director and producer) had an acting role. He has a comic moment too, when hearing that his sister has been stuck with the "lascivious" Ted on a desert island, he all but collapses in fear for her virtue. Newton is under tight control in his role, angry at his friend Ted for giving him so many headaches in the local community, but still missing Ted for the fun they have together (and also regretting the fact that he's left with the boring Guthrie as the only other intelligent westerner around!). The four leads do very nicely here - and Laughton has an opportunity to do a run through for his later similar beachcomber role (though a family man) in THE TUTTLES OF TAHITI.

Newton would return to the story later on. In the early 1950s he and Glynis Johns played Ted and Martha in a remake of VESSEL OF WRATH.
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Fine British drama and comedy
raskimono20 September 2005
It is hard to watch this movie without noticing its similarities, intentional or not to the so-called American classic "The African Queen". I will have to say I enjoyed this movie more. The director whose credits state this as his only movie directs this 1930s movie as it were made in the sixties and seventies when the motif of camera movement became essential. Hand-held cameras are used to good effect. Charles Laughton who is the best film actor of the 20th Century shines again as he totally immerses himself in the part of the scalawag drunk. Elsa Lanchester, a woman with perfect demeanor and grace and wearing absolutely no make up shines as the woman whose aim is to tame the natives and tame the irascible Laughton. Good support from the cast round up this romantic drama. Bogart won an Oscar for doing a role very similar to this one, but Laughton is better. Catch it if you can. It's nice, smartly written, subtle and an English treat.
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Devilishly Funny Comedy Classic
arthur_tafero11 August 2018
Charles Laughton was a short, fat, and ugly man. He was the complete anthesis of what you would expect a lead actor to be. However, despite these considerable handicaps, his tremendous acting ability and amazing range of emotions catapulted him to the top of the acting chain in the 1930s. His wife, Elsa Lancaster, was also a very fine actress, as evidenced by her superior work in The Bride of Frankenstein, an underrated film. Add these two giants to the unparalleled writing talent of Somerset Maugham, and you have an unbeatable combination for a classic comedy in The Beachcomber. No one ever did colonials better than Maugham. His incisive writing captured the true essence of missionary work and its irritating side-effects on native cultures. All of his characters have great depth. This is the best of all beachcomber films. It is not to be missed. Also billed as The Vessel of Wrath.
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Newton Features To Fine Effect
malcolmgsw10 August 2013
In reading all of the reviews scant attention seems to be given to Robert Newton.Maybe because this performance is typical of those he gave in the 1930s and 1940s before Long John silver got hold of him.The irony is that in real life he was far more like the character played by Charles Laughton.Indeed in just about any biography of any actor of that period ,sooner or later tipsily in to view comes Robert Newton.Unfortunately drink made him much the worse for wear,making producers unwilling to take the chance and ultimately shortening his life.I do wish somebody would write a biography of this fine actor who gives a quiet even underplayed performance in this film.
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Laughton, his broad Elsa Lanchester, a Maugham adaptation—many reasons to see this sex comedy where the mating instinct takes the form of religious missionary
Cristi_Ciopron21 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Well, I admit being an insatiable Laughton buff …. Laughton was a genuine giant, like the Frenchmen Simon and Baur.

Laughton, his cute wife, the '30s, a Maugham adaptation—this should be the 4th Laughton movie I am reviewing, and the 2nd Maugham adaptation (--South Seas, missionaries, religious intolerance vs. dissolute life …--). Mean, ugly, fat, playful—I'm just stating the obvious—Laughton was an English Simon—the same abundant talent …. Also obvious is the degree to which he enjoyed playing his colorful roles ….

THE BEACHCOMBER is a pretty remarkable movie, snappy and fresh, and leisurely made; Elsa Lanchester was 36 in this flick, she had married Laughton in '29—that is, 9 yrs earlier, when she was 27. Daddy Wells had written short movies for this babe.

Elsa Lanchester does an interesting performance, if in a role limited.

THE BEACHCOMBER is also genuine cinema—exciting, it has gusto and fun. As subject, it is a satire against puritanism. In a Pacific island, a womanizing drunk is hell-raising and causing scandal to the community. He attracts the antipathy of a couple of religious missionaries who ask for his deportation. Sentenced for 3 months on Agor island, he becomes the ruler of an earthly heaven, a ruler spoiled by the merry natives. Maugham frankly considered the Christianity to be a plague, and praised the sensual involvement of the South Seas natives.

One of the missionaries is a miss; the climate and circumstances do much to moisture and soften her senses. She falls in love with the drunk.
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A charming little gem of a film
dmmiller237 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I downloaded this movie free from the internet the other night, and was just charmed by it. I'd read somewhere that Laughton's performance was particularly notable in it, and yes, he delivers on the difficult job of playing a lovable scoundrel. In what could have been a one-note portrayal, he adds layers of nuance to a what is also a rather physical role. His drunken muttering is as revealing as it is spot-on.

Elsa Lanchester (Laughton's real-life wife) also shines, rolling her R's throughout as a prim missionary teaching Indonesians how to recite "Here we go gathering nuts in May." The only other role of hers that I (and everyone else) is familiar with is as the Bride of Frankenstein, but here you could see she has a subtle knack for comedy. Actually, I couldn't get that film (and Laughton in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") out of my mind while watching this one, except here it is Laughton who plays a sort of monster!
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There really is nothing like Charles Laughton
greenbanzanas22 August 2010
I don't recall exactly when I became a fan, although Witness for the Prosecution must have had something to do with it, so now I catch whatever I can of this wonderful, towering actor.

And, I was not disappointed with the Beachcombers, although the plot let me down, and I did not watch it all the way through.

That being said, Charles Laughton is riveting as usual and dead-on as a stumble bum. I always wonder if modern-day actors can emulate the truly greats, and my answer is essentially no they cannot because, first, there aren't the scripts today, which greatly enhance an actor's performance and, second, it doesn't matter because, perhaps with the exception of Leonardo, D. Washington, D. Hoffman, and perhaps a few others, no actors today can tie on the bootstraps of the actors of yesteryear.

Not considering the greats of the silent age (I'm thinking C. Chaplin, B. Keaton and H. Lloyd, all exceptional, and the many, fantastic character actors throughout cinema who added inestimable richness to many a movie, my personal favorites, and I know it's subjective, and I'm speaking of film presence including Charles Laughton, are: William Powell, Spencer Tracy, and Jack Lemmon. Heck, I'm not allowing myself to include Steve McQueen, one of my favorites because he is a notch below the above-mentioned, in my overly haughty assessment.

P.S. I'm sure I'm leaving someone of the list, and, by the way, I notice the inherent sexism of my comments, but I chalk most of it up to contemporary society where woman are not afforded the stardom or roles of men. Again, an overly presumptuous statement.
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A great idea for a story that is unfortunately wasted.
MartinHafer14 December 2017
Edward Wilson (Charles Laughton) is a drunkard and womanizer who lives somewhere in the Dutch East Indies (today known as Indonesia). Oddly, he and EVERYONE apart from the natives are very British...but no matter. Regardless, he's a pretty worthless drunk and is constantly in trouble with the law. But the local magistrate realizes Ed is pretty harmless and even likes him. However, their relationship is sorely tried when a couple incredibly moralistic Brits arrive and keep insisting that the government do something with Wilson...such as deporting him. However, this attitude changes when the uptight lady (Elsa Lanchester) is briefly shipwrecked with Wilson. Oddly, she almost instantly sees him as a flawed man with great potential...and she's not about to see him continue life without her guidance and care.

There are several problems with the film--most notably how quickly the lady goes from loathing Wilson to adoring him. This just didn't make any sense and would have worked had it been like the film "Swept Away" where a pair of folks who hate each other are stuck on a deserted island for a very long period. Additionally, Lanchester's character is a bit too shrill and too stereotypical to seem real in the least.

The bottom line is that the film is a time-passer and, unfortunately, nothing more. It is mildly interesting to see the husband/wife pair of Laughton and Lanchester acting together once again but apart from that this one just disappointed considering the actors and nice Southern France location shoot (yes, Southern France doubled for Indonesia).
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