The Beachcomber (December 25, 1938)
Released on December 25, 1938: Love blooms for a drunken beach bum and a frumpy, proper missionary lady when they are stranded together on a deserted South Seas island.
Produced by Charles Laughton and Erich Pommer
Directed by Erich Pommer
Written by W. Somerset Maugham, Bartlett Cormack and B. Van Thal.
The Actors: Charles Laughton (Ginger Ted' Wilson), Elsa Lanchester (Martha Jones), Robert Newton (Mr. Crighton the Controleur), Tyrone Guthrie (Dr. Owen Jones), Eliot Makeham (the native head clerk), Dolly Mollinger (Lia), D.A. Ward (Albert), J. Solomon (Sergeant Henrik), S. Alley (mechanic), Mah Foo (Ho), Rosita Garcia (Kati), Fred Groves (Dutch sea captain), Ley On (Ah King)
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The Beach Bum and the Missionary
This adventure takes us to a South Seas Island near Australia ruled by the Dutch, where we find a beach bum (Charles Laughton) that loves life, booze, pretty girls and his little dog Dudley. We also discover tight-ass missionary lady (Elsa Lanchester) and her brother who try mightily to turn the natives into proper British subjects. When Ginger Ted sneaks over to the schoolhouse to secretly motion to a young woman in class that she should sneak out to party with him. She does sneak out of the class, and Ginger Ted buys a bottle of wine, and they sit together while he gets drunk and waxes philosophical. She cannot understand a word he says, but is happy to be there. But a young boy snitches on her and tells school marm Miss Jones that she has left school with Ginger Ted, so she takes the young boy by the hand and goes in search of the pair. When she finds him, he is already 'three sheets to the wind' and when she tries to take the young lady back to school, she gets into an argument with Ginger Ted that develops into a regular fight, that results in the police coming, and at Miss Jones' insistence, arrests Ginger Ted.
Locked up in jail, Ginger Ted awaits his day in court, and is consoled by his little dog Dudley, who has burrowed into his jail cell. When they are in the court, run by the Dutch Governor of the islands, her brother and Miss Jones make a strong case for having Ginger Ted banished from the islands as a menace to society. The Governor, who is a drinking buddy of Ginger Ted, and is an easy-going fellow that enjoys the company of Ginger Ted, as there is little to amuse oneself with on the isolated islands. So instead of banishing him from the islands, he sentences him to three months in jail. Later that night the Governor calls Ginger Ted from his jail cell and as they drink together the Governor ponders what to do with this fellow, with the increasing pressure to deport him. The Governor finally decides to banish Ginger Ted to a nearby island for three months as his punishment - as the island has no alcohol - it will be a real punishment for him.
We next segway to Agor Island - the island with no alcohol, and our deposed Ginger Ted. He is laying in a hammock under the South Seas Sun, with several native girls scampering around him giggling and attending to his every need. He is obviously having the time of his life and enjoying his punishment. Miss Jones is happily teaching on the main island without the beach bum bothering her work, and all is well with the world. But alas, we can't have a movie where 'all is well,' who would sit for that?
One day Miss Jones must visit the island that Ginger Ted is exiled to, and finds him swimming joyously in the bay with several native girls. She explodes into a feminine rage that is worthy of a proper lady. Miss Jones insists that Ginger Ted accompany her back to the main island so that she can force the Governor to impose a more rigorous punishment for him. On the way their boat has problems, and they are forced to spend the night alone on a small, deserted island. Miss Jones is horrified, and in fear of her virtue, alone with this fun loving beach bum.
What happens next turns everything upside down, and we're only half way through this adventure. I'll leave the rest for your imagination until you watch and enjoy. If you like fine British comedy mixed with enough serious drama to keep you enthralled for an hour and a half, please don't miss this one. It brings memories of Humprhey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in "The African Queen," but with more comedy and more drama, if that is possible.
Charles Laughton, the beach bum
Elsa Lanchester, the missionary
Charles Laughton and Tyrone Guthrie