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The Beachcomber
Directed by Muriel Box
Produced by Sydney Box
William MacQuitty
Written by Sydney Box
W. Somerset Maugham
Starring Donald Sinden
Glynis Johns
Robert Newton
Paul Rogers
Donald Pleasance
Michael Horden
Music by Francis Chagrin
Cinematography Reginald Wyer
Editing by Jean Barker
Distributed by London Independent Productions
Release date(s) 10 August 1954
Running time 82 min.
Country  United Kingdom
Language English

The Beachcomber is a 1954 British comedy drama film directed by Muriel Box starring Donald Sinden, Glynis Johns, Robert Newton, Paul Rogers, Donald Pleasance and Michael Horden. The film is based on the story The Vessel of Wrath by W. Somerset Maugham and was adapted by Sydney Box. It was the second screen adaptation of the book following the 1938 film Vessel of Wrath.[1][2] The film was shot in Ceylon.



The new British governor of the Welcome Islands, Ewart Gray (Sinden), arrives in full uniform by ship anticipating the excitement of a posting in the tropical Indian Ocean. He is informed that the last Governor had shot himself from 'loneliness', which dampens his spirits a little. On landing he finds his quarters are not ready for him, and he is invited to stay by the local missionary Owen Jones (Rogers) and his sister Martha (Glynis. He soons finds their company, while friendly, a little overbearing - and returns to stay at his own residence despite it not being finished. That evening he is visited by the only other European resident of the island, known as the 'Honorable Ted' who introduces himself a drinks a large amount of Gray's whiskey. Despite having been warned that Ted was a scoundrel, Gray soon warms to him.

A year after arriving on the island, Gray is disappointed to see Ted arrested and brought up before him in court for encouraging a girl at the mission to steal some money which he then spent on drink before becoming involved in a drunken brawl. Gray breaks with precedent and sentences Ted to three months hard labour on a neighbouring island. While there the local headman (Horden) suffers from apendicitus. Because her brother, who functions as a local doctor as well as running the mission, is unwell his sister travels out and successfully performs the operation. She nurses the headman back to health, while also tending to a local elephant that had injured its trunk. On the way back she travels in a boat with Ted, who has now finished his sentence. She strongly disapproves of Ted, and the fact that he and the crew are drunk on arrack. She is horrified when the propeller fails and they are forced to spend the night on a small desert island. She is convinced that Ted will try and molest her, but to her surprise he leaves her alone all night - except to put some blankets on her to stop her becoming cold.

When they return to the capital, she is now slightly infatuated with Ted - in whom she can now see signs of goodness. He remains repulsed by her, and ignores her gentle attempts to try and get to know him better. His drunken behaviour on the island carries on as before, and he is involved in another brawl. This time Gray is forced to sentence him to deportation to Australia. His departure is delayed by a sudden outbreak of cholera which sweeps the islands. With all available hands needed in the capital, only Martha can be spared to go to the northern islands to treat the outbreak there. Because the governor and her brother are worried that the spread of disease might encourage a native rebellion they are hesitant to let her go. Ultimately they agree provided she takes Ted with her. At first he refuses to help her when he is approached, but later guiltily agrees to join her.

Once they reach the northern islands, they discover the inhabitants have become hostile to them blaming the spread of the disease on the whites. However Martha persuades them to let her help, reminding them of how she saved the life of the headman months before. They assent to her presence, and she and Ted throw themselves into the task of fighting the disease. Slowly they grow extremely fond of each other, and finally embrace. Each has made an emotional journey, Martha from a repressed state to being a more sensually aware woman while Ted has changed from a morally dubious character to being a more upstanding person.

After failing to save the life of a young woman, they are suddenly seized by a mob and threatened with death. Pegged out, they are about to be trampled to death by an elephant, but the animal stops at the last moment - recognising her as the woman who had nurses his trunk months before. Astonished by this miraculous survival, the native inhabitants let them go. Back in the capital, Martha and Ted marry - and he takes up playing the organ to accompany her in the mission. Gray takes some satisfaction from the fact that the number of deaths have been dramatically reduced since the last outbreak of disease.



The film receives two stars out of five in the Radio Times: Guide to Films which praises the performance of Robert Newton as Ted and his homage to the earlier portrayal of the role by Charles Laughton in the 1938 film version.[3]


  1. ^
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  3. ^ Radio Times Guide to Film. 2004 edition. p.112


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