Classic Film Guide

Captain Salvation (1927)

Directed by John S. Robertson, and based on the Frederick William Wallace novel, this silent film tells the story of a man returning from seminary school to his small community near Boston, only to find that intolerance, vs. Christian values, rule the day.

In the Spring of 1840, Anson Campbell (Lars Hanson) returns by ship to Maple Harbour, and the whole town comes to greet his ship. Noticing that he's dressed informally, no coat and his vest is unbuttoned, and expressing his exuberance at being home, the town-folk wonder, under their breaths, if he'll be an appropriate addition on the pulpit of Nathan Phillips’s (Jay Hunt) church. His daughter Mary (Marceline Day) seems to be one of the only ones really happy to see him; she's able to overlook Anson's appearance. Zeke Crosby (George Fawcett) whispers to Anson that there will be a fish fry later at his shack by the sea, but Anson makes secret plans to meet Mary by the shore later. Anson's uncle Peter (Sam De Grasse) tries to access whether his nephew feels appropriately "called" to his new profession.

When Anson meets Mary later down by the sea, a nor'easter interrupts their brief interlude, but not before Anson declares his love for her and gives her a ring. With the wind kicking up, the two young lovers find their way to Zeke's shack where the fish fry is underway, followed by a belt busting contest which, helped by Mary, Old Sea Salt (James Marcus) wins. Because of the raging storm that night, a ship crashes on the shore and the whole seaside community comes to its aid. A woman aboard is briefly attended to before a man (it's possible this is James Marcus) from the ship accuses her of being the cause of the ship's fate, she being a "loose" woman. The woman, Bess Morgan (Pauline Starke), accuses the man of not paying for her services. Now no one is willing to help her, though she's obviously in need of it, until Anson steps forward and reminds them of their Christian duties. When no one steps forward to assist, Anson picks her up himself and carries her down to Zeke's shack, where together they help her to recover.

Anson is now shunned by the entire community, from his uncle to Mary, who visits him at the shack and then leaves his ring behind. Bess appreciates Anson's kindness and promises him she'll be clean forevermore. When she sees a ship off shore, she decides to leave town. Zeke rows her, and Anson, out to the "Panther" and pays her passage to its Captain (Ernest Torrence), who tells him they're heading to Rio. Realizing he has no future in Maple Harbour, Anson asks the Captain if he needs any able bodied men, and signs on to work as one of the ship's crew. Unfortunately, the ship is really a slave ship headed for the "Islands of the Blest". Anson is too repulsed to assist in branding the prisoners, and is struck down by the Captain himself, who has Anson whipped for trying to save Bess from his clutches. Distraught over his situation, Anson acts "mad", saying "there is no God", while Bess tries to convince him otherwise.

*** SPOILERS ***

The Captain later advances on Bess who, rather than return to her sordid ways, fatally wounds herself with a knife. Before she dies, with Anson at her side, she tells him that she kept her promise to stay clean. Enraged, Anson lures the Captain up the mast and into its rigging for a fight. During the fight, the Captain falls to his death. The next scene shows a ship sailing into Maple Harbour. As it gets closer, it is clear that Anson is its captain and the ship's name is Bess Morgan. The community is outraged until he tells them the story, of how he found his calling to serve God when Bess died, which reduces them to tears. His uncle Peter forgives him, as does Mary, and the Bess Morgan becomes a gospel ship.

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