Captains Courageous, Harvey Cheyne is a spoiled brat used to having his own way. When a prank goes wrong onboard an ocean liner Harvey ends up overboard and nearly drowns. Fortunately he’s picked up by a fishing boat just heading out for the season. He tries to bribe the crew into returning early to collect a reward but none of them believe him. Stranded on the boat he must adapt to the ways of the fishermen and learn more about the real world.
Guaranteed to reduce you to sobbing wreck
Captains Courageous, I dare anyone to sit through this film with dry eyes! Especially people of the male persuasion. There is simply no way it can be done.
Young teen Freddie Bartholomew is a snotty, spoilt brat, and on a cruise with his dad he falls overboard and is rescued by Portuguese fisherman Spencer Tracy who takes him to Captain Lionel Barrymore’s commercial fishing ship. They can’t afford to go give up their fishing to take the arrogant kid back to land, and so Freddie is forced to spend three months with the crew, gradually mellowing into a nice boy and evolving into a rugged, no-nonsense kid who dotes on Tracy’s rough and ready Manuel.
Victor Fleming was never the most subtle of directors, and this adaptation of Kipling’s story does not thrive on its wealth of detail or the ambiguity of emotion, but its sweep is epic and its heart so real that you feel you have been on a roller-coaster-ride. I loved the reels of the men fishing and preparing the fish, it had a nice documentary feel to it, akin to the silent ‘Down to the Sea in Ships’ that ‘Captains Courageous’ resembles a lot at times. The cinematography is beautiful, the mist and fog captured with finesse.
But this film is all about acting. Spencer Tracy got an Oscar for his acting as Manuel, cast against type. And although his performance verges on the sentimental, it never actually tips over. But the film belongs to Freddie Bartholomew who surely must have been tempted to overboard with emotion, but, miraculously, never does. This boy was an astute and intuitive actor, and he never sets a foot wrong. Mickey Rooney shines in an itsy bitsy part as the captain’s son. He never tries to steal any scenes from Bartholomew (as one suspects he might, and could!), but concentrates on a brisk, matter-of-fact performance of this young pro of the sea, every movement he makes seems exactly right, again almost documentary-like.
Watch this film if you get the chance. They don’t come much better, and yes, it will make you bawl and sob. Be warned.