Captains Courageous (1937)    3 Stars


Captains Courageous (1937)
Captains Courageous (1937) 


Director: Victor Fleming

Cast: Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Lionel Barrymore

Synopsis: A spoiled rich kid falls overboard on a cruise.   When he is picked up by a fishing boat he is horrifed to discover he’s expected to work for his keep.






We get a good idea of just what a spoiled brat young Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is before we even meet him when the head butler of the Cheyne household refers to the boy as ‘it.’ Even his well-meaning but perpetually distracted father (Melvyn Douglas) refers to him as ‘a junior Machiavelli’ upon learning that his son has been trying to bribe both pupils and teachers at his exclusive school. Dad decides that taking his son on a cruise across the Atlantic might give him the opportunity to bond, but during the early stages of the journey, Harvey falls overboard. He’s plucked from the sea by Manuel (Spencer Tracy – Riffraff, The Devil at 4 O’Clock), a simple Portuguese fisherman who works on a fishing boat which has just embarked on a three-month voyage. Once aboard, the haughty Cheyne Jr., is horrified to discover that the crew, led by Captain Disko (Lionel Barrymore – The Bells, It’s a Wonderful Life), expects him to work to earn his passage back to dry land.

Captains Courageous is an example of just how polished Hollywood’s output could be back in its heyday. Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling, the movie explores the importance of the bond between father and son, real or surrogate, and bids fair to be Classical Hollywood’s second greatest male tearjerker after The Champ. Spencer Tracy, with his curly hair and a fake accent which puts one more in mind of Chico Marx than Iberian fishermen, dominates the picture with his big-hearted bonhomie and quick smile despite the likes of Bartholomew, Barrymore, Douglas and John Carradine (Stagecoach, The Howling) snapping at his heels. Even Mickey Rooney (The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Breakfast at Tiffany’s), MGM’s other child star of the 1930s, has a small role as Captain Disko’s son. The production values are of a standard you’d expect from MGM, even if some of the back-projection doesn’t measure up to today’s expectations, and Victor Fleming directs with admirable efficiency once the story gets afloat.

(Reviewed 28th December 2014)

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