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.
Freddie Bartholomew ... Harvey
Spencer Tracy ... Manuel
Lionel Barrymore ... Disko
Melvyn Douglas ... Mr. Cheyne
Charley Grapewin ... Uncle Salters
Mickey Rooney ... Dan
John Carradine ... Long Jack
Oscar O'Shea ... Cushman
Jack La Rue ... Priest (as Jack LaRue)
Walter Kingsford ... Dr. Finley
Donald Briggs ... Tyler
Sam McDaniel ... 'Doc' (as Sam McDaniels)
Bill Burrud ... Charles (as Billy Burrud)
Director: Victor Fleming
Nominated for 4 Oscars, Won 1 Oscar for Best Actor
Codecs: XVid / AC3
This is my favorite movie of all time. I have seen thousands of movies but none can come near Captains Courageous for its warmth, compassion, drama and meaningfulness. A wonderful story of single-parent bonding and hero worship.
Spencer Tracy as Manuel the Portugese fisherman was absolutely fantastic. Just looking at the sparkle in his eyes when mentoring Harvey (Freddie Bartholomew) was beautiful. I have shown this film to my senior class in Strategic Management and they all loved it. And what a supporting cast, Lionel Barrymore, Melvin Douglas, Mickey Rooney, John Caradine. It was also one of the first Hollywood movies to treat a black character with dignity and respect. The ship's cook was even bilingual, speaking both English and Portugese, and was a respected member of the crew, not just an Uncle Tom.
They don't make them any better than this--and not a single word of profanity, no sex or sexual episodes, must a wonderful story, well acted, sad but uplifting.
A movie like this could only have been made in the early days of cinema. Before the days when fancy camera angles, careful editing, and computer-effects combine to make any pretty-boy a big star, movies had to rely on genuine talent on the part of child actors.
Nowhere is this more evident than with Freddie Bartholomew. The character he plays is a spoiled rich-kid, used to getting his own way and obnoxious with everyone he meets. Yet he plays the role in such a way that we can sympathize with him, rather than detest him. We understand the character, but we do not hate him.
Watch any similar movie made today, and the child actors will whine and sneer and have smart-mouthed replies to everything. In this movie, however, the character is not taken to that extreme, and when he makes his transition in the film we are able to love him, and are able to forget how horrid he was before.
The boy can truly act. When he cries for his loved ones, we cry with him. When he is happy, we are able to smile. And when he does something foolish, we do not get the urge to punch him in the face. The character is attractive by the end of the film, and that is a quality which few (if any) child actors possess today.
If you want to see a touching movie with superb acting and genuine emotion, this is the one.
"Captains Courageous" came out in 1937, and I think that is important to understand what happened. Rudyard Kipling, the author of this story, is best remembered for his short stories about India. In fact, unfairly, he is considered by many an author for children. In fact he wrote two works that can be remotely considered kids books: "The Just-So Stories" and The Jungle Books". It is a surface resemblance. Kipling's stories have deeper meanings for adults than kids.
He actually wrote five novels, the first of which has long been forgotten except by Kipling scholars - a novel set in America among Indians, written with his brother-in-law before their estrangement. The novels he wrote that are recalled are "The Light That Failed", "Kim", "Captains Courageous", and "Stalky & Co.". Up to 1936 Kipling refused attempts to dramatize his novels and stories on the screen. Like his contemporary Bernard Shaw he felt that his works would be stretched out of shape by screenplay writers, directors, and producers. But in 1936 he died. Immediately Hollywood would start making films out of his literary properties: in the next couple of years "Wee Willy Winkie", "Captains Courageous","The Light That Failed" and "Gunga Din" (suggested by one of his "Barrack Room Ballards") were brought to the screen. It was like the release of water from a canal's lock when it is raised.
"Captains Courageous" was made with a first rate cast, including Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Freddie Bartholemew, Mickey Rooney, and John Carridine. For sheer acting power it is hard to beat that cast. The story is fairly simple (and to give the screen writers their due, they kept to the theme of the novel: the apparent misfortune of the young anti-hero Harvey, in falling overboard from a luxury liner, and being rescued by a small fishing trawler commanded by Captain Disco Troop, actually puts him into a position where his wealth and position is of little use, and he is finally able to grow into the man that his spoiled nature was holding back.
Freddy Bartholemew, in the 1930s, was the resident "nice" boy in a variety of M.G.M. films, many based on British novels: "David Copperfield", "Little Lord Fauntleroy", "Captain's Courageous", "Kidnapped", even "Anna Karenina" (as Greta Garbo's beloved son). His Harvey shows real growth under the tutelage of Disco and Manuel (Lionel Barrymore and Spencer Tracy). He also gets an example of what a properly raised boy is like from Dan, Disko's son (Mickey Rooney). Initially irritating to the crew (especially John Carridine, who has no time for his arrogance), as he grows in maturity they all accept him. The final arrival of his maturity is tragic - it is when Manuel is killed in an accident (a very moving sequence as the helpless crew know they can't save him as his body is halved by the accident). Manuel knows he's doomed too - but he tries to make light of his tragedy, telling Harvey he has to join his dead (drowned) family. And then he goes under. It was a terrific moment of acting and won Tracy his first "Oscar". I may add too that Douglas may have erred in not being sterner with Harvey while pursuing business interests, but he is a loving and understanding father in the conclusion of the film.
But is it really the same as Kipling's novel? Not quite. The main problem with the switch is that while Disco and Dan are important to Harvey's growth in the novel, Manuel is a minor figure. His most noteworthy characteristic is Kipling's putting the pause word "what" (mispronounced as "wha-aat") into his mouth whenever he makes a statement. Also, Manuel does not die in the novel. His assisting Harvey in growing was actually done by another character in the novel - the ship's cook, who was an African-American. This just could not get through Hollywood's racist codes of the day. Which is too bad - one can just see that the part could have been a good one for either Rex Ingram or Paul Robeson. The finished film, as I said, is excellent as it is, but I;m not sure Kipling would have approved of the changes. I also wonder if the current generation would have appreciated the changes either.
* Was the first MGM film to be shown on television, in 1955.
* Spencer Tracy was initially reluctant to take on the part of Manuel, mainly because he had to sing in several scenes and get his hair curled. His new curly locks provided a lot of amusement to his friends and fellow actors. Joan Crawford, for instance, referred to him as Harpo (after Harpo Marx, the curly-haired Marx Brother).
* This was one of the final films Lionel Barrymore made before his degenerative arthritis crippled him. The following year, he was hobbling around on crutches in Frank Capra's "You Can't Take It with You" (1938); after that, he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
* When Spencer Tracy received his Oscar statuette for this movie, he was surprised to find it inscribed to comic-strip hero "Dick Tracy". An embarrassed Academy replaced the statuette.
SPOILER: The Fishermen's Memorial at the end of the film is a replica of the one in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The actual memorial can be seen at the beginning of The Perfect Storm (2000), another movie about Gloucester fishermen.