A spoiled brat who falls overboard from a steamship gets picked up by a fishing boat, where he's made to earn his keep by joining the crew in their work.A spoiled brat who falls overboard from a steamship gets picked up by a fishing boat, where he's made to earn his keep by joining the crew in their work.A spoiled brat who falls overboard from a steamship gets picked up by a fishing boat, where he's made to earn his keep by joining the crew in their work.
Rudyard Kipling's classic novel of maturation & responsibility has been expanded & updated and turned into a wonderful film by MGM. The production values, especially those dealing with the fishing boat sequences, are exceptional.
After the first half hour, where we are introduced to the boy's bad behavior at home, school, father's office & aboard the luxury liner, the film arrives at the heart of the matter with the introduction of the fisherman and their rough, dangerous way of life.
Freddie Bartholomew, luminous face & shining eyes aglow, is the very picture of boyish innocence. The fact that MGM gave him top billing over the powerhouse cast shows the kind of confidence they had in their child star. Although his proper English accent is a bit out of place and his sweetness makes his initial bratty behavior a bit of a stretch, once he's firmly ensconced on the trawler and his life lessons are being learned, it is difficult to think of any other young actor of his era in the role.
His lessons come mainly from Spencer Tracy, who is beyond praise as Manuel, the stalwart Portuguese fisherman. Noble, earthy, lighthearted, honest, these were attributes Tracy could sink his teeth into & he delivers a performance of heroic proportions. Good-natured & loyal, singing joyously to his hurdy-gurdy, his Manuel is still fiercely protective of his `liddle fish,' seeing at once the qualities the boy has to offer, once he shapes up. Audiences surrender to Tracy completely (fake accent and all) and his scenes with young Bartholomew are especially tender. The subsequent Best Actor Oscar for his performance here was very well deserved.
Lionel Barrymore, as the crusty, wise old captain of the fishing boat, is a delight. In one of the last roles in which he had the use of his legs, he is completely believable as a Massachusetts seaman. Like Tracy, he inhabits his part, giving an over-the-top performance that is completely appropriate. He embodies the kind of man anyone would feel confident to have at the helm during a sea storm.
The excellence of the cast is evidenced by having Charley Grapewin, John Carradine & Mickey Rooney all on board as crew members; each is given a chance to display their talents, as is Melvyn Douglas as Bartholomew's preoccupied father.
Movie mavens will recognize Billy Gilbert as a soda fountain jerk, as well as Christian Rub & Jimmy Conlin as fisherman, all uncredited.
- Ron Oliver
- Jan 12, 2002