Captains Courageous (1937) Poster

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The golden age of child actors
Exploding Penguin9 September 2002
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.
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Guaranteed to reduce you to sobbing wreck
Michael Bo28 February 2005
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.
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Kipling Classic Comes To Life
Ron Oliver12 January 2002
A spoiled rich boy falls overboard & emerges from the sea into the world of the CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, the rough & honest fishermen who ply the waters of the North Atlantic for months on end.

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.
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A warm and wonderful film the subject of which is timeless.
xalf1828 November 2002
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.
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"Yo Ho, Little Fish, Don't Cry Don't Cry"
bkoganbing5 November 2005
That was quite a catch that Spencer Tracy made that day in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

Young Freddie Bartholomew the spoiled son of tycoon Melvyn Douglas falls overboard off an ocean liner. By the merest chance, Spencer Tracy is in his dory fishing and reels in young Bartholomew. After his catch is made, Tracy returns to the boat that captain Lionel Barrymore is commanding.

It's quite a culture shock to the lad. He's fallen in literally with a bunch of people who work for a living and have no real interest in him because his Daddy's the richest guy around. Truth is Melvyn Douglas has been neglecting the kid for business and young Bartholomew is not really as bad a kid as originally thought. He joins the crew and becomes close to Tracy.

Of Tracy's two Oscar winning performances, the part of Manuel the Portugese fisherman, transplanted to New England is a bit more showy than Father Flanagan. It's a good blend of the roughneck characters Tracy was used to playing and the new father figure persona he adopted in San Francisco.

By necessity Tracy had to adopt an accent if for no other reasons than to distinguish him from the other members of Lionel Barrymore's crew and their clipped New England speech. The Portugese are a hearty, seafaring group though and I certainly never heard any complaint that his performance was in any way demeaning. Manuel's a simple guy, but with a good way of life and an appreciation for the important things life has to offer. That is what he imparts to Freddie Bartholomew.

Melvyn Douglas does not get enough recognition for this film. Just as Freddie Bartholomew is not a bad kid at heart, Douglas is not a bad man either. His performance as a man who lost his only child and then had him miraculously returned from the dead is touching. And the scenes where he tries to repair his relationship with young Bartholomew are poignant.

Lionel Barrymore is the perfect conception of a hearty New England fishing boat captain. As Freddie Bartholomew watches the interaction between Barrymore and Mickey Rooney, father and son, sharing not just playtime, but the father's profession, he realizes what he and Melvyn Douglas have missed out on.

Of the crew also pay close attention to John Carradine who resents and then accepts Bartholomew with the crew.

The fishing scenes are well done and Director Victor Fleming gives you a good picture of life on a commercial fishing vessel.

Captains Courageous is a fine family film in every sense of the word.
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First Spencer Tracy Oscar
Beaurega21 April 2000
I saw this for the first time, just last night, on American Movie Classics. After watching the film, I couldn't help but wonder where it's been all my life. What a beautiful film! Robert Osborne made a few opening remarks to the film, as he usually does on this channel. I didn't know that Spencer Tracy won his first Oscar for this film, but it was certainly well deserved. His portrayal of Manuel is really pivotal to the success of the film, I think. I'm not too sure about his accent, but it wasn't really distracting or anything. If you haven't seen this, watch it! You won't be disappointed -- especially if you enjoy pictures where ships and the sea are the setting for the action.
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Excellent film - but somewhat different from the novel
theowinthrop16 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"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.
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Son meets father - in his heart
petangi5 January 2006
A wonderful film I only discovered about ten years ago. A low key beginning, hardly anything to attract the viewer to sympathize with the predicament that befalls young Harvey. With a wonderful cast, fairly average story but told and beautifully understated brings a wonderful balance and heart-tugging restoration for young Harvey, plucked from the sea by Spencer Tracy, a Portuguese fisherman. Having to become a fisherman for two months, young Harvey finds out what he has not known in life. He begins the story as a spoilt young irritating brat but ends it restored to life and his father. A message for us all, begun and ending in eternity. Poignant, sad and enriching. Great cinema.
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We all need a lesson in selflessness.
Lee Eisenberg11 August 2005
Some people don't know selflessness until they experience something extreme, like what happens in "Captains Courageous". Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is the most spoiled kid whom anyone could ever imagine. After falling off of a ship, he gets picked up by Portuguese fisherman Manuel Fidello (Spencer Tracy), who teaches him selflessness and various other life lessons.

Spencer Tracy won a well deserved Oscar for his performance. Manuel is a person who, while not having much materially, has a lot to teach. He humbly improvises songs and just loves to go fishing, a stark contrast to Harvey's life of luxury. It doesn't suffice to call "Captains Courageous" a morality lesson; it's about life in general. 10/10.
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One of my all time favorites
Lamia76093 July 1999
Freddy Bartholomew is brilliant in the role of this spoiled manipulating young boy. I love this movie. I think any film where the character makes some sort of change in themselves or in the world around them has a special quality. Some attempt this and fail miserably, gaining only my enmity. (i.e Mr Holland's Opus) Visually this movie reminds me of "The Net" by Winslow Homer. I used to stare at the painting while laying under my grandmother's sewing machine. Lionel Barrymore is as endearing as ever. Spencer Tracy does a wonderful job if you can get around the accent. Please see this film when you can.
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they just don't make them like this anymore...
monniewood16 January 2005
this has to be one of my favorite films ever. I loved it as a kid and the last time I happened to catch it on TV, i loved it just as much and cried just as hard. Freddy Bartholomew! what a fantastic little actor this kid was! and of course, the unparalleled Spencer Tracy as Manuel the fisherman we all love so much, is simply fantastic. i did not realize that this was a Fleming film, that explains a lot. All of my favorites from this era seem to have had this man at the wheel. He sure knew the right combination of sentiment, humor, melodrama, and reality to come up with a winner most of the time. I'm glad to see so many other votes and comments that echo (i guess i'm the echo tho, huh?) my own feelings about this film Its nice to know others also feel as strongly and as warmly about it as i always have. it sure deserves it.

I sing "Yo, ho little fish, don't cry, don't cry, Yo ho little fish don't cry, don't cry" to my kids at night thanks to Manuel. It always works too!
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Spoiled brat mellows for hero role-model
mdm-1121 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Spencer Tracy won his first of 2 consecutive Best Actor Oscars for his portrayal of a seaman who befriends a "spoiled rich kid" (child star Freddie Bartholomew). The boy is impossible and seems a hopeless case at the beginning of the voyage, but by Tracy's example the kid mellows into a "human being".

The climax is a disaster that leaves Tracy so horribly hurt, that he begs fellow ship mates to "let him go to the sea". The scene is a heart breaker, seeing the boy sobbing and pleading for Tracy to not give up. When the boy is returned to his "care free" home, he is a different person. The man responsible was not there to accept the thanks of a grateful father.

This is one of Hollywood's true tearjerkers. Anyone enjoying a good cry will not be disappointed by "Captains Courageous"!
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"Wake up, little fish"
Steffi_P22 March 2010
In its classic heyday, Hollywood made its own heroes. The source material for most classic pictures tended to be from theatre and literature, but the studios were savvy enough to tailor material not only to suit the medium but the resources available to them, without anyone crying "sacrilege!" It's not uncommon for a screen adaptation to cut out one character for the sake of length or beef up the role of another for commercial viability, but sometimes rearrangements need to be made for the sake of Hollywood form. The screenplay for Captains Courageous, whose writing team includes John Lee Mahin, a name on a ridiculous number of excellent MGM features, makes a number of massive changes to Rudyard Kipling's novel, surely the most significant of which is the foregrounding of Manuel to a major character. In the book, Manuel is simply another crew member and a relatively minor character, whereas in the film he becomes the very spirit of the story, and a surrogate father figure for young Harvey. It puts a powerful new emotional slant on the tale, but also puts the burden on the writers to build the character into someone who can carry the picture.

This was the way Hollywood worked at the time. Its stars were characters, and its stories were built around powerful personas. Captains Courageous needed a Manuel. And Manuel needed a star who could breathe lungfuls of life into him. Spencer Tracy was perhaps an odd choice for a Portuguese fisherman – he was not one of those generic ethnic types like Mischa Auer or Akim Tamaroff who were cast as anything from Mediterraneans to Manchurians. But even this early in his career he had carved out a reputation for earthy, honest good guys, and this was indeed the very reputation Fritz Lang was trying to pervert as early as 1936 in Fury. And while Tracy can quite easily put on the "funny foreigner" act he never once loses sight of his character's emotional truth. He presents Manuel as a daffy caricature, and yet allows genuine tenderness, pride, grief or anger to shine through the stereotype – and that is the beauty of his performance.

But the character of Manuel and his effective interpretation by Tracy cannot carry the picture alone. It's time to look at the contribution of director Victor Fleming. Fleming was himself a rugged outdoorsman who took a no-nonsense approach to film-making, which translated into excitement on the screen. Fleming pictures move, and they move quickly. Take the opening scenes on dry land. There is quite a lot to take on here – Freddie Bartholemew's character, his relationship with his father, and the sequence of events which lead him to be stranded in the Atlantic. Fleming packs it all into twenty minutes, and an engaging twenty minutes at that. How? First, the actors are coached to spit out their dialogue as quickly as is feasible. There is no room given to wordless contemplation, and there doesn't need to be at this point in the story either. Second, Fleming makes these scenes seem even faster than they really are. Characters walk as they talk, and shots often begin and end with movement, buffeting us from one point to the next.

Even once we are underway on board the We're Here, motion is a continual presence. Crew members bustle about, sometimes getting between the camera and the protagonists, and everyone tends to keep working as they talk. This not only gives a realistic atmosphere to life aboard a busy fishing vessel, it gives a rough and relentless pace to the images. Just like young Harvey, we are being dragged along for the ride. Even in the more sedate scenes, such as Tracy playing his hurdy-gurdy on watch, Fleming keeps the sea sweeping up and down as a backdrop. After the furore that came before it's now quite a soothing presence, but we are never allowed a moment of total stillness, and when the story eventually gets back on dry land the difference is quite jarring.

The crew of this fictional fishing boat are appropriately motley, with such distinguished hams as Lionel Barrymore, Charley Grapewin and John Carradine. Rather than harm the sincerity of the picture with their grandiosity, they actually fit in nicely as a bunch of salty dogs, and they stop Tracy's performance from looking farcical. At the very opposite end of the scale we have that fine naturalistic performer Melvyn Douglas, seeming appropriately muted for his role as the landlubber of the piece. Freddie Bartholemew was always a little too childish for his career to last into adulthood, but he does well here by simply reacting believably to those around him. By contrast, Mickey Rooney was always destined to be a star for life, because he never dwelled on being the child star, and was always an actor first and foremost. A final honourable mention goes to Sam McDaniel as Doc. He is the lesser-known brother of Hattie McDaniel, and although his career was very prolific this is one of his few credited appearances.

I do not know whether there were significant numbers of Kipling purists around at the time, lamenting the swathe of differences between this version and the novel, but certainly now there are a lot of people who will criticise a film for not being the book. But what good would it do the book if they got their way? Surely it would make the novel truly redundant if motion pictures were just slavish copies of the printed word. This Captains Courageous has its own identity and is a classic of the screen. This does not mean it has ruined the legacy of what is an equally classic book.
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Spencer Tracy Lands His Biggest Catch In Captains Courageous
PamelaShort16 July 2014
This is one of those films where the words a magnificent classic truly applies. Metro Goldwyn Mayer superbly brings Rudyard Kipling's beloved novel to life on screen. The studio cleverly tailored the role from the novel about the nineteen year old spoilt lad, for twelve year old child actor Freddie Bartholomew , who delivers an astounding performance. His portrayal of the spoilt rich boy , Harvey Cheyne, who learns valuable lessons about love and respect is most believable and heart-touching. Spencer Tracy masterfully plays Manuel , the humble Portuguese dory-man who takes charge of the cocky lad patiently teaching him acceptable behaviour. Tracy deservedly won his first Oscar for Best Actor with his moving and endearing performance. Lionel Barrymore is excellent as Captain Disko, and Melvyn Douglas gives an understanding portrayal of the elder Cheyne. Mickey Rooney along with veteran character actors John Carradine and Charley Grapewin equally bring their own unique acting talents to this poignant tale. High production values and fine cinematography bring the depiction of the fishermen alive , with beautiful photography of schooners sailing and dories being lowered into a running sea capturing the perfect atmosphere. A synopsis cannot replace the pleasure of watching this classic film , but I caution the reader to be prepared for a real tearjerker.
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Being a boy, being spoiled, finding truth...quite the tale
secondtake19 January 2014
Captains Courageous (1937)

You might think this movie will come off as old-fashioned and stale, a old Kipling yarn filmed in the 1930s in black and white. Well don't pre-judge this! It's really good. Fast, energetic, touching, and filled with good acting and great filming. It even has a moral tale that doesn't smack you as sentimental, but is a good reminder of what counts in life.

The main character is a rich boy who obviously needs to learn some lessons in humility and honor. And he's played with real perfection by the young English actor Freddie Bartholomew who had a five year heyday of great roles and great performances with classic adventure stories told on film. And there are parallels here of bigger tales like "Kidnapped" (1938) and "David Copperfield" (1935), with a child intersecting the world of adults and its perils.

His adult friend is the bigger star, Spencer Tracy, who does a good job though I've never quite loved his style of acting. Here he plays a Portuguese sailor with a half an accent and it's the one problem in the film. Next to him in a big role is Lionel Barrymore, who recognizably makes for a quirky captain of the fishing boat. He's great. And so are the other side characters, including a whole slew of big names from the time (John Carradine and Mickey Rooney are probably most famous now).

Much of the film is a low key adventure film. It's aimed at kids the way "The Wizard of Oz" is aimed at kids—meaning it's great for adults, too, and there are a few things snuck in to keep older viewers attuned. Director Victor Fleming went on to direct "Oz" and much of "Gone with the Wind" in two years, and you can feel his Hollywood expertise in every scene here. This is not a stiff 1930s movie if your head is in that mode. Fleming (with photographer great Harold Rosson, who shot "Oz" and a hundred others) makes it vivid and wondrous. The mix of studio shots and authentic sea footage (made with a second film crew in the North Atlantic) is brilliantly handled—no back projection goofs here.

I really liked this movie. It's straight up filmic storytelling. No distractions, no bumbling. Give it a go and be surprised.
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Learning Right
gavin69428 July 2016
Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is a spoiled brat used to having his own way. When a prank goes wrong on board 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.

Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times called the film "another of those grand jobs of movie-making we have come to expect of Hollywood's most prodigal studio. With its rich production, magnificent marine photography, admirable direction and performances, the film brings vividly to life every page of Kipling's novel and even adds an exciting chapter or two of its own." This really is a great film. I went in knowing nothing about it, and came out really impressed. For the first quarter or so of the film, I was increasingly annoyed with the spoiled boy, and did not now where things were going to go. But once it shifted gears, that build-up of annoyance paid off. In fact, it would not have been nearly as effective if they didn't convince me of how awful this boy was. Perfect execution.
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Tale of The Seas Without Going Home
DKosty12322 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is not to be confused with the book. This movie is a Freddie Bartholomew starring film. Following Freddie's major success in David Copperfield, this movie was a natural fit for the child actor. There is the Wizard of Oz connection here too.

We have Director Victor Fleming and Charlie Grapewin as Uncle Salters who would later be Uncle Henry. His support in this one is essential to the plot as the story is told. This one develops a major relationship between Freddie and Spencer Tracy (Harvey & Manuel that tugs at the heart strings. The film is a major success for both.

Freddie is a sort spoiled rich kid who is sailing on an ocean liner and accidentally falls off it trying to hide from his friends. He is accidentally rescued by Manuel(Tracy) and winds up on a fishing boat.

The spoiled Harvey tries to buy his way off of the boat at first but then finds out he can not and then finds Manuel to change his entire life. Harvey was never close to his own dad so Manuel becomes a replacement for him. As the relationship grows, the emotions do too, until tragedy strikes the relationship, as Manuel is killed.

From there, the fishing boat finally makes shore with Harvey sad about the death, but no longer the spoiled brat he once was. He even gets closer to his dad at the end. The movie works well, and is not the typical happy ending when Harvey gets home that many films were in the 1930's. This one shows emotional dimension.
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The story behind the story.
jtlyon7 December 2007
I first saw the movie when I was a child in the UK around 1943 or 1944. Thought it was wonderful. It ends with a wreath floating out on the ebb tide below the statue of a fisherman at the wheel of a schooner, looking out to sea. On my first visit to the USA in 1961 I was at Marblehead, Mass., and there it was! The self-same statue! The whole story instantly came back to me.

There is a story behind the story. Kipling crossed the Atlantic in a liner that was "infested" with an obnoxious rich kid, as in the opening scenes of the movie. With jaundiced eye he watched this spoiled brat and dreamed up a story of the salvation that might have been his, wrote it down, and left it to us as the novel ... and now the movie.
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If this doesn't make you weep, you have no soul.
bones-216 March 1999
One of my favourite movies - on a par with "It's a Wonderful Life", but PLEASE see it in black and white! Spencer Tracy's best role (I think) - he hits the spot with his soft-at-heart Portogussie fisherman and, contrary to other crits, I think Freddy Bartholomew plays the spoilt little brat just right for the era. The interplay between these two diametrically opposed 'friends' unfolds slowly, Tracy's firm hand and willingness to forgive childhood pranks serve to cement a solid relationship that Bartholomew never had with his father. Father's acceptance of this relationship and realisation that he had almost ruined his child is a lesson for us all. I defy anyone who has children to sit through this with a dry eye.
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truly, they just don't make them like this anymore
Robert D. Ruplenas13 November 2008
I watched this 1937 winner for the first time tonight and was positively blown away by a movie that hits it out of the park in every department. A moving story about character and human relationships that is beautifully acted, photographed and directed that also just happens to be a great adventure story as well, with some fantastic photography of early 20th century fishing off the New England coast. The movie touches deep human emotions, and the superb script has some wonderfully sharp comic touches, most of them given to the incomparable Spencer Tracy in his fantastic portrayal of Manuel. The great Lionel Barrymore is also memorable as Captain Disko Troop, and it's great to see John Carradine who, as young as he looks here, already had 38 movies to his credit. I guess it's true that it's possible to make great cinematic art that also has popular box office appeal; it's just sad that we see it so rarely nowadays. The movie definitely rates the overworked term, "classic."
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What's wrong little fish?
Spikeopath21 September 2008
Harvey Cheyne is a snivelling snot nosed spoilt brat, on a trip to Europe with his father aboard a posh liner, he falls overboard and is rescued from certain death by a Gloucester fishing boat. Once aboard this fishing vessel it becomes obvious that the hard working sea faring crew have no time for Harvey's jumped up behaviour. Luckily for Harvey, tough as boots Potrugese fisherman, Manuel, takes him under his wing and teaches the spoilt Harvey about life.

Written by the insanely talented Rudyard Kipling, directed by actors director Victor Fleming, starring Spencer Tracy {one of the best of his generation}, backed up by top line professionals Lionel Barrymore & John Carradine, and containing a child performance never to be forgotten, this sea adventure is as wonderful a film as you could wish to view. Yes the film belongs in the adventure genre that many have it seated in, but at its core it's a heart tugging ode to respect and love being the lessons affirming in ones life. For the first quarter of this film I wanted to throw young Harvey {Freddie Bartholomew} overboard from the fishing boat {and would have given the chance}, but I promise you, that if you have a heart, that come the end of the picture young Harvey will have you wrapped around his little finger.

That Harvey's transformation is so impacting says so much about Spencer Tracy's performance as Manuel, for it's once Harvey meets Manuel that the film {and character portrayals} shift to a higher gear. Tracy bagged the Academy Award for best Actor here, and few golden statues given out in that category were more deserved. Tracy was never a fan of acting outside of his persona arc, but here he puts on the accent and emotes a performance of incredible style. Never over sentimental, Captains Courageous shifts in tone at the point when you least expect it too, the picture has no submarine tactics in it, but the makers do in fact submarine you to jolt you into undivided attention, and it's here where you realise that you are viewing a very special film.

Perhaps you need a sentimental bone in your body to let it wash over you? That I really can't say, but at the end of this picture I personally felt a far richer person than I was when I began it. Making Captains Courageous one of the reasons I love films so very much. 10/10
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The captain was resonsible
vosamis-130 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Listen, I feel very sorry for the sea captain(knowing that within a very short time he would become so badly crippled with arthritis that he would need a wheel chair) but the fact it is HE was responsible for poor Manuel's getting killed. Nobody seems to have paid the slightest attention to this. Racing full speed in unsafe conditons, jeopardizing the entire ship and the lives of the men and all the hard work they had done over those months -- all so he could win a dumb race against another sea captain. Had he just sailed the ship safely and normally, Manuel would be alive today, or at lease he might still be (this written in 2006) as a very old man.
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A ripping good yarn, as effective today as way back when
Shane Paterson23 March 2010
This is one of those films I recall very fondly from my childhood (on TV in the '70s, I hasten to add, my having been born three decades too late to catch its original release) and now, after having watched it again for the first time in probably 30 or 35 or so years, I recall it just as fondly. It's a classic tale from Kipling, a potent mix of morality play and coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a hazardous and hard-earned way to make a living. The fishing and sailing scenes are, as others have noted, very realistically presented and I see I am not alone in noticing that the actors were capable enough with their marine duties to make it look like they really WERE old hands at that sort of thing (something I noticed first with Mickey Rooney, who carried on his tasks with great efficiency, as if they were second nature, even while delivering dialog...his presence in the film is small but it's still a real standout).

This film is loaded to the gunwales with talented actors, including some of the all-time greats. The incomparable Spencer Tracy, for example, is magnificent (and, yes, the scene where he faces down Carradine's character, with real menace suddenly supplanting his otherwise easy-going demeanor is a very powerful moment), and he here again proves why he is considered one of the very best actors to ever have worked in Hollywood. Lionel Barrymore is absolute perfection as the skipper, totally convincing in every detail. John Carradine, too, is 100% believable and a magnetic screen presence even by now. Melvyn Douglas, too, has captured a very nuanced and understated take on a character who is not in most of the picture but who is vital to its working. Every other actor in the ensemble delivers, too, just right.

Young Freddie Bartholomew, of course, has the significant burden of basically carrying the film -- somewhat daunting even if your co-stars didn't include such as Tracy and Barrymore -- and he succeeds magnificently. He's utterly on target and convincing as the spoiled little brat who finally gets shaped into some sort of a better person, on the road to being a better man than he would have been had he not fallen off that ship. He's really a wonder in this film, perhaps one of the very best child actors ever. The depth of his hero-worship and love for Manuel, who he obviously contrasts to his more distant and workaholic father, is tangible and touching. He may be young still but, by the end, he's a man, or well on his way to being a real man, and not the kind of 'real man' who's some overbearing macho blowhard; he's had better examples than that aboard the schooner and his father's own journey, off-camera, suggests he'll do his best to be such an example. Manuel would have been very proud.
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A great adventure drama!
Boba_Fett113818 June 2008
The movie has a great story about a rich spoiled brat who falls overboard on an ocean liner and gets picked up by a crew member of a fishing vessel. They can't take him back home immediately and he has to remain aboard the vessel for three months. The spoiled brat needs to adapt himself to the crew and hard life aboard the vessel, while the crew members in return also have a hard time exception the kid as one of them. But of course aboard the ship he learns far more than fishing. He learns about life and its values and about the 'real' world. The movie has a dramatic story with several themes weaved in to it, such as most notably the father son relationship. It's however not a sappy over-the-top type of drama, as you would perhaps expect from a '30's movie. It's such a well layered story.

It's even more interesting since its being told from the viewpoint of the young character. Quite unusual for a drama, especially for one made in 1937, which makes this movie basically very good to watch for both adults as more younger people, even though it would be of course hard now days to interest them in an '30's movie. Despite being dramatic it also is above all really an adventurous movie to watch, especially for youngster of the same age as the movie its main character. It aren't really two genres that are commonly being mixed, which makes this an unique and great movie because of that reason already.

The movie has a great cast. Of course the '30's were the golden age of child actors and Freddie Bartholomew is one of those great child actors of the '30's. Other and better known child actor Mickey Rooney also plays a role in this movie, although his role is actually quite small. Second main lead of the movie is being played by Spencer Tracy. If you didn't knew it was Spencer Tracy, you would had a hard time recognizing him in his role. I think this is also the foremost reason why he won an Oscar for his role in this movie. He completely becomes a different character, of Portugese heritage. The supporting cast is surprisingly filled with lots of big names such as Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas and John Carradine. All are well cast and play their parts great.

The movie is importantly also a great looking one and most of the story is of course set aboard the boat. If there is one movie that could ever get you seasick it's this movie. The movie gives a good and realistic portrayal of life on the open sea. And despite the fact that the movie is mostly set aboard a boat, it isn't a movie that ever bores and there is always something happening in this movie, mostly thanks to its characters and actors that are portraying them.

It might very well be the best adventure drama you will ever see!

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Excellent Family Movie, Spencer Tracy Deserved His Oscar For This
bebop63-14 January 2007
This was one movie I so longed to watch, not only because Tracy is one of my all-time fave actors, but for the storyline itself - simple yet compelling, not to mention wholesomeness - no sex, violence, etc. Even if it did differ in many respects from the original novel by Rudyard Kipling (in the book, Harvey's mother is very much alive and Manuel did not die), still it manages to get the message through - of how one's character can be changed (for good or bad) in just a short span of time. It was very obvious though, that the producers gave the role of Manuel so much emphasis as to put Spencer Tracy in the spotlight, whereas in the book he only played a minor role in the reformation of the character of the spoiled rich boy Harvey. Nevertheless, Tracy did deserve his Oscar for his role as the simple yet realistic-minded fisherman.
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