Captains Courageous (1937)
Reviewed on 2008 August 23
This is one of those old, old movies that I’ve always wanted to see, but without fail it seemed to sneak on the air when I had to be somewhere shortly after the start time, or would start rolling late at night when I had to get up early the next day. I finally got to see it in all its black and white glory today. It was very good but I had no idea how weepy it would make me. That’s not a complaint; I’m just giving you a Kleenex® advisory.
Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is the spoiled son of a ludicrously wealthy businessman (Melvyn Douglas). Harvey is a sneaky, manipulative little brat who uses his wealth to win or punish friends, and at times his Machiavellian skills were remarkable. With the right (or wrong) mentor he could have been quite a politician. A lot of Harvey’s problems stem from his father’s workhorse habits. Frank loves his son, but he’s so focused on his career that it’s easier to give him a fat allowance instead of the attention he needs.
To Frank’s credit, when he hears the truth about his boy, he believes it. He decides to be a better, more involved father to Harvey and to bring him on an ocean voyage. In a series of events that tell you everything you need to know about the kid even if you tune in a bit late, Harvey falls overboard. He’s rescued by Manuel (Spencer Tracy), a Portuguese fisherman who takes Harvey aboard a fishing boat. The no-nonsense Gloucester fishermen don’t know what to make of their new passenger, but they make it clear that if Harvey won’t work, he won’t eat. This turns out to be Harvey’s salvation.
Spencer Tracy earned an Oscar for his portrayal of Manuel, and Freddy Bartholomew was perfect as the snotty Harvey. It was cool to see John Carradine — yeah, David “Kung Fu” Carradine’s dad — play the tough sailor Long Jack. Mickey Rooney and Lionel Barrymore also have good roles. Star power aside, it’s just a good story. It’s one of those rare movies where even though it may be a bit dated, it’s like looking at an antique instead of something that just doesn’t work any more.
Three chocolate morsels, and an ice cream soda (but stop at one!).