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Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is a twelve-year-old insufferable spoiled brat. The son of a wealthy business tycoon (Melvyn Douglas), Harvey constantly uses his money and position to manipulate the people around him. His awful behavior alienates his school chums at the posh boarding school he attends, and eventually he gets suspended. Harvey's schoolmasters advise his neglectful father to spend more time with him to help straighten him out. When Harvey accompanies his father on a luxury liner bound for Europe, an accident caused by his own arrogance sends him overboard into the icy waters of the North Bank. He is rescued by Manuel (Spencer Tracy), a Portuguese fisherman, who takes him aboard the We're Here, a commercial fishing schooner led by the salty Captain Disko Troop (Lionel Barrymore). Harvey immediately starts giving orders only to learn that he's not the boss here and in fact will have to wait until the fishermen finish their haul in another two or three months. During that period of time, he will get an education in the real world and go from being a spoiled brat to a young man of great promise.
Director: Victor Fleming
Writers: John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly, Dale Van Every
Based on the Novel By: Rudyard Kipling
Producers: Louis D. Lighton, Sam Katz
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Editing: Elmo Veron
Music: Franz Waxman
Sound: Douglas Shearer
Cast: Freddie Bartholomew (Harvey Cheyne), Spencer Tracy (Manuel), Lionel Barrymore (Capt. Disko Troop), Melvyn Douglas (Mr. Cheyne), Charles Grapewin (Uncle Salters), Mickey Rooney (Dan Troop), John Carradine ("Long Jack"), Oscar O'Shea (Cushman), Jack LaRue (Priest), Walter Kingsford (Dr. Finley), Donald Briggs (Tyler), Sam McDaniels ("Doc"), Billy Burrud (Charles).
BW-117m. Closed Captioning. Descriptive Video.
Why CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS is Essential
Captains Courageous was a hit at the box office and considered one of MGM's best films of the 1930s. It was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture. The briny coming of age adventure adapted from Rudyard Kipling's classic novel touched the hearts of moviegoers of all ages.
Actor Spencer Tracy won his first Best Actor Academy Award for his work in the film as Manuel. It was an uncharacteristically tender role that he had taken reluctantly, but it came to be one of his best loved performances.
Child star Freddie Bartholomew gives one of his finest and most memorable performances in Captains Courageous. Although his name has faded from public consciousness since his heyday in the 1930s, one need only watch this film to appreciate what a stunningly remarkable natural talent Bartholomew possessed.
Captains Courageous was the first of five films that Spencer Tracy made with director Victor Fleming, whose direction of the production was so sure-footed and successful that Tracy learned to trust his judgment. Following Captains Courageous they made Test Pilot (1938), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), Tortilla Flat (1942), and A Guy Named Joe (1943) together.
by Andrea Passafiume
Captains Courageous (1937)
A 1977 version of Captains Courageous was made for television starring Karl Malden as Disko Troop, Ricardo Montalban as Manuel and Jonathan Kahn as Harvey.
A 1996 version of Captains Courageous was made for television starring Robert Ulrich as Captain Troop, Colin Cunningham as Manuel and Kenny Vadas as Harvey.
The 1951 Joel McCrea Western Cattle Drive was described by some reviewers as Captains Courageous on the plains due to a similar storyline: An experienced cattle herder (McCrea) rescues the rich, spoiled son of a tycoon, who is lost on the plains, and teaches him how to survive on the trail.
A 1952 Mister Magoo cartoon short titled Captains Outrageous referenced the film in its title and loosely in its plot, which has the wealthy Magoo falling overboard his boat while trying to catch an elusive giant marlin with his nephew.
by Andrea Passafiume
Captains Courageous (1937)
The exterior of the Cheyne mansion shown at the very beginning of Captains Courageous is located on Washington Boulevard in Culver City, California. The building originally housed offices for the Thomas H. Ince Corporation and then later became headquarters for David O. Selznick's Selznick-International Pictures. The image of the building served as the Selznick International Pictures logo for several years.
Captains Courageous had its gala premiere at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles on May 14, 1937 with many stars in attendance. "Of all the stiff-shirted gentlemen and the dcollet ladies in the audience," said local columnist Harrison Carroll at the time, "I doubt if there was a single one who did not weep with Freddie Bartholomew over the death of Spencer Tracy, the story's lovable Manuel. The relationship of these two has been made into a masterpiece of screen sentiment." Spencer Tracy gave credit to his director. "The man to be thanked because Captains Courageous turned out as well as it did is the director, Victor Fleming," he told one journalist. "You'll never know what he went through--six months, mostly on a process stage with only three sections of boat to work with, the stinking smell of fish, Freddie Bartholomew limited to four hours of work a day--and Fleming himself sick as a dog half the time."
Spencer Tracy was in the hospital recovering from a hernia operation when the Academy Awards ceremony took place and was unable to attend. When he won in his category--the film's only win--MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer walked to the stage inside Los Angeles' Biltmore Hotel escorting Tracy's wife, Louise. "It's a great privilege to be a stand-in for so great an artist and, great as he is an artist, he's still a greater man," said Mayer. When he introduced Louise Tracy to accept the award, she added, "I accept this award on behalf of Spencer, Susie, Johnny and myself," a reference to their children. Tracy's Academy Award for Captains Courageous was the first in a back-to-back win for the skilled actor, who went on to win again the following year for his work in Boys Town (1938). It was the first time in history that any actor had accomplished this. Tracy's record would stand until Tom Hanks achieved the same honor with his back-to-back wins for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994).
According to the 1993 edition of the Mason Wiley and Damien Bona book Inside Oscar, one of the screenwriters of Captains Courageous, John Lee Mahin, was unhappy when he received his Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. At the time he was president of the Screen Playwrights, Inc., which was, according to Wiley and Bona, "a splinter group from the Screen Writers Guild, which Mahin believed evinced Communist leanings." Mahin was also not a fan of the Academy and openly refused the Best Screenplay nomination, complaining that the Academy, led by its President Frank Capra, had refused to include the Screen Playwrights in the Academy's balloting because of their political views. Capra wrote Mahin a letter in response that said: "In regard to the charge of unfair discrimination which your organization is belly-aching about, you know very well that you were given the same opportunity to participate in the Awards Committee as any other organization in Hollywood." Regarding Mahin's refusal of the Academy's nomination Capra wrote: "We don't care whether you accept it or throw it away or deposit it in that well-known place where everything is consigned in Hollywood."
John Carradine, the actor who plays "Long Jack" in the film, is the father of the famous Carradine brothers: Chris, David, Keith and Robert.
The Fisherman's Memorial statue seen towards the end of Captains Courageous was cast in 1925 and looks out over Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts. It still stands today.
Memorable Quotes from CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
"It wants breakfast in its rooms."
-- Burns the Butler (Charles Coleman) to the maid, referring to Harvey (Freddie Bartholomew)
"Well, do you want to do an act of friendship?"
"What if the others don't want you in?"
"Now, look here, Charles. You like being the president, don't you?"
"Certainly I do. It's an office of honor."
"And what if you weren't the president anymore?"
"You can't do anything about it."
"Oh yes I can. What if you weren't at the school anymore?"
"I'm going to be at the school."
"...Your father sells my father's automobiles in Providence, doesn't he?"
"Well, then, do you think he'd like it if you had a chance to do me an act of friendship and didn't do it? What if he woke up one day and my father took away all the automobiles he let him have to sell and said, 'You're fired!'? You know how many people are out of jobs? Millions of people. And they're all hungry and in rags. They can't send their sons to school. You're not old enough to work, so you'd have to go out with your mother and father and beg. And that certainly would be awful to have your mother sitting there, all dressed up in rags and eating rotten bread and things like that. Wouldn't that be terrible?"
--Harvey and his schoolmate Charles (Billy Burrud)
"It was an act of friendship."
"You mean a bribe, don't you?"
"What's a bribe?"
"A bribe's a dishonest gift. A person who accepts it knows that he must do something dishonest in return. Be honest, Harvey."
"All I wanted was to belong to the Buffaloes. Look, people give presents after someone's been nice to them, don't they? So what's dishonest with giving presents before someone's nice to you?"
-- Harvey and his teacher Mr. Tyler (Donald Briggs)
"I bet I know a lot of things you don't know. I know that's not French you're singing."
"That's right. About 10 million people know it's Portuguese."
"I bet you can't speak French."
"Right now, I sorry I speak English."
-- Harvey and Manuel (Spencer Tracy)
"Maybe your father come back see if you good and drowned, huh?"
--Manuel, to Harvey
"You're trailing me 'cause I can find cod where you can't find half a pound of sick squid."
-- Captain Disko (Lionel Barrymore), to Captain Cushman (Oscar O'Shea), the captain of the Jennie Cushman
"Hey kid. Hey, wake up. Come on, wake up, Little Fish. Hey, wake up, wake up! Somebody think you dead, they have celebrations."
--Manuel to Harvey
"You touch that kid, I tear you apart, see?"
-- Manuel to "Long Jack" (John Carradine)
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume
Captains Courageous (1937)
The genesis of Captains Courageous came from famed British author Rudyard Kipling's 1897 novel of the same name. The story about a spoiled rich boy who finds redemption aboard a Gloucester fishing schooner was Kipling's only American novel, and MGM had been mulling over the idea of turning it into a major motion picture for several years. In 1934 MGM Production Head Irving Thalberg purchased the screen rights to the book for $25,000 and assigned producer Louis D. Lighton to put the project together. Victor Fleming, with whom Lighton had collaborated on the 1929 western The Virginian, was chosen to direct.
A total of three writers worked on adapting Kipling's book into a screenplay: John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly, and Dale Van Every. The adaptation took a few liberties with the story and characters, including elevating the book's minor character of Manuel, the simple Portuguese fisherman, to a key player in the film. The writers also shaved a few years off of the character of Harvey, taking him from fifteen-years-old to twelve in order to accommodate MGM's choice actor for the role, Freddie Bartholomew.
Bartholomew was one of MGM's top child actors of the 1930s. Plucked from obscurity in Great Britain to star in MGM's big budget adaptation of David Copperfield in 1935, Bartholomew's remarkable talent and natural instincts as an actor made him an instant star. Following successful featured roles in Anna Karenina (1935) with Greta Garbo and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), Bartholomew was given top billing in Captains Courageous.
Most of the supporting cast for the film was chosen early in the pre-production process including Melvyn Douglas (borrowed from Columbia) as Harvey's wealthy father and Lionel Barrymore as the crusty Captain of the We're Here, Disko Troop. Bartholomew's contemporary, Mickey Rooney, was cast in a small role as Captain Troop's son Dan.
The most important casting choice would be for Manuel, the rugged but lovable Portuguese fisherman whose character is the heart of the film's story. Irving Thalberg wanted a less than obvious choice for the part: Spencer Tracy. The actor had come to MGM in 1935 at the end of a stint with Twentieth Century Fox, where stardom had eluded him. At MGM, Thalberg had known how to properly use the versatile actor, and Tracy quickly earned fame at his new studio in films such as Fury and San Francisco (both 1936).
As much faith as Tracy had in Thalberg's judgment, however, he initially resisted taking the assignment. Not only had he never worked with director Victor Fleming before, he also felt that playing Manuel might be too big of a stretch. "Fought against it like a steer," Tracy later said according to James Curtis' 2011 biography Spencer Tracy. "Thought the characterization would be phony. Didn't see how the pieces would fit together. Didn't know where I could borrow an accent." Tracy was uncomfortable affecting any accent, and he warned Fleming and Lighton that his Portuguese accent would probably be all over the place and less than authentic. Fleming and Lighton in turn assured him that a character like Manuel had spent years living among Gloucester seamen and would likely have picked up all sorts of language influences in his accent.
Additionally, Tracy was uncomfortable with the level of spiritual symbolism in Manuel. "I've always played rough-and-tumble parts," he said. "This story's religion or something. Those scenes where he talks about his father--suppose I don't bring 'em off? They'll be horrible--sitting there in the boat, talking about Fisherman's Heaven, a guy thirty-seven years old -- you'll have your audience reaching for bigger and wider hats."
Eventually, however, Tracy acquiesced and began preparing for the role. "I went to see every picture in town where an actor might be found speaking in an accent--saw Eddie Robinson, [Paul] Muni [in Black Fury, 1935], others," he said. "Then we scoured San Diego trying to find a Portuguese sailor to use as a model for Manuel. Finally we found our man. The chap came to the studio to see me. He was Manuel. The expression in his eyes, the way he walked, the way he sat, the way he used his hands, his knowledge of boats. Then he began to talk, and...he spoke better English than I do. When I asked him what he thought about my calling the kid my 'leetle feesh,' he looked at me patiently--and a little pityingly--and said, 'Do you mean little fish, Mr. Tracy?' I gave up."
In early September 1936, MGM spent three days shooting test footage for Captains Courageous, including makeup for Tracy. The makeup people experimented with darkening his skin and curling his hair--something Tracy hated. "One day, just after I'd had my hair curled," said Tracy, "I walked down the stairs at Metro and heard a scream. I looked up, and Joan Crawford said, 'My God, Harpo Marx!'"
There were many times when the insecure Tracy considered pulling out of the film. However, his friends and colleagues would convince him to stay and throw himself into the role. "I finally talked myself into practicing dialect and putting up with having my hair curled twice a day," said Tracy, "but the thought of singing gave me the shudders. I dodged the voice teacher, Arthur Rosenstein, for weeks. After I started taking lessons, I used to duck practice as much as I could. Then I just said, 'Oh, what's the difference?' and let the old baritone rip." Tracy also took musical lessons so that he could properly handle a hurdy-gurdy, which Manuel plays in the film.
Just as Captains Courageous was set to begin principal shooting, however, the entire MGM family was dealt a painful blow on the morning of September 14, 1936: Production Chief Irving Thalberg died suddenly at the premature age of 36. Thalberg had been a much beloved figure at the studio, and Tracy knew that it was Thalberg's guidance of his career that had helped make him a star at MGM. After a brief period of mourning that initially delayed the production schedule on Captains Courageous, shooting was ready to commence. Tracy wanted to honor Thalberg in his performance as Manuel out of respect for all he had done for him and the faith Thalberg had always shown in his talent.
by Andrea Passafiume
Captains Courageous (1937)
Months before principal photography began on Captains Courageous, director Victor Fleming sent a second unit MGM crew to Massachusetts to shoot footage in and around the quaint fishing town of Gloucester. While there, MGM purchased an authentic schooner called the Oretha F. Spinney and promptly transformed it into the We're Here of the film's story.
With the second unit crew aboard, the newly christened We're Here sailed around Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in order to pick up authentic shots at sea. According to Victor Fleming, they set out to capture "shots of the fishing fleet in every conceivable sort of rough winter weather." The crew then brought the boat towards northern California, collecting atmospheric footage of fog along the way, according to author James Curtis. Another schooner was soon purchased that was transformed into the We're Here's rival boat, the Jennie Cushman, which was ultimately docked alongside the We're Here in Catalina Island's Avalon Harbor.
The principal cast and crew came together to begin shooting in California in late September 1936. Spencer Tracy regularly grumbled over the two hour process of having his hair curled every day and admittedly faked his way through a "Portuguese" accent, making most of it up as he went along. Fortunately, the screenwriters had tried to tailor Manuel's dialogue to Tracy as much as possible while still remaining true to the original spirit of Kipling's story.
Spencer Tracy was impressed by the professionalism and dedication of his young co-star Freddie Bartholomew. When a scene called for his character Harvey to be soaking wet, for instance, Bartholomew willingly jumped in the water to look the part. "The kid can take it," said Tracy. "I hand it to him." According to Bartholomew, however, Tracy could also feel a little threatened by him. "I had warm feelings for Spencer Tracy," said Bartholomew in a 1992 interview, "but there was, curiously, a sense of competitiveness that he felt towards me. I'm not trying to say that I was wonderful and he wasn't--I don't mean that at all--but I think he felt that, 'Oh, wait a minute. The kid's running off with the picture, and this is not necessarily a good idea.'"
Since Bartholomew and supporting player Mickey Rooney were both school age, the production had to regularly carve out time for the two of them to be tutored. "Studio carpenters converted the fo'c'sle of the fishing vessel to a classroom where Freddie and I spent three hours a day studying with Freddie's tutor, Harold Minnear," recalled Rooney in his 1991 autobiography Life Is Too Short. "We had a full schedule, a long shoot every morning, then art, history, social studies, arithmetic, composition, grammar, spelling, botany, physiology, and hygiene in the afternoon. No wonder Freddie was so smart."
For Victor Fleming the biggest challenge with the Captains Courageous shoot was having to deal with the frequent frustrations of uncooperative weather. "We had purposely set out in October in order to take advantage of the fog," said Fleming. "But for days after we began to work, either the sun would break through or the wind would cause a break in the mist." On one occasion Fleming became so fed up with the ever-changing weather while trying to get a shot in the water that he finally threw up his arms in defeat. "Fleming said, 'Goddamnit, we're going home!'," recalled Spencer Tracy. "And then we went back to Catalina to get the stuff we had left in the hotel, and Fleming was in such a hurry to get away that he was using a speedboat [while] the rest of us were going to use a big tug. He walked out on the pier to jump into his speedboat, and the speedboat took off and he went into the water--with his white [pants], all dressed up."
For a difficult shot in which Freddie Bartholomew was to fall out of one of the dories racing back to the We're Here, Fleming spent an hour rehearsing so that Bartholomew would hopefully not have to do more than a single take in the icy waters. One of the real-life seamen helping the crew, Captain J.M. Hersey, said at the time, "[Crew member and Olympic swimmer] Stubby Kruger, out of camera range, was all ready to dive in if Tracy had difficulty hauling Freddie back into the dory, but Freddie was sure everything was going to be all right. The kid has nerve, all right. A second dory was ready to race over if there was any hitch, and Mr. Fleming himself had a leg over the rail and wouldn't have hesitated to drop in. Tracy's dory came up alongside. As he reached for the forward dory hook, Freddie put one foot on the gunwale, started to pass up the trawl tub, and took a backward header. Tracy, quick as a flash, reached over, grabbed him by the collar as he came up, got a grip with his other hand on the lad's trousers, and pulled him in as if he was landing a codfish. It was all over in a few seconds. We hauled up the dory, rushed Freddie below, stripped him, dried him, rubbed him down, and put him between blankets in a bunk where Mr. Barrymore, Charley Grapewin, Tracy and others came down and kidded him about his Olympic high-dive."
Towards the end of shooting, Victor Fleming had to enter the hospital for a minor surgery, something that was originally only supposed to take a few days. However, his recovery was unexpectedly slow and ended up causing a few weeks delay in the film's production. MGM appointed another director, Jack Conway, to temporarily take over the film until Fleming could return to work on February 1.
Fleming was back at the helm in time to shoot Manuel's dramatic death scene in which he is crushed in an accident during a storm. It was the most challenging scene to film in the entire production. In order to tightly control all of the elements, filming took place in a studio tank with medical personnel standing close by in case anything went wrong. When the time came for the storm to begin, Hollywood special effects wizards performed their magic. "Huge paddles churn up a frothy sea," reported columnist Robbin Coons at the time, "clouds of spray fly with a roar from a towering wooden reservoir, and a huge funnel batters Tracy's head with wind. The waves rise higher, higher, engulfing him, knocking him about as he yells his dialogue. Rescuers are John Carradine--just up from the flu--Dave Thursby, and Jack Sterling, all of whom get nearly as drenched as Tracy. And they do the scene three times. Before the last take Tracy, submerged in his art if ever an actor was, catches me leering on the sidelines and jeers, 'You like to try it? If you've got to laugh, you might stay out of my line of vision!' But another wave breaks over him before I can explain it wasn't laughter but an expression I always wear when wondering whether Metro is trying to drown Tracy."
The entire death scene took three days to shoot. The many close-ups of Bartholomew and Tracy saying their goodbyes were time consuming and took up much of the schedule. One of the screenwriters, John Lee Mahin, was watching Fleming shoot the scene and wondered why he initially took so long to move in for a close-up on Freddie Bartholomew. "I said, 'Geez, this is a beautiful kid, Vic. It seems to me you're not getting the close-ups of this kid,'" recalled Mahin. "He said, 'Wait till we need 'em. Wait till they'll have some effect.' I said, 'Well, when will that be?' He said, 'When he starts crying and breaking. That's when we'll go in to see him.' And this tough bastard starts to move in on him. He was right."
When production finally wrapped in late February 1937, Spencer Tracy was relieved. "Well, I got away with it," he said later. "Want to know why? Because of Freddie, because of that kid's performance, because he sold it 98 per cent. The kid had to believe in Manuel, or Manuel wasn't worth a quarter. The way he would look at me, believe every word I said, made me believe in it myself. I've never said this before, and I'll never say it again. Freddie Bartholomew's acting is so fine and so simple and so true that it's way over people's heads. It'll only be by thinking back two or three years from now that they'll realize how great it was."
by Andrea Passafiume
Captains Courageous (1937)
Inform the rich brats of the world. At some point they're going to meet real salt of the earth folk who'll teach them the true meaning of life, or at least you might think so from the dozens and dozens of movies built around that theme. Perhaps the best is the 1937 Captains Courageous, based on Rudyard Kipling's novel, which earned Spencer Tracy his first Best Actor Oscar.
The story couldn't be more simple: Freddie Bartholomew is a spoiled tycoon's son who always gets his way through buying, whining or simple lying. On a trip to Europe he falls off the luxury ship only to awaken aboard the boat of a Portuguese fisherman (Spencer Tracy) and his small crew. Naturally Bartholomew immediately starts giving orders only to learn that he's not the boss here and in fact will have to wait until the fishermen finish their haul in another two or three months. Faced with such unyielding circumstances Bartholomew has little choice but to find out more about Tracy and his life.
Spencer Tracy had misgivings about playing the fisherman. He was first approached while filming Libeled Lady (1936) and felt that the fisherman was too secondary to the boy's part to be of real interest. It took director Victor Fleming (Red Dust, 1932) and Tracy's wife to convince him to take the role. Tracy still had reservations about getting his hair curled (at the studio, Joan Crawford kidded him for looking like Harpo Marx) and having to sing. He was also uncertain about how to do the Portuguese accent before deciding to base it on a Yiddish accent from his old theatre days. Even after finishing Captains Courageous Tracy thought it was some of his "worst" work, at least until he began receiving critical praise and eventually an Oscar. (It also took his life in an unexpected direction: After seeing Captains Courageous Katharine Hepburn decided that she had to work with Tracy and started looking for an appropriate project. The two would later become one of Hollywood's most famous screen teams.)
Much of Captains Courageous was filmed in winter off the coast of California during a period when location shooting was uncommon. Hundreds of live fish were brought down from Alaska and many more frozen ones flown in from Boston. A real fishing boat was used, along with some other boats for background and authenticity. Tracy kept trying to take the helm of the boat when not filming, something that did not amuse the real captain who once had Tracy forcibly removed when a storm unexpectedly arose. Mickey Rooney (who appears in a supporting role) and Freddie Bartholomew spent a good part of each day being tutored in part of the boat that had been converted into a classroom.
Producer: Louis D. Lighton
Director: Victor Fleming
Screenplay: Marc Connelly, John Lee Mahin, Dale Van Every (based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling)
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, A. Arnold Gillespie
Film Editing: Elmo Veron
Original Music: Franz Waxman, Clifford Vaughan
Principal Cast: Spencer Tracy (Manuel), Freddie Bartholomew (Harvey Cheyne), Lionel Barrymore (Captain Troop), Mickey Rooney (Dan Troop), Melvyn Douglas (Mr. Cheyne), Charley Grapewin (Uncle Salters), John Carradine (Long Jack), Leo G. Carroll (Burns)
BW-117m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Lang Thompson
Captains Courageous (1937)
AWARDS AND HONORS
Captains Courageous was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Spencer Tracy). Spencer Tracy took home the film's only Oscar® -- his very first as Best Actor.
In 2006 the American Film Institute ranked the film number 94 on its "100 Years...100 Cheers" list, which "celebrates the films that inspire us, encourage us to make a difference and send us from the theatre with a greater sense of possibility and hope for the future."
THE CRITIC'S CORNER - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
"Metro's Captains Courageous...is another of those grand jobs of moviemaking 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 of its own...Young Master Bartholomew...plays Harvey faultlessly, presenting at first as reptilian a lad as a miniature Basil Rathbone might have managed and bringing him around eventually to the grieving, bewildered small boy who has lost the one person he loved and cannot readily admit his father into the desolate sanctuary of his heart. Spencer Tracy, as Manuel, the boy's idol, seemed curiously unconvincing in the beginning probably because the accent does not become him, but made the part his in time. Then there is Lionel Barrymore, who is a flawless Captain Disko, and Melvyn Douglas giving an understanding interpretation of the elder Cheyne...Victor Fleming's direction has kept the tale flowing, Hal Rosson's photography has given it beauty, and excellent characterization has lent it poignance. Metro can take pride in its production." -- The New York Times
"The Kipling yarn...has been given splendid production, performance, photography and dramatic composition...Bartholomew's transition from a brat to a lovable child is done with convincing strokes. His performance is matched by Tracy, who also doesn't seem right doing an accent and singing songs, but he, too, later gets under the skin of the character. Barrymore is himself, as usual. As the father of the boy, Melvyn Douglas gives a smooth, unctuous performance. One of the fishermen is deftly portrayed by John Carradine." -- Variety
"...So magnificent are its sweep and excitement, so harmonious its design, that Captains Courageous ranks above most current cinematic efforts, offers its credentials for admission to the thin company of cinema immortals." -- Time magazine
"With no advance notice befitting its magnificence, Rudyard Kipling's immortalization of Gloucester's hardy and courageous fishing folk thrills us with fine seascapes and stirs us with the philosophy of the faith of a brawny though sentimental fisherman in the latent virtues hidden under the arrogance and selfishness of an obnoxiously spoiled son of a rich parent. Freddie Bartholomew and Spencer Tracy are superb in their account of the evolution of the spoiled brat into a man, a lad who could only learn life's important lessons the hard way. Kipling kept life in his story, and so do its Hollywood narrators." -- James Cunningham, The Commonwealth
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume