Captains Courageous (1937)
Directed by Victor Fleming
Based on the book Captains Courageous: A Story of the Grand Banks by Rudyard Kipling
Screenplay by John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly, Dale Van Every
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Lionel Barrymore, John Carradine, Mickey Rooney
After falling overboard from an ocean liner, Harvey (Bartholomew) is picked up by a fishing boat and forced to earn his keep. The spoiled young man begins to learn valuable lessons from a seasoned fisherman (Tracy) who has become his reluctant teacher.
This movie is based on the 1897 novel, Captains Courageous: A Story of the Grand Banks, written by Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book). The book was adapted by John Lee Mahin (Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison), Marc Connelly (The Spirit of St. Louis), and Dale Van Every (The Talk of the Town). The legendary Victor Fleming (Gone with the Wind) directed the film. The cast is led by Spencer Tracy (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) and features Freddie Bartholomew (Anna Karenina (1935)), Lionel Barrymore (You Can’t Take It With You), John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath), and Mickey Rooney (The Black Stallion). This one would eventually be nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
This story began as a serialized novel, written by Rudyard Kipling and published by McClure’s beginning in 1896. This film was the first adaptation of the work, completed by John Lee Mahin, Dale Van Every, and Marc Connelly. The story focuses on Harvey, a young man born into wealth and privilege. The writing does a great job developing his personality and establishing his obvious need for redemption. From there, the story begins to break down the protection around him, thrusting him into an entirely unfamiliar world. All of this sets up the adventure that he goes on with a colorful cast of characters. The writing creates so many unique personalities for the actors to work with. The dialogue is witty at times and painfully honest at others. The film also takes a number of twists and turns, allowing the growth that Harvey experiences to feel earned. This one has a number of emotional payoffs and doesn’t leave anything unsaid. This wonderful story was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay, but lost to The Life of Emile Zola.
The actors were given some great material to work with in Captains Courageous. Spencer Tracy leads the way with an excellent performance that stands out as one of his best. He does a nice job playing all aspects of his character, including the accent. His connection with Freddie Bartholomew feels genuine, as does his chemistry with the rest of the cast. The young Bartholomew also does good work in this one. Throughout the movie he slowly transforms his character from a spoiled brat into an upright young man. He does a good job playing off of his co-stars, and brings honest emotion to his performance.
The rest of the cast also does solid work. Lionel Barrymore, John Carradine, and Mickey Rooney are just a handful of the stars who bring this story to life. Each of these actors does a good job developing their characters into people who fit the setting. Overall, there aren’t any bad performances in this one. Spencer Tracy’s work was good enough to earn him an Oscar for Best Actor, beating out stars like Frederic March (A Star is Born) and Robert Montgomery (Night Must Fall).
This one is beautifully shot, making great use of the sets and locations to bring the audience along for the adventure. The film editing work would also earn this one an Oscar nomination. The sound work is also good, and combines nicely with the score composed by Franz Waxman (Sunset Boulevard). this one really holds up well despite being over 80 years old.
If you’re a Spencer Tracy fan, I hope you’ve already seen this one. If not, make it a priority to check this one out. I would also suggest this one to fans of coming-of-age stories and drama. This has a lot to offer, and there is a sort of timeless relevance to the story. I would also encourage fans of the other stars to watch this movie. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.