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The privileged son of a widowed New York tycoon (Melvyn Douglas), 10 year old Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is spoilt and manipulative at school, to the point that he's suspended. He is taken along on his father's business trip to Europe aboard the luxury liner Queen Anne for some fatherly care. But when he falls overboard, he's rescued by fisherman Manuel (Spencer Tracy) from Capt. Disko's (Lionel Barrymore) fishing schooner We're Here. In the months before the fishing boat returns to its home port in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Manuel - and the tumultuous experience itself - teaches the spoiled youngster some life lessons that help mature and improve him.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Spencer Tracy won the first of two Best Actor Oscars for his role as Manuel in Captains Courageous, a classic adventure from Rudyard Kipling's novel about fathers and their importance to their sons. The film begins at the Cheyne mansion, where 10 year old Harvey acts like a rich and indulged brat - because he can. Melvyn Douglas plays the sympathetic but distanced father, whose business empire exerts greater pull than his son.

In a scene of subtle metaphors, Harvey falls overboard after overindulging in ice cream sodas one night, and is rescued by Manuel in his dinghy. Manuel is a Portuguese loner whose father died fishing. On board the schooner We're Here, where Disko (Lionel Barrymore in top form) runs a fishing business out of Gloucester and always duelling with fellow fishing boat captain Cushman (Oscar O'Shea), the boy's prima donna manner gets short shrift. And is entrusted to Manuel for the remainder of the trip. The scene depicted on the DVD slick of Harvey looking through a boating telescope with Manuel helping him, is purely symbolic; it doesn't appear in the film, but at a glance tells us the essence of the story.

The film's achievement is in transposing the way this relationship develops from page to screen, and maintaining the sense of adventure in parallel with the character development. Victor Fleming's assured direction is enhanced by Elmo Veron's excellent editing and Franz Waxman's rich score. Freddie Bartholomew, already something of a veteran at 13 (playing 10) with two major credits behind him (David Copperfield in a 1935 film and Sergei in Anna Karenina, also in 1935), delivers a lively and moving performance as the boy who learns important lessons in his surrogate father, Manuel.

Mickey Rooney, only about 17 at the time, was making his way up the Hollywood ladder, and his small but important role gives him a chance to show his natural talents to the full. Its themes are entirely relevant to this day, and even technically - with the integration of sound stage and open sea footage - it stands the test of time.

Published: May 22, 2008

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(US, 1937)

CAST: Freddie Bartholomew, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Charley Grapewin, Mickey Rooney, Oscar O'Shea, Jack LaRue

PRODUCER: Louis D. Lighton

DIRECTOR: Victor Fleming

SCRIPT: John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly, Dale Van Every (novel by Rudyard Kipling)


EDITOR: Elmo Veron

MUSIC: Franz Waxman


RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

PRESENTATION: B&W; 1.33:1 (4:3 transfer)

SPECIAL FEATURES: Vintage short The Little Maestro; classic cartoon Little Buck Cheeser; trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: April 9, 2008

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