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CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (director: Victor Fleming; screenwriters: Marc Connelly/John Lee Mahin/Dale Van Every/based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: Elmo Veron; music: Franz Waxman/Clifford Vaughan; cast: Spencer Tracy (Manuel Fidello), 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); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis D. Lighton; MGM; 1937)
“This hokum earned Spencer Tracy his first Best Actor Oscar.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Victor Fleming (“Gone With The Wind”/”The Wizard of Oz”/”Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) weakly helms this MGM kiddie family value melodrama about a spoiled rich boy learning valuable life lessons. It’s based on the 1897 novel by Rudyard Kipling and written by Marc Connelly, John Lee Mahin and Dale Van Every. This hokum earned Spencer Tracy his first Best Actor Oscar (he also won the following year for Boys Town). Famous child star at the time Freddie Bartholomew plays the brat Harvey Cheyne. It was shot in the winter off the coast of California at a time when most films were made in the studio.

The 12-year-old snobby and obnoxious Harvey Cheyne, the son of a workaholic widowed millionaire business tycoon (Melvyn Douglas), is suspended for bribery from his private boarding school. To make up for lost time spent away from his son, the old man takes him on the Queen Anne, a luxury ocean liner, to England. On the first day at sea, Harvey accidentally falls overboard when leaning over the railing to vomit after having one ice cream soda too many.No one sees him go overboard. But luckily he’s rescued by a crusty but happy-go-lucky warm-hearted Portuguese fisherman named Manuel Fidello (Spencer Tracy), who works as a dory-man on a Gloucester, Massachusetts fishing vessel called We’re Here–which has no radio. Captain Disko Troop (Lionel Barrymore) informs the tyke that he can’t return to port until after the summer catch. The captain’s obliging son, Dan (Mickey Rooney), tries to befriend the kid but is soon put off with the kid’s nasty retorts. The kid also proves to be unpopular with the crew, but the gruff Manuel takes him under his wings and straightens the young pup out with some tough love and by making him earn his keep by doing his share of the work. There’s some melodrama at the climax, which further reinforces that after a few months at sea the kid is a changed camper. He now reunites with his father and dad’s limo world, but as a better person–something he couldn’t learn in school or at home.

It’s a pleasant enough coming-of-age tale but to call it a great pic or a work of art or that Tracy, with his Yiddish accent passing for a Portuguese accent, is into some great acting, is a reach.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”