#109 Captains Courageous (1937)

One genre that I have noticed so far that hasn’t been shown on this list yet is coming-of-age films or any movies where kids play the main roles…until today! Sometimes it takes going overboard (literally) to start growing up. In Victor Fleming’s Captains Courageous, a spoiled little boy goes overboard on a luxurious boat with his dad and ends up under the wing of a friendly Portuguese sailor’s boat.

When we first meet the character of Harvey, we see him as a spoiled, pampered brat who feels the need to buy everyone off in order to get anything he wants. When he falls overboard after tagging along with his wealthy father on a business trip, he falls overboard and is rescued by another ship. The crew on this ship are not able to return him back until they’re done with their job- forcing him to stay on the boat with them for three months. None of them give in to his demands to buy them off for an earlier return. Harvey learns things the hard way on this ship and no one will pamper him- especially Portuguese sailor Manuel. Harvey learns what it means to grow up as he is taught how to be a fisherman and the ways of life in the sea as he bonds with Manuel in song and laughter. The bond between these two makes you want to cry! Despite the fact that Harvey has a good father, Manuel tells it to him like it is and isn’t afraid of him. Harvey needed someone in his life like that to force him to work hard.

Freddie Bartholomew, who played Harvey, really impressed me! He was one of the richest child stars of the 1930s next to Shirley Temple. I loved how he demonstrated the character development of Harvey; showing him initially as a refined snob into a child who is still trying to make sense of his life. Believe it or not, Spencer Tracy, who plays Manuel, were very adamant about being in this film because of having to spend two hours curling his hair (such as Joan Crawford called him “Harpo.” People can be so cruel!) and for attempting a Portuguese accent. He met Portuguese sailors to better help him prepare for the role. Tracy did not have faith in himself the entire time playing the role. It was until he won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year that he changed his mind about his performance. Way to go, Spencer Tracy! This will teach any actors who don’t feel confident in themselves not to be their own critic. Do you feel that way about yourselves sometimes? Although one criticism I do have is that there was no point in Mickey Rooney’s character being in the film. He’s Mickey Rooney after all and he’s barely in the film!


I’m sorry but I have to talk about this scene because it basically broke my heart! What about you? It was hard seeing Manuel drown to leave a heartbroken Harvey. Especially when Manuel completely changed Harvey and helped him turn into the child he grows up to be in the short time they knew each other. The lessons he taught Harvey, he will never forget. The chopping of the ropes reminded me of a clock. That as they were saying their goodbyes, the clock was ticking and then stopped. I couldn’t stop crying after! 

**************************END OF SPOILERS!*********************

This is a great story to see of a coming-of-age drama of a child learning that being a man is not about abusing their power but to work hard and be honest and decent.

Unfortunately, I could not find the film online but you could rent it on Amazon for $3.99. Here is a trailer for the Rudyard Kipling adaptation and please comment your reactions:



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