Directed by Victor Fleming
Side note: I knew I hadn’t posted for a while, but I had no idea that it had been three months. I wouldn’t have guessed more than one. Where does the time go? I’ve decided to make another change, since two movie reviews a week are apparently more than I can handle. I’m just going to post once a week. on Thursdays, so anyone looking for a weekend movie has a new idea. And now back to our irregularly scheduled post:
I knew that I had seen Captains Courageous as a child because I remembered very clearly a scene where Mickey Rooney has an argument with the captain. It turns out that doesn’t actually happen in Captains Courageous, so I’m thinking that maybe a similar thing happens in Boys Town. But I’m still sure that I saw this movie, because my love of pea coats and fisherman’s sweaters is rooted so firmly in Captains Courageous that when I see the DVD at the library, I think, “Oh! The pea coat movie!”
So what’s the story? Spoiled, conniving, manipulative Harvey Cheyne, aged ten, is suspended from his elite boarding when the teachers find out he is blackmailing other boys and trying to bribe teachers to get what he wants. His formerly absent father decides to take Harvey with him on a business trip to Europe to try to teach him that you have to work for what you want. When Harvey tries to play a prank on the other boys on the ocean liner, he falls overboard. He is rescued by a group of fishermen, but nothing he can say will make them return to shore before their fishing season is over. Faced with spending three months on a fishing boat full of men who all have to do their part, Harvey is forced to learn that hard work at honest labor delivers more rewards than he could ever have imagined.
The Good: The screenwriters made an amazing choice for this movie. Rudyard Kipling’s novel upon which this movie is based was published in 1897. The writers decided to set the movie in 1937 instead. It would have been good if it had been set in 1897, but changing the setting made the movie much more timely. At one point, Harvey tries to manipulate one of his classmates by threatening to have his classmate’s father fired. This would have been a huge threat in the 1930s, when millions of people were out of work and starving because of the Great Depression. This setting connected people to the movie much more strongly than a historical fiction film would have.
The supporting cast was wonderful. Lionel Barrymore is excellent as Captain Disko, and Mickey Rooney does a good job is his smaller-than-I-was-expecting role of Dan, the captain’s son. I loved the other sailors (some of whom are played by rather prolific actors), who all had different personalities and came to be fond of Harvey in their own different ways. Melvyn Douglas plays Mr. Cheyne, a widower who thinks that he is giving Harvey everything he needs, only to realize that he doesn’t know his own son. It’s a small role, but Douglas’s ability makes it a tender one.
Now let’s talk about the most amazing thing in the movie: Freddie Bartholomew’s acting. I marveled throughout the entire movie as I watched a spoiled brat struggling as he turns into a young man. It’s ridiculous how good of an actor that child was. Everything in the movie hinges on the part of Harvey, and if a lesser actor had played him, the movie would have failed. I don’t have the words to describe his acting; Captains Courageous is a movie you will want to watch if you enjoy watching fine acting.
The Bad and The Ugly: Nothing exactly fits into these categories, so I had to make a new category for today:
The I Have No Idea How I Feel About This: People who have looked at the movie poster will say, “Wait a minute. Spencer Tracy’s name is on the movie poster. Why haven’t you talked about him?” It’s because I have very mixed feelings about this performance. The performance itself is not exactly bad, but Tracy’s accent is atrocious to the point that it becomes distracting. He does express various emotions well, but for me, he never quite becomes jolly Portuguese sailor Manuel; he’s just an actor doing a bad accent. It’s possible that the performance is good and the accent is ugly, but since they are so intertwined, it’s hard for me to make a judgment.
Oscar Wins: Best actor in a leading role (Spencer Tracy).
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best writing, screenplay; best film editing.