198 of 1001 Movies: Captains Courageous (1937)

It did take me a few minutes to figure out if Freddie Bartholomew was  a little boy of if he was a teen girl in this movie. I think this is one of the earliest family movies I’ve seen though, and I do love the message of father and son relationships that are in the movie. It shows how Harvey’s life has been affected by having a very busy dad and the lessons he may be learning on accident without someone to guide him. This movie also employs the new popular action adventure scenes that movies seemed to have embraced with a new movie layout in the 30’s with lots of shots of boats in rough waters.

Summary: Harvey is used to having his own way, and though he may not spend too much time with his father, he likes to use his rich father as leverage to get what he wants. When the spoiled kid finds himself in the company of rough fishermen though he finds they are less inclined to give over to his spoiled ways and teach him the life they live. He quickly grows close to Manuel who disciplines him and shows him lessons that his father hasn’t been able to. Danger though threatens the fishermen whether through the weather or other fishermen trying to steal their livelihood.

Acting: I think the acting is decent, but there are some things that definitely distract from any talent. For one Freddie Bartholomew plays up the annoying way too well at the beginning, but does show he has talent but getting us to feel for the kid, Harvey by the end of the movie. He shows some good character development for his age. Spencer Tracy and plays a character that could have only been done in the 30’s, because today’s standard it would be racist and odd to not just cast someone who was actually Portuguese to do the role. He plays the guy who mentors Harvey, and does well, but as said his fake accent is just odd and the wig, along with the darkened skin.

Filming: I thought the filming was one of the strongest parts of what made this movie entertaining. It does get creative with shots. You have these side shots of people that make it appear slanted and give some life to the movie. Also, the movie relies on some intense scenes that involve a bit of adventure and they pull it off really well by showing the fishermen out at sea when the weather gets bad.  Victor Fleming does a good job at taking films to that next level. Especially with the shots that show traveling on the map and at sea at the same time.

Plot: The plot about a boy needing a man to mentor to him is a good story that makes for a bit of a timeless message. It shows how a difference in a man leading the boy into showing him the right and wrong ways to do something are needed. It’s not that Harvey’s father is a bad guy, but the fact he’s a single guy raising a kid makes it a bit of a task for him to juggle and he may not understand the gravity of his absence. I have to say that Harvey goes through some great character developments and while the movie barely reaches two hour they try to sum up those 3 months as change best they can.

I can’t say Captains Courageous was enthralling all the way through, but with some nicely written characters, some intense scenes, and creativity it does work. It also makes for a good early family movie that charts growing up well. Harvey though does take some getting used to as he is very unlikable at the beginning of the movie.

Rating 7 of 10.

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