86 - Captain's Courageous
This 1937 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s novel is set in the North Atlantic off of Newfoundland – and stars many of the greats of that day: famed child actor Freddie Bartholomew, the legendary Spencer Tracy, Broadway giant Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, John Carradine and a teenage Mickey Rooney. Captains Courageous was nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Editing, and won Tracy his first Oscar for Best Actor.
Rich boarding school adolescent Harvey Cheyne Jr. is a spoiled brat used to getting his own way. When a prank goes awry aboard a luxury liner, he tumbles overboard and nearly drowns. Fortunately he's plucked out of the water by Manuel (Tracy), a rough Portuguese fisherman just heading out for the season. The crew can't afford to take the arrogant kid back to land, and so Freddie spends three months at sea, gradually mellowing into a rugged, no-nonsense teen mentored by the rough and ready Manuel.
The film belongs to the masterful Tracy and young Bartholomew, an astute and intuitive actor, bringing warmth, compassion and drama to a role that could have been over-sentimentalized – particularly with the heart-wrenching final scene between boy and beloved role model. This is a story of hero worship at its best. A messed up kid is saved both from drowning, then as a human being, by the most unlikely of champions.
They don't make films any better than this – with not a word of profanity, no sex or even innuendo, must a wonderful, heart-tugging story, well acted, tragic but uplifting and even life-changing.
~ Rob Kerby