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A film with a Real Heart
on 16 February 2009
"Captains Courageous" made in 1937 was directed by Victor Fleming, and is based on the book of the same name written in 1897 by Rudyard Kipling. Both the book and the film have survived remarkably well and still seem fresh today. It is one of the earlier examples of the coming of age films, and is still arguably the finest.
The film concerns the story of 15 year old Harvey Cheyne, the spoilt son of an often absent business tycoon father played by Melvyn Douglas. The boy due to over indulgence on the Fathers side, is a rude inconsiderate individual who cares for no one but himself. But all this changes dramatically when he falls overboard from a cruise ship into the Atlantic near the rich fishing waters of the Grand Banks. He is fortunate to be picked up by Manuel, played by Spencer Tracy a fisherman of Portuguese descent from the fishing boat "We're Here", captained by the wily old veteran Disko Troop played by Lionel Barrymore, in one of his most colourful roles. Harvey soon finds that all his money is of no use whatsoever on the boat and he is unable to persuade the Captain to return to port. He eventually has to work long hours and toil hard for his keep in a low paid job. Harvey also has to learn a few hard knocks in a sharp learning curve, but gradually he earns the grudging repect of the crew and is accepted into their hard bitten fraternity. He becomes great friends with Manuel as they fish the dangerous waters for halibut, and he is grief stricken when Manuel tragically dies at sea. On return to shore his Father finds the spoilt brat has changed to a considerate, mature young man who places high value on his new found cameraderie.
The film has a wonderful cast that also includes John Carradine as a crew member who Harvey struggles to win over. Spencer Tracy won the academy award for best actor in his role. His fair hair was darkened and his piercing blue eyes were not detectable in black and white so he was able to plausibly play a man of Portuguese descent. The film is also a fitting tribute to the many fishermen who have lost their lives on the ocean going "down to the sea in ships". The final scenes in the church are a fitting tribute to these brave people.
The film is a good morality fable. Money is certainly not everything as Harvey finds out. We are shown that there are far more important things in life. A good reputation is worth more than gold or silver. Perhaps we too should think of others before ourselves, as the crew demonstrated. I would happily have thrown all my three children into the ocean if I knew they would have been picked up by the gallant crew of the "Were Here". I would thoroughly recommend this film which has a real heart.