Today comes my second last review for Novembers installment of “Random Movies Month” to be exhibited on Monty and Desiree’s website, so for Friday’s feature I’m reviewing “Captains Courageous” starring Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew.


Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew rides the rough seas in this cinematic masterpiece that will enthrall movie lovers from beginning to end. The film follows the story of twelve year old Harvey Cheyne ( Freddie Bartholomew ) a spoilt and vexatious impudent young teenager who hails from a family of opulence. His father Frank Burton ( Melvyn Douglas ) is a notably absent business tycoon who never pays his son much attention. When Harvey is suspended from the private boarding school in which he attends, his father realizes that he needs to be the main influence for his son and provide proper fatherly guidance, so he decides to have Harvey accompany him on a business trip to Europe on board the Trans-Atlantic steamship. En route to Europe near the area of Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Harvey is involved in another episode of derisive hackling, and as a result falls overboard. Luckily he is rescued by Manuel Fidello ( Spencer Tracy ) a Portuguese, American fisherman, who takes him aboard the fishing schooner We’re Here. At first Harvey is pestilential and rather obnoxious, Accusing Manuel and his fishing team of kidnapping him. He tries to bribe Captain Disko Troop ( Lionel Barrymore ) to return him to his father to collect a reward, but the captain is not entirely convinced of his wealth. Seeing as they would be at sea for three months, Captain Disko offers Harvey a low paid job as part of the crew until returning to port. Indolent, Harvey refuses to work, but eventually accepts the position.

Manual is virile, imperturbable and altogether magnanimous. While Harvey is in his company, and after witnessing the tough nature of the other fellow crew members, he cognizes that his frivolous behavior is not acceptable, and tries to adjust to their way of life. He is also befriended by Captain Troop’s son Dan ( Mickey Rooney ), who shows him the ropes. With Dan’s assistance, Harvey becomes rather adept at sea work. However it is Manuel that has considerable effect on Harvey. Not only does Manuel become a great friend and a father figure to Harvey, he is able to transform Harvey into a respectable young man, so months later when Harvey does reunite with his father, he is amazed at the reputable young man that Harvey as evolved into.

I’ve always been an ardent fan of Spencer Tracy, and this has always been one of my favorite movies of his. “Captains Courageous” really demonstrates Spencer’s acting ability, and it’s easy to see why he attained the Oscar for his heartfelt and touching portrayal of Manuel. He was so believable in the role as fisherman, and was able to perfect that Portuguese accent.

I know this is not necessarily a ‘Woman’s picture’ and many females probably wouldn’t like it, unless they admire Spencer Tracy, but in my opinion this film is very powerful and it’s Spencer Tracy that really holds the torch for me.

Combined with a conglomeration of drama, humor, heartbreak, and the effervescent appeal of Spencer Tracy, audiences are bound to be captivated in this poignant tale about the relationship between a fisherman and young boy.


Spencer Tracy won his first Oscar for his role as Manuel.

“Captains Courageous” was the first MGM film to be shown on television, in 1955.

This was one of the final films Lionel Barrymore made before his degenerative arthritis crippled him. The following year, he was hobbling around on crutches in Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It with You (1938); after that, he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

When Spencer Tracy received his Oscar statuette for this movie, he was surprised to find it inscribed to comic-strip hero “Dick Tracy”. An embarrassed Academy replaced the statuette.

Spencer Tracy was impressed early on by Freddie Bartholomew’s dedication to the role, jumping over the side of the boat in order to get what he considered sufficiently wet after having been shot with a hose and doused with a bucket of water. “The kid can take it,” Tracy said. “I hand it to him.”

Spencer Tracy was initially reluctant to take on the part of Manuel, mainly because he had to sing in several scenes and get his hair curled. His new curly locks provided a lot of amusement to his friends and fellow actors. Joan Crawford, for instance, referred to him as “Harpo” (after Harpo Marx, the curly-haired Marx Brother).

Manuel’s death scene took three days to film, from 12th February to 15th February 1937.

None of the filming actually took place at sea. A four-fifths sized replica of the fishing schooner was built in the “tank”. The actors merely walked on to it every day while filming. Distance and tracking shots of the schooner were a real ship that was filmed at sea and spliced into the movie where necessary.

Quotes from film:

Manuel Fidello: “Wake up, Little Fish. Hey, wake up, wake up! Somebody think you dead, they have celebrations.”

Manuel Fidello: “I gonna get nifty suit. You know, purple colored. Oh, very nifty suit, with shoes to match and big pearl buttons. Oh, and then I get new tie with big yellow flowers. Oh, then I walk up and down Duckett Street, and I say “Hey, girls, girls. Hey, look, look. Manuel is in town.”

Harvey: “Girls?”

Manuel Fidello: “Oh sure, beautiful girls. I got maybe five, six girls in Gloucester. I tell each one I like her best. You gotta tell big lies to girls to make them happy.”

Manuel Fidello: “15 years I’ve been fisherman, first time I catch fish like you.”

[blows conch shell, and heads towards boat ringing bell]

Manuel Fidello: “HEY, Aboard the vessel!”

Captain Disko Troop: “Hey!”

Manuel Fidello: “I bring you new kind of fish.”

Captain Disko Troop: “What’chu get?”

Manuel Fidello: “I got new kind of fish. He got no tail. He got pants on his dorsal fin. I think maybe he about 10 year old.”

[pulls up next to schooner and start hauling up boy]

Dan Troop: “Aw, its a kid ain’t it?”


Spencer Tracy: Born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy on April 5th, 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Died: June 10th, 1967 in Beverly Hills, California.

Freddie Bartholomew: Born Frederick Cecil Bartholomew on March 28th, 1924 in London, England. Died: January 23rd, 1992 in Sarasota, Florida.

Mickey Rooney: Born Joseph Yule, Jr. on Sepember 23rd, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York. Died: April 6th, 2014 in Studio City, California.

Lionel Barrymore: Born Lionel Herbert Blythe on April 28th, 1878 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: November 15th, 1954 in Van Nuys, California.


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